The election of Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest political shift in Indian politics since 1947 and spells danger for Indian workers, women and ethnic and religious minorities.
It is the first time a party has won more votes than the Nehru-Gandhi Congress Party. On a high turnout of 66%, the BJP got 31% to the Congress Party’s 19%, picking up 282 of the 543 seats in the lower house. This gives them a parliamentary majority, and an even bigger one if they can count on the support of the rest of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance of centre-right and right-wing parties.
After a well-organised election campaign on which the BJP are rumoured to have spend over £1 billion, Modi’s party defeated many regional parties and crushed the Congress, who only have 44 seats — leaving no real opposition in the Lok Sabha (House of the People — India’s lower house).
The background was that of a sinking annual growth rate of under 5%, a fall from 9.3 percent in the last quarter of 2010-2011. India has slipped from the world’s second-fastest-growing economy to tenth place in this index. Public borrowing has quadrupled in the past five years, the national deficit grew substantially, inflation is high and the value of the rupee has plummeted by 20 percent. Between 2004 and 2013, the wholesale price index for food went up by 157 per cent, vegetables by 350 per cent and onions by 521 percent, amid accusations of both corruption and mismanagement.
As well as his base in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist milita and movement, Modi picked up votes from young and urban voters disaffected by the Congress Party, state corruption, lack of growth and jobs. In rural areas such as Utter Pradesh, villagers preferred promises of development rather than the almost feudal charity of local Congress big-wigs.
Modi played on his background as a low-caste tea seller, styling himself as an aspirational and strong leader. The election campaign was Modi-centric; this was reflected in the grandiose and star-studded inauguration ceremony during which Modi demonstrably took the oath of office in Hindi.
Modi’s home state of Gujarat was the site of anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002, following the deaths of Hindu pilgrims when their coach caught fire. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India accused Modi of not intervening when he had the full power to do so. Even worse, he fomented the violence, declaring without evidence that the Pakistani security services were involved, and paraded the charred bodies through the streets of Ahmedabad.
The pogroms included horrific violence, rapes, and attacks on pregnant women. In their wake, Modi was denied visas by UK and US. Now, in light of growing bilateral trade and investment between the UK and India, the Cameron government has bent over backwards to accommodate Modi.
The BJP promised “Good times ahead” in the election and played on the other side of Modi’s record in Gujarat, where he built himself back up from the pogroms with a flashy bid for international investment, wooing capitalists with big trade fairs and lax regulation. He struck deals with tycoons, including giving away a large stretch of coastline for port development.
However, in Gujarat there was little progress on education, malnutrition or health care. Critics also cite environmental damage, displacement of the rural poor and a high rate of farmer suicides.
“If you define Thatcherism as less government, free enterprise, then there is no difference between Modi-nomics and Thatcherism,” says Deepak Kanth, a London-based banker and BJP fundraiser.
As a long-time member of RSS Modi didn’t need to appeal to communalism too blatantly during the election campaign because his base there was secured.
Now Modi has been pushing an Indian nationalist and Hindu chauvinist agenda, with his home ministry instructing civil servants in Delhi to use Hindi rather than English in all their communications on social media. The language will also be prioritised on all government websites. This policy has already sparked protestations from Tamil-language states such as Tamil Nadu in the south of the country, and from politicians in its only Muslim-majority state, Indian-administered Kashmir.
The BJP is part of the Sangh Parivar (the Family of Organisations) Hindu nationalist movement established as an umbrella group by RSS members. The RSS wants to see a “Hindu renaissance”, and view society as an organic unity, favouring strong state. It was set up in 1925, and much like the Phalange in Lebanon, it imitated 1930s fascist organisations in Europe.
One means by which an organic unity of the nation can be forged in India is through a negative cohesion based on scapegoating the Muslim minority. According to the New Statesman “One of Modi’s closest associates, Amit Shah, called on voters in Uttar Pradesh to reject parties that put up Muslim candidates. He also openly urged voters to use the ballot box to seek ‘revenge for the insult meted out to our community. This election will be a reply to those who have been ill-treating our mothers and sisters’. This in an area where dozens were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots last year.
“This led to an almost unprecedented formal ban by the Electoral Commission of India on 11 April, stopping Shah from making any further public appearances in this campaign in Uttar Pradesh. He had previously been banned from entering his native Gujarat, where he stands accused of murder, using the local police as his proxies. Amid loud proktests, the Uttar Pradesh ban was lifted on 18 April.”
Amid the rise of this Hindu cultural nationalism (Hindutva), the “left” has been routed. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which governed West Bengal for 34 years until 2011 as part of the Left Front, was reduced to just two seats out of a total of 42 in the state. This is no surprise given that the CPI(M) tried to expropriate 10,000 acres of land in Nandigram in 2007 to give to Indonesian industrialists, leading to fatal clashes in which 14 villagers died and many more were injured.
Nationally, the CPI(M) won nine seats. It is the party’s worst performance in decades, and comes just ten years after its high-point in 2004 when the CPI(M) won 5.66% of the vote and 43 MPs — before backing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, though refusing to join it. The smaller Communist Party of India has just one seat in the Lok Sabha.
Indian workers and the left need to chart a course defending secularism against communalism, resisting Modi’s impending attacks on workers and welfare provision, and standing up for women’s rights.