India: Modi visits Britain

In mid-November Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a three-day visit to the UK, meeting heads of UK corporations to urge them to invest more in India, holding talks with David Cameron and making a speech to 60,000 supporters in Wembley stadium. This was the 29th country Modi had visited in the eighteen months since he was elected prime minister following a landslide victory for his party BJP, thanks to an astute and well-funded media campaign and disillusionment over rising inflation and slow growth under the previous Congress government. Modi had been banned from visiting the UK and US and other countries in the wake of his role in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat state, where he had been chief minister when over 1,200 Muslims were killed. Thousands of Indian demonstrators protested against the visit outside Downing Street and other venues, and the slogan ‘Modi not welcome’ was projected on the Houses of Parliament.

The recent UK visit comes in the midst of increased communal polarisation and attacks against mainly Muslims and Dalits (the lowest and poorest stratum in Hindu society) in India. A number of secular intellectuals and freethinkers such as MM Kalburgi have been murdered and others have received death threats from fundamentalist Hindutva gangs, emboldened by the right-wing BJP government’s Hindu nationalist policies and Modi’s studied silence in the face of these events. A number of writers, film directors and other intellectuals have returned their awards to the government in protest against the rising intolerance. In BJP-ruled Haryana, attacks on Dalits have increased seven-fold. In October, two Dalit children were burnt alive in Faridabad by upper-caste Hindus. Mob attacks on Muslim men seen in the company of Hindu women under the false accusation of love jihad are now common in Mangalore and other coastal cities of Karnataka state where Hindutva forces dominate.

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India: Stocks rise as Modi-led BJP wins Indian national elections /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

On 17 May, results of the Indian national elections gave the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies an absolute majority, sending shares in the Indian stock market surging to an all-time high. The humiliation of the Congress Party at not even being able to win the minimum 10% of seats in parliament needed to secure the title of leader of the Opposition is total. The election result is testament to the complete failure of the Congress Party and the reformist communist parties – Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) – through years of attacks on workers’ rights and pro-imperialist deals. India faces greater inequality, corporate rule and communal violence.

The BJP secured a majority of nearly 340 seats in the lower house with a 31% vote share, beyond even the wildest expectations of their own supporters and unprecedented for a non-Congress party. Hit by corruption-related scandals, a slowdown of economic growth and its continual betrayals of the working class and poor, the secular Congress Party and its allies suffered a historic defeat, winning just 44 seats – the lowest since India’s independence from Britain in 1947. The BJP won parts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu Kashmir which it has not won before, but did not poll as well in West Bengal, Telengana, Tamil Nadu, Odish and Kerala. In the Rajya Sabha, (upper house) the BJP and allies control only 63 of 250 seats, fewer than the Congress Party. Many major structural changes require a majority in the Rajya Sabha and the BJP will need more allies. Jayalalithaa, populist leader of the AIADMK, won 37 out of 39 constituencies in Tamil Nadu, and has already indicated her interest in co-operating with the BJP.

BJP leader Narendra Modi is now Prime Minister of what is known as the ‘world’s largest democracy’. He has been accused of presiding over and condoning a pogrom of Muslims in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, encouraging police killings of Muslim youth, and misusing state machinery apparatus to target his political rivals within and outside his party. A number of Western countries including the US and Britain imposed visa bans on Modi less than 10 years ago but they have been quick to mend their bridges, with Cameron, Obama, and others quickly inviting him to visit their countries. Israel has long-standing ties to the BJP and has announced new investments in India.

The ideological parent of the BJP is a fascist organisation called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which Modi is a member. Its founders openly admired Adolf Hitler and supported the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. One of its members was responsible for assassinating Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 in protest against his perceived softness towards Muslims. RSS worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure increased polarisation in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and other states politically important for the BJP to win. The BJP has been transformed into a party dominated by one man and his cronies. Senior leaders of the BJP have been largely sidelined. Amit Shah, a man accused of being behind killings of Muslim youth, has become the second most powerful person in the party thanks largely to his loyalty to Modi.

The Modi election campaign saw unprecedented spending levels, with reports of over 5,000 crores of rupees spent (around £500m) financed by big business houses including Tata, Ambani and Birla. Adverts in all the national newspapers and on major TV and radio channels and billboards in prime locations in the cities, have contributed to the manufacturing of the so-called Modi ‘wave’. He travelled all over India giving rousing election speeches, in jets donated by the private company Adani. This spending by big Indian capitalists owes much to the widespread perception of Modi as a crony capitalist who will implement the economic and labour ‘reforms’ long demanded by the Indian capitalist class. Modi has in the past given land away at throwaway prices to big businesses such as Tata, Reliance and Adani to enable them to set up plants in Gujarat, where Modi has been chief minister for the last three terms, and highlighted the lack of labour struggles there in contrast with other states like Orissa and West Bengal where strikes have forced big businesses to rethink the feasibility of their industrial plants.

The Modi campaign mainly steered away from its roots of Hindutva fundamentalism and focused on claims of development, citing Gujarat as an example. This is despite the fact that it lags behind other states on human development indices such as education and health care. Modi’s statements reflecting on India’s past glory and getting back India’s rightful place in the world have stirred up nationalist feelings among much of the middle class and educated workers. Underneath the claims and hopes of a strong India and economic growth which helped to sway the middle class and educated elites, lay a campaign of intimidation of political opponents and even institutions like the election commission. In communally sensitive places such as the state of UP and Assam where recent Hindu/Muslim riots have taken place, the polarisation of Hindus and Muslims benefited the BJP electorally and was exploited to the fullest, with BJP leaders making statements such as ‘vote for BJP to take revenge against those who killed Jats in the communal riots’ (Amit Shah in UP) and ‘those who oppose Modi will have to go to Pakistan’ (Giriraj Singh in Bihar).

The BJP campaign hired a US firm called APCO to ‘cleanse’ Modi’s public image. The campaign kept the focus on development and recent scandals in the Congress-led government. The fact that some BJP allies, like Yeddyurappa, are themselves accused of corruption and that Modi has not allowed the creation of an independent anti-corruption ombudsman body or Lokayukta in Gujarat, was successfully sidelined. Modi managed to strike a chord with voters tired of rising prices and low employment, as well as tune into widespread anger at the incumbent Congress Party. Modi contrasted the ineptitude of Rahul Gandhi, the Cambridge-educated scion of the Congress Party, with his own humble origins and track record of development as Chief Minister. Focusing on the Congress Party’s dynastic politics and nepotism – which has been led by a member of the Gandhi family for most of its existence in independent India – Modi was able to turn the focus away from the BJP’s deplorable past record of communal politics.

Only militant and organised resistance, demanding a new social system, can offer a way forward for the poor and oppressed in India. On 1 May, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which has long waged an armed struggle against the Indian state, announced a merger with the Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist (Naxalbari), which is active in Kerala. This is likely to strengthen resistance in the southern state, extending the established ‘red corridor’ of the Maoist insurgency from north-eastern and central India. Despite harsh state repression, guerrilla activity is rising. The CPI (Maoist) called for a boycott of the recent elections. Strikes have also been held throughout India. Workers producing cars for Toyota in Karnataka held a protracted strike in April 2014. They faced violent attacks by the police in which 150 were injured, and a betrayal by their union leadership which forced them back to work. Struggles against imperialist corporations are arising throughout India and will no doubt intensify. Communal clashes have flared up in Hyderabad, Meerut, Assam and other parts of the country in recent weeks. The new government has already given signals that it will encourage foreign direct investment in non-retail areas and remove subsidies on gas, certain to hit the poor hardest. The need of the hour is for workers to get together and prepare to fight against the new government’s reactionary and anti-labour measures.

Joy Bose

India: Hindu fundamentalist becomes opposition PM candidate/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

This September the Hindu fundamentalist opposition party in India, BJP, declared its prime ministerial candidate to be Narendra Modi, three times elected controversial chief minister of Gujarat state. This decision was egged on by millions of grassroots BJP workers enthused by Modi, as well as Hindu nationalists and youths who look to Modi as both a bulwark of Hindu nationalism and an icon of ‘development’. This elevation of Modi ahead of next year’s general election bodes ill for India and for the entire region.

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Delhi gang rape triggers mass protests across India /FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old female medical student was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi and died on 29 December as a result of the appalling injuries she received. As the news of the brutal rape became public, there was widespread outrage in New Delhi and elsewhere. On 21 December a huge public protest took place at India Gate, a prominent landmark in the city. Protesters marched also to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the Indian president. There were clashes with the police in Jantar Mantar and other Delhi locations. The police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, water cannon and lathi (sticks), injuring and arresting many of them.

The police alleged that the initially peaceful protest had been hijacked by anti-social elements. The Home Minister equated the protesters with Maoists. During one protest, a policeman collapsed and died despite receiving help from some of the protesters. The police promptly blamed his death on the demonstrators, and brought murder charges against eight of them, trying to use the incident to discredit the movement.

Afraid of the protests spiralling out of control over the Christmas and New Year period, the Delhi police closed off many metro stations in Delhi for over a week and restricted travel around the India Gate area. A law prohibiting gatherings of more than four people was also imposed. When it became known the rape victim had died, there was another round of protests in spite of the police blocking many of the areas. Protests also took place in other major Indian cities including Calcutta, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

In response to the widespread outrage, tougher legislation against rapists was brought into parliament and, amongst other measures, a helpline for women was set up – although activists complained it did not work most of the time.

Such widespread protests over a rape issue are unprecedented in India. Most of the Delhi protests were spontaneous; some were planned through social media like Facebook. For many this was the first time they were out on the streets protesting, since the middle class and students in India are generally apathetic about politics. Most were arguing for increased safety for women and a greater police presence on the streets. Many were demanding the death penalty or castration for the accused, presenting the incident as a law and order problem and calling for strengthening the arm of the state rather than raising awareness of the patriarchal attitudes that allow such rapes to happen in the first place.

Though the protesters were mostly students, members and sympathisers of the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP and figures like the former army chief of staff joined in, trying to make political capital against the ruling Congress Party. Many politicians and public figures made reactionary statements. Some called female activists ‘tainted and painted’, others presented Western lifestyles as opposed to traditional Indian values as a cause of the rape or advised women not to go out at night or to wear revealing dresses. Yet more blamed increased migration and poor, low caste people as the problem.

Figures show that a rape is reported on average every 18 hours in Delhi. The very low conviction rate in rape cases and the intrusive police questioning which makes women reluctant to report assaults in the first place, mean the real figure is much higher. To that extent a better implementation of existing laws could be useful.

However, the issues behind rape are deeper than this. Many of the perpetrators are arms of the state such as the police or army and the victims are people in areas like Kashmir, North East or alleged Maoist tribal peoples. One example is the Soni Sori case where a tribal human rights activist was sexually assaulted by police in Chattisgarh. Mostly these assaults go unreported and unpunished. As Arundhati Roy has pointed out, this is also the case with rapes of Dalit or lower caste women in villages.

The mass media and Bollywood are all culpable in commodifying women and making sexual harassment, euphemistically termed ‘eve teasing’, socially acceptable. Traditional feudal attitudes, which consider a woman as under the ‘protection’ of her father or husband or son, are also responsible. Challenging women’s oppression will be central to building a revolutionary movement in India.

Joy Bose                             

Indian government pushes on with austerity measures – Dec 2012

In late November 2012 the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh made a speech defending his government's recent cuts in subsidies that benefit poor people (such as the price of kerosene and the number of subsidised cylinders each family was allowed to have) and the decision to allow majority foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail. Ending the ban on foreign multinational companies like Walmart taking a majority stake in any Indian retail company will allow such companies to start undercutting their suppliers and competitors using huge investments from abroad. With interest rates in India typically much higher than in developed countries like the UK, multinationals can get cheaper loans than their Indian competitors. This will be a threat to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small Indian shopkeepers and retailers.

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