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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 support.

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, May 18)

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 movement.

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 power, Pakistan.

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
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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