Chauvinist BJP group unseated in India vote
By Greg Butterfield
To the shock and awe of the Indian and U.S.
ruling classes, India's poor and workers swept the right-wing
Bharatiya Janata Party from power in national elections held
May 13 in the world's second most populous country. Now it
appears that the Congress Party, the traditional
bourgeois-nationalist party, will form a government with the
support of the left.
Congress won 217 seats out of 543 total in the Lok Sabha, or
lower house of parliament. The BJP took just 185. Neither party
has the majority needed to form a government without outside
Political pundits and media commentators East and West had
expected the BJP to coast to an easy victory thanks to the
country's highly touted high-tech economic boom. BJP Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee actually called early elections
based on this imagined position of strength.
But the high-tech boom, which has generated enormous profits
for bosses in India and on Wall Street, has only touched a thin
layer of wealthy and highly skilled Indians. For the vast
majority, the onrush of capitalist globalization has meant more
unemployment, more lost farms, and deeper poverty.
The masses also registered their rejection of privatization,
poverty and Hindu chauvinism by handing the Left Front parties
their biggest electoral gains ever. The Communist Party of
India (Marxist) won 43 seats in parliament, the Communist Party
of India 10, the Revol utionary Socialist Party three, and the
Forward Bloc three. Single-seat wins by two other parties and
an independent brought the Left Front's total to 62.
The Left Front agreed to support Con gress Party leader
Sonia Gandhi for prime minister. However, after debate the
coalition decided not to formally join her government,
concerned that this would leave the BJP and other right-wing
forces as the only opposition voice. (NDTV, May 17)
Then, on May 18, Gandhi reportedly withdrew and named former
Economic Minister Manmohan Singh as the likely new prime
minister. The move caused consternation among rank-and-file
Congress members. Singh was elevated to appease national and
international business interests that feared Gandhi would be
too accommodating to pressure from the left. Singh was the
original architect of India's privatization scheme. (Reuters,
There has been enormous pressure on the left to unite with
Congress since the BJP took power in 1999. To many in India the
BJP is an expression of extreme Hindu nation alism that shares
many traits with fascism. The party and its supporters have
been implicated in pogroms against Muslims in the north and
west of India and in Kashmir, home to a long-lived independence
In 2002 in Gujarat, some 2,000 Mus lims died in a pogrom.
According to the Associ ation of Parents of Disappeared People
in Kashmir, more than 2,500 people were killed in 2003 in
clashes with pro-government forces. In the last 18 months there
have been 54 deaths in custody. (UK Guard ian, May 14)
The BJP's rise in the 1990s was seen as a threat to India's
existence as a secular country. Moreover, the BJP regime
quickly became a darling of Washington--speeding up
privatization, lowering barriers to foreign investment, and
accommodating to U.S. foreign policy. With the anti-Muslim
thrust of the "war on terror," the Bush administration did
nothing to stop Vajpayee's buildup of nuclear weapons against
Pakistan and Kashmir as well as People's China.
Many Indians criticized the BJP government for not doing
more to oppose the U.S./British invasion and occupation of
Iraq, and for backing the Israeli apartheid state in its war
against the Palestinian people.
Congress started privatization
In her campaign, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi promised to
make economic reforms more equitable to the poor; to strengthen
India's participation in the Non-Aligned Move ment; and to curb
the worst repressive excesses of the state against Kashmir,
Muslim communities, and left movements. She promised to stay
the course in peace negotiations with neighboring nuclear
Privatization and pro-globalization policies didn't start
with BJP, however. They began under earlier Congress-led
governments when Ghandi, whose late husband was prime minister,
was already a party leader. Repres sion in Kashmir, hostile
relations with Pakistan and China, and acquiescence to U.S.
pressure are all legacies of past Congress governments.
In that sense, India's political situation can be likened to
that of the United States, where many execrable policies took
root under the Democratic Clinton administration, then
accelerated and worsened under Republican Bush. Democratic
presidential candidate John Kerry has at best promised to blunt
them a little bit.
Even before being tapped for prime minister, Singh assured
bosses that any Congress government would stay the course on
pro-business economic reforms after the election results
spurred steep declines in the Indian stock market May 14 and
May 17. (Reuters, May 17)
The electoral-oriented left parties say that staying outside
a government that is none theless dependent on the Left Front
for its existence will help them push Congress to make more
concessions to India's hundreds of millions of poor people, and
to slow down privatization and imperialist penetration.
It remains to be seen if communist and progressive forces
inside and outside parliament can mobilize the shift in mass
sentiment demonstrated by the election in a more militant
direction for real economic and social change.
Reprinted from the May 27, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
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