Summary: Based on a report from India to the July IMHO Convention, Chicago, July 2022 — Editors
India is a country constituted by a multiplicity of contradictions. Public policy making in India, under such circumstances, is a complicated process which has to address a plethora of different concerns pertaining to different social groups, concerns and insecurities – concerns which have been further institutionalised in post-colonial India. The present Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, have failed to take the multiplicities of India into consideration while articulating their politics and their associated public policies which have, till date, been guided by a strong sense of majoritarianism and neo-fascism. When these facets of their politics – which are in fact the only visibly evident and explicit aspects of most of their politics – combines with the neoliberal economic reforms in India which had been brought in to aim at establishing a free market capitalism per se, one has a dangerous concoction conjured up of the most regressive aspects of mainstream politics in a developing nation such as India. Over the past two years, numerous events have unfolded in the country which have laid bare to the public eye the inherently neo-fascist nature of the BJP government led by Narendra Modi. In this report for the International Marxist-Humanist Organisation, as part of the India Chapter, certain points pertaining the state of affairs in India will be made. The complete and exhaustive analysis of the manner and methods in which the neoliberal-Hindutva assault on India’s democracy is being conducted cannot be restricted to a single report, and as such this report does not guarantee any such exhaustiveness or completeness.
India, under the BJP as it exists today, began its tryst with Hindutva – again as it exists today – with the demolition of the Babri Masjid [Mosque] in 1992 by the neo-fascist RSS and its affiliated Hindu nationalist organisations and volunteers on the 6th of December 1992. It was followed by the Godhra Riots of 2002 in the state of Gujarat, the Chief Minister of which was a certain N. D. Modi. In 2004, just two years after the horrific massacre in Gujarat, under the Prime Ministership of Atal B. Vajpayee, the BJP rallied to the general elections with the marketing slogan of India Shining symbolising prosperity and progress, which it subsequently lost. The United Progressive Alliance [UPA] led by the Indian National Congress and supported by the left-wing parties such as the Stalinist Communist Party of India (CPI), the equally Stalinist Communist Party of India [Marxist] (CPIM), the semi-Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI), and others such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party of India (RSPI), and some 19-20 other left-wing parties, assumed office in 2004. The left – regardless of their ideological affiliation – then had a good proportion of Members of Parliament which it used almost to perfection during the first term of the UPA. However, during the UPA’s second term, beginning in 2009, things started falling apart due to the Nuclear Deal with NATO following which the left withdrew support in the parliament for the UPA. The BJP and its Shining India 2.0, which one knows today by the tag-line of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas [Staying with Everyone, Progress for Everyone] was born that very day. Impregnated with scams and popular mismanagement along with flimsy support from the left – which was a formidable electoral force then governing three states and occupying a strong presence in a few others – under the titular Prime Ministership of Dr Manmohan Singh and the real leadership of Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the UPA II could not survive the 2014 elections, and India’s top political position was occupied by Narendra D. Modi.
Under Modi, since 2014, India has woken up to neoliberal Hindutva, – something that it has drawn on from the neoliberal regime put in place by the Congress and the BJP-alliance led governments of the past – becoming a mainstream political ideology, where development was equated with economic liberalisation, selling of national assets, privatisation, and the like, and the conditions for that development to occur was portrayed to be the complete marginalisation of Muslims, Dalits, Tribals, Women, Left-Wing and Progressive Activists, and other Minorities. Under the BJP, there has been a continuous demonisation of the Muslim populace, which roughly accounts to around 25% of the total population of the country. Lynching of Muslims and Islamophobic hate-mongering have become so commonplace in the country that even the alternative media often skips them off as being parts of its ‘regular updates’. The BJP has been trying to bring in numerous reforms in the country which is putting the very status of the Muslim citizens of India as Indians in peril. The Citizenship Amendment Act [CAA] of 2019 which enabled the granting of citizenship to persecuted religious minorities of the neighbouring states of Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, etc., does not include the Muslims as probable victims of religious persecution in those countries even though there are numerous cases of certain groups of Muslims being discriminated against in those countries. The ruling government had argued that the CAA 2019 does not put the ‘Indian’ Muslims in jeopardy, but that is not true because the CAA’s role itself was not that. That was supposed to be done by the proposed National Register of Citizens [NRC], which was designed in a manner which required the furnishing of documents which are almost impossible to be furnished by the poorest of the poor and women, especially those who have been divorced or left astray by the social institutions. The exercise, however, was restricted only to Assam where even a section of the left supported the NRC, which was supposed to exclude the most marginalised section of India’s populace, the Muslims, who suffer from extremely low financial stability, low economic resource utilisation, unemployment, hunger, etc.
The other issue which demands attention at this point are the three farm laws: the kala kanoon [the black laws]. The farmers’ protests against the farm laws have exhibited that strong and resolute action on the streets outside the annals of the parliament from the non-capitalist (not necessarily anti-capitalist) classes can indeed be a vehicle for social and economic change – a lesson that can be an important one for the organised left of this country. It is again, important here to put into context that the agrarian class in India is very different from that in the West. Similarities might be drawn, in this case, with the agrarian class in Russia during the pre-revolutionary days of 1917, but even then, the path has to be traversed very carefully. During the long and arduous journey that post-Independent Indian society has traversed, the agrarian sector has occupied an important position. The situation, however, deteriorated under the rule of Indira Gandhi, whose political legacy remains mired with contradictions – she had nationalised petroleum and banks, but also brought in the Emergency which produced a wide proportion of contemporary BJP leaders. The introduction of the three farm laws by the BJP in 2020 does not come as a surprise because the free-market regime that the BJP is attracted to demands to have agriculture as part of its exploitable avenues. The farm laws had supported the complete withdrawal of the government from the agrarian sector, which infuriated the agrarian class in India, who protested against the laws for more than a year sitting at the boundaries of Delhi, the national capital of India. The government tried to supress the revolting farmers by numerous means which included violence, ideological marginalisation and reinvigorating the Khalistan [the independent homeland of the Sikhs] debate, but the farmers emerged victorious. The government had to repeal the laws.
At the same time that the BJP was introducing the farm laws, it had also introduced a total of four labour codes which are set to replace all the 29 labour laws which exist in the country. As most of the trade unions and workers’ organisations have put forward, the labour codes when implemented will result in massive informalisation of the labour force, complete marginalisation of all prospects of unionisation and increase of part-time and contractual work, etc. The central trade unions, which include the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Central Committee of Trade Unions (AICCTU), and the like have organised as many as 4 highly successful general strikes which saw participation by more than 2.5 million workers on each occasion, but the solution still seems to be at quite some distance away. The care workers in India known as the Anganwadi [the keeper of the courtyards], on the other hand, are also in distress following the state’s ambiguous position on their employment status. There have been protests in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Kolkata, etc. Although there have been reports of inter-union rivalry in these places, the protests have gone on – which leads one to question the idea of multiple unions, but that is a discussion for another day. However, a very miniscule proportion of these protests have hinged on the political consciousness that is required to relate economic consciousness to the broader political framework. In other words, economism has been the mainstream idea in these protests.
Recently, there has arisen the Agnipath [the Path of Fire] scheme, which opens up the path towards the creation of armies of mercenaries in India – labelled by the ruling government as ‘Agniveers’ [Bravehearts unafraid of Fire]. These recruits would be trained by the army, employed there for 4 years and then released. In this context, the issues concerning paramilitary armies and private militias such as the ones maintained by the RSS is already a lot of cause for worry because the young people trained by the army under the scheme will eventually find it difficult to be employed in the country thus landing up in the RSS or other private militias. Massive demonstrations, which mainly say participation of the youth, had erupted against the scheme. The left also took to the streets, but the scheme, like the many others before it, went through without taking into consideration the stakeholders who would be most affected by the scheme. The elected BJP representatives including the defence minister, instead of addressing the concerns of the youth, took to Twitter to congratulate the Prime Minister for thinking of such an innovation in a country infested with unemployment – both formal and disguised. The plan amounts to nothing but a complete informalisation of the defence forces of the country which – regardless of the ideological concerns with the armed forces – used to employ a good proportion of rural youth. Simultaneously, the government has also dismantled a large proportion of the public sector industries in the country and is now well on its path towards the total annihilation of the public sector in India. There have been concerted attacks on the Indian Railways and the Life Insurance Corporation of India with a view to privatise them. Already, in many regions, due to the neoliberal regime that had been established in India in 1991, essential services such as electricity, water, and the like have been given to private players.
As many studies conducted around the globe, notably in South Africa and Latin America, have shown, public provisioning of essential services does make the service more equitable. However, that being said, public provisioning of essential services also has its own share of issues in India which include bureaucratic elitism and red-tapism which has often made public services seem like a ‘nightmare of papers and regulations’ out of reach of the common people. These debates about nationalisation and socialisation of the economy are old ones within the left. The left of the yesteryears has been highly defensive in its approach towards saving the public sector of the country and resisted most of the attacks on the same by the successive central governments. Despite the left performing extremely well in saving the public sector and the nationalised sectors of India, it failed in constructing an ideological narrative in favour of workers’ self-administration and control of the productive resources. Instead, it remained firm in its advocacy in favour of vanguardist models. In doing so, the left in India could never bring forward the argument that state capitalism was also, at the end, capitalism which neither ended wage slavery nor enabled the workers to articulate and be engaged directly at the point of production.
The BJP seemingly is bringing the old debate back on the agenda. The left-wing agenda in India has been strongly centred on nationalisation of essential services. With the ushering in of neoliberalisation, a huge proportion of the public services in India became privatised, which were halted to a certain extent during UPA I. The renewed assault on the public services has again brought the mainstream and critical left in the country back to where it had begun – in a position where arguments about transcending nationalisation to the self-movement and self-administration of the people have supposedly been done away with in light of the attacks on the public sector, and all efforts have to focus upon saving the nationalised public resources.
The right-wing assault on India’s social fabric is even being felt within the realm of popular culture, where films such as Samrat Prithviraj, Panipat, and Padmavat have been produced in India in recent times, all with an attempt to portray India as a Hindu nation which had been plagued by Muslim invaders. The ferocity and barbaric nature which has been portrayed in these movies as being traits peculiar to Muslims reiterates the ideological hate that the ruling class harbours towards them in India at this particular moment of India’s history. During Jawaharlal Nehru’s rule, there were explicit directives to directors to portray the Muslims in India in good faith because the communal harmony he envisaged in India could not be built upon through force but by reconciliation, dialogue and understanding. The present government is highly insistent on doing away with all of that. Women under the BJP have suffered through the worst phases of assaults on their autonomy. The BJP’s version of Hindutva politics drawn from Manusmriti, an ancient hyper conservative text, argues that women are not to be treated as human beings – forget about treating them as equals. Thus, it is not surprising that during incidents such as the Hathras Gang Rape and Murder Case, where a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang raped and murdered by 4 upper caste men, there was evidence of the BJP people in the region actively enabling the legal escapeway for the perpetrators.
The fact that the victim was a Dalit further made it easy for the BJP to dehumanise the victim. Dalits have been the worst sufferers of the neoliberal reforms in India. Under neoliberal Hindutva, a term that Anand Teltumbde frequently evokes, Dalits have been further oppressed not only economically but also socially which was hitherto unseen and unheard of in India’s history. As K. S. Komireddy put it, the hatred against the marginalised sections in India has always been there in the subconscious mind of some Indians, under the BJP that hatred’s capacity to inflict violence has been heightened exceptionally. The ways in which the ruling neo-fascist BJP is governing the country is leading India towards a dark abyss constructed out of the blood of the minorities and the marginalised section of the populace. The killings of people such as Mohammad Akhlak, the imprisonment of Umar Khalid and other activist-scholars such as Anand Teltumbde, Vara Vara Rao, and Gautam Navlakha, and the disappearance of Najeeb all point towards a dark future full of conservative ideas and authoritarian governance. The times are such that the recent comment by Miss Nupur Sharma, one of the spokespersons of the BJP against Prophet Muhammed has initiated a widespread debate about the state of not only India’s internal cohesion, but also its foreign policy towards major and economically dominant Islamic states such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia – countries which have millions of Indians employed as migrant workers, most notably Dalits and Muslims.
Under the BJP, there have been concerted attacks on eminent educational institutions such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, the University of Hyderabad in Hyderabad, the Jadavpur University in Kolkata, and the Jamia Miia Islamia University in Delhi – universities which are known for being bastons of the left-wing and progressive forces. There have been numerous conflicts in these institutions of national repute where goons under the tutelage of the BJP and its student wings have inflicted violence on the students. The old conception of Swaraj does not hold much sense under neoliberal capitalism infested with the voracious aggressiveness of Hindutva. What India needs is ‘Poorna Swaraj’ (Complete Self-Rule), a term invoked by the early Indian Socialists and Communists during the freedom struggle and made popular in contemporary times by a protest song during the Jamia Milia Agitation when the police ransacked the library of this historical institution.
Political formations such as the All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC) in Bengal, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa, fail to provide resolutions to the situation India is in at the moment because they do not address the questions ideologically and more or less adhere to the same neoliberal agenda that the BJP subscribes to. To achieve total freedom – with all its internal contradictions at this point – one needs to move towards forms of organisation which are creations of the self-movement of the people and ideas engaged with the movement themselves – a form which is both philosophical and practical at the same time. This means going beyond the limits of all established regional and national parties and the mainstream left as it exists. This form would require both the subjectivity of the armchair intellectual and the objectivity of the protesting strikers. With all the internal contradictions that the farmers’ movement contained within itself, it exhibited that it is very much within the capacities of the people to evolve from older forms of organisation and move towards more decentralised modes of organising the masses. The questions that haunt the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist movement in India is a dialectical one and demands deeper analysis of the dialectics of philosophy and organisation. Both subjective and objective analysis of the situation have to be revisited with a vision towards the construction of a subjectivity of the objective situation and vice versa.
 See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11436552 [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://www.rediff.com/money/2004/apr/02shining.htm [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See the 2007 Sachar Committee Report. Available at: https://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/show_content.php?lang=1&level=0&ls_id=14&lid=14 [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://www.vedantu.com/question-answer/differentiate-between-the-farms-in-india-and-the-class-8-social-science-cbse-60c20e14ac630c7bc7615c4e . Also check https://www.livemint.com/news/india/india-s-subsidies-to-farmers-very-low-compared-to-western-countries-official-1553687604807.html [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 Numerous books about the emergency period have come to be published which highlight this particular aspect. See for example, Gyan Prakash’s ‘Emergency Chronicles’ (Princeton University Press, 2018)
 One can refer to numerous political memoirs to substantiate this point.
 See https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-farm-laws-repeal-bill-2021 [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1882845 [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1833747 [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2022/06/30/indias-agniveers-rsss-nazi-like-militia/ as well as https://www.eurasiareview.com/27062022-indias-agnipath-recruitment-rss-secret-militia-oped/ [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://twitter.com/rajnathsingh/status/1536640278697652225?lang=en [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://thewire.in/film/samrat-prithviraj-is-a-tedious-repeat-of-nationalist-hindutva-films [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://scroll.in/reel/945842/panipat-movie-review-been-there-and-seen-that [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-42048512 [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://thewire.in/politics/hathras-case-bjp-leader-ranjeet-bahadur-srivastava-maligns-character-victim [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-anand-teltumbde-bail-dismiss , https://www.indiatimes.com/explainers/news/who-is-varavara-rao-and-why-is-new-book-is-in-controversy-penguin-554097.html , and https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/gautam-navlakha-bhima-koregaon-case-8260485/ [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://www.siasat.com/where-is-najeeb-ahmed-5-years-on-no-trace-of-missing-jnu-student-2208543/ [Accessed 04.04.2023]
 See https://muslimmirror.com/eng/why-rss-poses-threat-to-the-gulf-societies/ [Accessed 04.04.2023]