The significance of the Indian election results
Elections to India’s 15th Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian parliament) took place in a five-stage process, which began on 16 April and ended on 13 May 2009. In this month-long process, involving 828,804 polling stations, 6.1 million police and civic personnel, 1.4 million electronic voting machines, the participation of 1,055 political parties and numerous independent candidates, 417 million of the 714 million eligible voters cast their votes – a turnout of 58 per cent.
The results were declared on 16 and 17 May. To the surprise of everyone, including the winners, the Congress Party and its electoral allies won 261 of the 543 available seats. Though short of an absolute majority, the Congress needed the support of merely a couple of dozen others to form the government. Without much difficulty it secured such support and has since been installed in office. Congress alone won 206 seats, 61 more than it won in 2004: this was its best showing since 1991 when the wave of sympathy following the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally, half way through the election campaign, gave the Congress Party a huge majority. The Congress share of the vote this time round was 28.6% (2% more than in 2004), with 119 million people voting for it. Manmohan Singh has been reappointed prime minister. This is the first time since 1962 that an Indian government, having served a full 5-year term with the same prime minister, has been re-elected.
BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party), the main opposition party, won 116 seats (its lowest in two decades) as compared to 138 in 2004, while its share of the vote declined by 3.5%. The BSP (Bahujan Smaj Party), the caste-based party which claims to represent the aspirations and interests of those on the lowest rung of the Indian caste hierarchy – the Dalits – had entered the election fray by projecting its leader, Kumari Mayawati, as a prime ministerial candidate and contested more seats than any other party (500 as opposed to the 430 contested by Congress and 433 by BJP), secured a mere 21 seats – 20 of these from the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The number of seats secured by the communists was a disappointing 24 (in comparison with 62 in 2004) – their worst performance since 1952. This was mainly due to the gains made by the Congress and its ally, Trinamool Congress, led by that shrieking freak, Mamta Bannerjee, at the cost of the CPM (Communist Party of India – Marxist) in the state of West Bengal, whose provincial government it has led for the last three decades and which is its strongest base of support. Although the CPM’s share of the national vote this time, at 5.33% was only marginally lower than the 5.66% it secured in 2004, it suffered a more pronounced decline of 5% in its share of the vote in West Bengal, which made a huge difference to its representation in the new parliament. Similarly, the CPM suffered losses in the state of Kerala – another of its strongholds.
Some erstwhile partners of the Congress-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) did very badly indeed. The RJD of Laloo Prasad Yadav, Railways Minister in the last government, hit an all-time low with a drop of 11 percentage points in its share of the vote in Bihar, down from 30.7% in 2004 to 19.3% in the election just held. RJD won a mere 4 seats, with Laloo Prasad himself managing to win only one of the two seats he contested. Ramvilas Paswan, with the dubious reputation of having served as a minister in the governments of every hue since 1996, suffered an ignominious defeat, as did his party LJP, which did not win a single seat.
Having briefly sketched the results of the 2009 Indian parliamentary elections, it only remains for us briefly to outline the reasons for the electoral fortunes of the Congress and its allies, as well as the misfortunes of its opponents. The Congress owes its victory to a combination of good fortune and a very clever and carefully crafted appeal to the rich as well as the poor, especially the rural poor. In the run-up to the election, the Congress-led government implemented a hike in the pay of public employees; in May 2008, it put into effect the $14 bn (€10.8 bn; £9.7 bn) loan waiver scheme; launched the public-works scheme, known as NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme), under which every rural household was guaranteed 100 days of paid labour a year – thus benefiting 44 million families; it made promises of cheap grain to the poor and passed the Forest Rights Act.
In addition, India’s economy during the past 5 years of Congress-led government, has grown at an average annualised rate of 8.5%, while the same period witnessed four good monsoons, with the result that agriculture (accounting for 20% of India’s GDP and supporting 60% of its 1.1 bn population) has grown at a relatively healthy rate of 3.4% a year. At the same time, with its pro-corporate policies and prime minister Manmohan Singh’s reputation for economic management firmly established in Indian bourgeois as well as imperialist circles, the Congress Party has become the most popular party among the richest 20% of Indian, who in the recent past had voted for the BJP. These are the sections who expect, and will get, the most from the Congress government in terms of policies which favour the rich and the privileged at the cost of the poor and underprivileged.
If the Congress thus positioned itself to be seen in a favourable light by the richest 20% of Indians as well as by large swathes of the rural and urban poor, especially the former, its major rival, the BJP, offered little other than the politics of communalism, religious divide, bigotry and Hindu chauvinism, which looks upon India’s 160 million Muslims with suspicion and treats them as insufferable aliens, organises communal orgies against Muslims and Christians and the destruction of ancient historical national monuments such as the 16th century Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. One of its rising stars, Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, oversaw the 2002 anti-Muslim riots which claimed the lives of 2,000 innocent people. During the election campaign, while neglecting issues of social welfare, BJP concentrated on questions of security and last November’s terrorist attacks on targets in Mumbai. Thankfully the Indian electorate have had enough of the divisive communalism and demagogy espoused by the BJP. Even in Jammu, in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir, it got nowhere with its Amarnath shrine-centred campaign.
In comparison, the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh, with its measured response to the Mumbai attacks, combined with a tough diplomatic approach, looked much more statesmanlike and electable.
As regards the BSP, lacking any coherent ideology, it is merely a vehicle for the ambition of its leaders, masquerading as the saviours and protectors of the Dalits, who have fared no better under the BSP administration in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) than under other governments. Dalits account for 22% of UP’s 175 million people, while taking India as a whole, its 250 million Dalits represent approximately a fifth of India’s population. Far from representing the interests of this most downtrodden fifth of India’s people, its leader, Mayawati, has made a personal fortune of $12 million during her political career. She is no more accountable than the leaders of other bourgeois parties, exercising a personal veto over the selection of candidates.
The BSP, just like many other Indian bourgeois parties, boasts of gangsters in its ranks, like Mukhtar Ansari, who contested from Varanasi, while being locked up in a prison cell for the murder of a BJP lawmaker. A nearby BSP candidate was a high-caste Hindu gangster by the name of Dhananjay Singh, accused of murdering a rival candidate, Bahadur Sonkar – a Dalit. In its patronage of Mafia and criminal politicians, Mayawati and her BSP are second to none.
With no economic programme, the BSP’s election manifesto declared itself against the ‘dangerous’ spread of computers and the English language. Ever since winning the 2007 election to the UP State Assembly, the BSP, instead of protecting the landless, the poor and the oppressed, has been preoccupied with the installation of statues of Mayawati across the state. And this woman was wooed by the notorious Third Front as its prime ministerial candidate! In the end the Indian electorate proved far more perspicacious than those who cobbled together this rickety outfit of turncoats and rank charlatans.
In UP, the BSP secured 20 seats (one more than in 2004), but it came third in the state behind the 23 of the SP (Smajvadi Party) and 21 of Congress. Clearly, the BSP’s Bhaichara deal (Brahmin-Dalit brotherhood) is coming apart, with the oppressed Dalits feeling betrayed. It is no surprise then that BSP’s share of the Dalit vote in UP dropped from 80% in 2004 to 62.2% in 2009.
In view of the goons who grace the BSP and some other bourgeois parties, even the Congress Party appears uncommonly virtuous in comparison to its opponents, including the 72 who have entered parliament charged with serious crimes.
The Left and the CPM
While the best part of the election has been the rejection to a considerable degree by the electorate of the politics of regionalism and casteism, its worst aspect is the failure of the Left. Far from making electoral advances, the Left suffered serious reverses. As the biggest constituent of the Left, the CPM must undertake a serious analysis of the election result and look into the causes of this debacle. Doubtless part of the explanation is that many a party in West Bengal, having in the past been unable to unseat the left-front government in that state and who hate the CPM, combined their forces in an endeavour to inflict defeat on as many CPM parliamentary candidates as possible. This was to be expected. The question, however, is: how come that a significant section of the Bengali electorate went along with this endeavour? In our view, the explanation of the electoral setback experienced by the CPM is attributable to the following factors:
Firstly, the left-front government’s inept handling of the Singur-Nandigram peasant land acquisitions in order to clear the way for a car factory and a petrochemical plant respectively – an ineptness of which its opponents took full advantage, successfully portraying the CPM-led government of West Bengal as anti-peasant, repressive, bureaucratic and arrogant, a tool of the monopolies both Indian and foreign.
Second, in the summer of 2008 the Left parties, headed by the CPM, withdrew support from the UPA government of Manmohan Singh over the implementation by the latter of the civil nuclear cooperation deal with the US. While the UPA survived the vote of no-confidence that followed the Left’s withdrawal of support, the CPM and the rest of the Left was never able to convince the Indian masses of the alleged harmfulness of this deal. Frankly, the position of all the communist parties in India on the question of India’s (and Pakistan’s for that matter) nuclear weapons, nuclear tests and nuclear energy, is entirely misplaced. It is a policy of bourgeois pacifism barely concealed by the accompanying revolutionary rhetoric. Such a policy can never form part of the programme of the revolutionary proletariat. No wonder, then, that a campaign around opposition to India’s attempts to secure nuclear fuel failed to catch the imagination of the electorate.
Third, the CPM and CPI have for many long years busied themselves with the politics of parties, rather than of classes, concentrating on forging alliances with various bourgeois parties on the basis of the allegedly secular, national or progressive nature of various outfits – ranging from the Congress to SP, BSP and many others – while the real issues of mobilising the proletariat and the poor peasantry in the struggle for a democratic people’s revolution do not get even a ritual mention.
In the vacuum thus created, the Congress Party, for all its ingrained anti-proletarian and anti-poor peasant bias and policy, managed to step in and pose as the friends of the common people, while serving the upper fifth of the Indian population. The rich do understand the political physiognomy of the Congress Party and the significance of its own most recent electoral success. That is why the Bombay Stock Exchange jumped 17% (2,111 points, the highest single-day increase in any share index anywhere in the world) on the first day of trading after the election results were announced (18 May) in two dramatically curtailed sessions of trading lasting a total of just one minute. We only need to add that a mere 0.7% of households in India own any shares. Only a party rooted in class struggle, identifying with and championing the cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in their struggle for liberation can hope to loosen the grip of the ruling class parties on the Indian masses.
The corporate media and bourgeois ideologues have attempted to portray the latest Indian election outcome as a vindication of the UPA government’s pro-US and liberalisation policies and a rebuff to the ‘anti-development’ and ‘anti-US’ forces, especially the communists, with their allegedly obsolete ideas of Marxism and anti-imperialism. Far from it. The Indian masses have long democratic and anti-imperialist traditions. Possessed of a real hatred of imperialist bullying and grinding poverty at the hands of the Indian ruling classes, they long for the time when they will be free of the miserable and wretched existence to which the present economic and political system subjects them. If they voted for the Congress that is only because the latter had this time round something better to offer than any other bourgeois party. In the circumstances, characterised by a lack of any credible nationwide Left alternative, the masses may be forgiven for opting for the least worst of the bad choices facing them.
Now that the Congress has been re-elected, its government will not be able to reconcile its promises to the masses with its commitments to the rich. The new government faces formidable problems. Medical care for the poor is close to non-existent; school education, especially in the rural areas, presents a ramshackle spectacle; 60 million Indian children are malnourished (40% of the world’s total of malnourished children); rampant corruption characterises the Indian political establishment, the civil service, the police and sections of the judiciary; the fiscal deficit this year could well be in excess of 11% of GDP; and there is a chronic shortage of energy – India needs to add a minimum of 25,000 MW of power a year for a sustained growth rate of 9% a year.
In addition, the Indian ruling classes are being aggressively courted by US imperialism, which is trying to hitch India to its war chariot in an attempt to encircle the People’s Republic of China. Nothing good will come out of it for the Indian masses were such an alliance between the US and India to materialise. On the contrary, it would prove to be an unmitigated disaster of unimaginable proportions. The Indian people are still paying the price of the criminal 1962 war that the Indian ruling classes waged against China at the behest of US imperialism. Relations between India and the People’s Republic of China have improved over the past 15 years. The Indian masses must see to it that India continues along that trajectory of improving and deepening political, diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations with China. All attempts at forging an anti-China alliance between the US and India must be vigorously and vehemently opposed by the Indian masses.
On top of the above problems, the present economic crisis of world imperialism is imposing heavy burdens on the labouring masses of India, just as it is imposing on the masses in almost all other countries. Groaning under unbearable burdens that the global crisis of overproduction increasingly imposes on them, the Indian people are bound to intensify their resistance to increased exploitation and excruciating poverty. True to its traditions, the Congress government is bound to intensify the class war against the poor in an attempt to safeguard the interests of the rich. Through their rejection of the politics of regionalism, casteism and communal hatred, the Indian electorate have cleared the ground for the coming class struggle along the lines of crucial issues facing the Indian people – those of bread, land and liberty. This furnishes an excellent opportunity for the communists in India to provide leadership to the unfolding struggle and channel it along the road that leads to socialism through the intermediary stage of a people’s democratic revolution.