Confronting India's Political Dilemma


For those who are students of John Stuart Mill’s political thought about democracy, India’s democracy may seem to be a puzzle. According to Mill, democracy is “next to impossible” in multicultural societies and completely impossible in linguistically divided societies. But, for more than six decades, Indian democracy survived with its multinational multi ethnic and multilingual character.

The credit for this historic achievement should go to political acumen of ordinary Indian citizens. For a long time, about half of the voting population put faith on the old Indian National Congress party, which led the independence struggle against British colonial rule. However, in the eyes of many in the Left, Congress betrayed the people by choosing capitalism for India’s growth.

In that context, when the danger to societal cohesion became imminent, the regionalism became an outlet and played a positive role. Most of the people, who were loyal to the Congress, swung their trust from the Congress to many regional political parties. Thus, the era of one-party governments led by the Congress party with parliamentary majority have come to an end. Now, the Congress and the main opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), still remain major parties, but they could not run the government without the help of a host of significant regional and state-based parties.

Hence, the unity of the country with somewhat stable democracy was preserved, contradicting the Mill’s theory. However, India’s poor, the lower middle classes and the most disadvantaged sections could not get their due in this ‘stable’ democracy. The reason lies in the fact the past coalition governments led by both Congress and BJP pursued the policies of neoliberalism. Still, India’s neoliberal trajectory has been depriving millions of peasants and workers of their livelihoods.

Now, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) government led by the Congress party completes its five-year term in May 2014. This was its second term; the first one was from 2004 to 2009. With the next general elections only months away, all political parties are competing. 

Not only the UPA-II failed to deliver goods to the common people, it was more corrupt than the UPA-I with “mindboggling” scams that were not seen by any previous government. Due to its failures in dealing with the basic problems of poverty, price rise of essential items, including food items, many political observers feel that the Congress party-led UPA-II may lose the governing position in 2014 parliamentary elections.

The Congress leadership is seriously attempting to defuse the impact of its poor record, not by reversal of neoliberal policies but by putting forward Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate for the parliamentary elections. He was newly appointed as party vice-president. He is the son of party’s president, Sonia Gandhi, and the scion of the Nehru-Indira Gandhi family.

In the meanwhile, the ruling alliance goes on disintegrating. The largest coalition partner in UPA-II, the West Bengal-based Trinamool Congress, has left the coalition. Another partner Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), based in the southern state of Tamil Nadu also left the coalition.

India’s main opposition alliance, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also been weakened. The second-biggest party Janata Dal (United), a powerful party in eastern Bihar state quit the NDA after the BJP appointed Narendra Modi to lead its campaign for parliamentary elections. The Janata Dal (United) expressed its fears that with Modi as Prime Ministerial candidate it could alienate Muslim voters because of his role as Chief Minister in the state of Gujarat during 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom which resulted in loss of over 2000 lives. There was untiring campaign in corporate media to promote Modi as a man of good governance and Savior of India from all of its evils. But Modi, as Chief Minister of the Gujarat state did poorly in raising the human development of non-formal workers, women and children with its worst criminal record of his administration. 

With the recent debacle of Bharatiya Janata Party in the Karnataka 2013 assembly elections, it has been proved beyond doubt that the people are not happy with the blatant corruption, aggressive Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, and factionalism of the BJP. These were the main reasons that led to the demise of the BJP in the southern state of Karnataka. The BJP’s Hindutva plank with its larger goal of making India as a Hindu religion-based nation, is a grave threat to the minorities mainly Muslims and Christians and is endangering India’s national unity as well.

In this growing political uncertainty, the Left is campaigning for a political alternative. It is not based on big personalities like Rahul Ganthi or Modi, but on the pro-poor, pro-working class policies. The National Seminar held by the four Left parties in New Delhi on July 1, 2013, is an important step in this direction. The Declaration passed in the Seminar identified the common issues which could be the rallying point for all democratic parties who are not in the fold of Congress-led UPA or BJP-led NDA.The Left expressed its wish to create a alternative platform replacing the neoliberal reactionary platforms of Congress and BJP.

The Declaration criticized the government’s policies as they represent “the narrow interests of the big business, the rich and the powerful” and due to these policies “vast masses of the people still live in poverty, victims of hunger and disease, with no education and health facilities and opportunities to earn a decent livelihood”citing the fact that India accounted for one third of the world’s extreme poor. Because of these devastating policies the Left concluded that “the Congress and the UPA have to be opposed and defeated if alternative policies have to be put in place.”

While characterizing the BJP’s ideology as “the communal Hindutva ideology which is married to unalloyed free market capitalism,” the Left criticized Modi’s Gujarati model as being as the path symbolized by “pogroms for Muslims and bonanza for the corporates.” Thus, the Left concluded that “the BJP is no alternative to the Congress in terms of program and policies” and “It has to be fought and isolated.”

The Declaration observed that the country required an alternative and described its mode of emergence. “Such an alternative can emerge only on the basis of alternative policies. There has to be an alternative policy platform around which a political alternative can be built.”

With this analysis and conclusions, the Left appealed to all democratic parties and mass organizations to “go forward towards building a powerful political alternative.” Here lies the way out for the current political dilemma of India.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2013

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