India: The Horrors of Capitalism

In the last weeks India has seen some of the most horrific communal violence in the whole of its post-partition history. There are more people killed in India each year due to religious violence than in any other country in the world. At the time of partition in 1947, more than a million Hindus and Muslims were slaughtered in the communal frenzy ensuing from the act of partition. Having utterly failed to provide a decent standard of living for the working people of India, the Indian ruling class are resorting to crude chauvinism to maintain their support. But over the last 50 years capitalism has shown it is utterly incapable of providing the solutions to the problems of the masses. The only way out of this nightmare is a socialist federation of South Asia.

The petrol-bombing of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 at Godhra Railway station in Gujarat unleashed one of the most gruesome slaughters of India's post-partition history. Fifty-five years of this era are already marred with the periodic episodes of communal genocide and mass murder. The incident took place when a train carrying Karsevaks (Hindu religious activists) returning from a Ram temple-building campaign in Ayodhya, was allegedly attacked by Muslims. These Karsevaks were actually gangs of goons shouting provocative anti-Muslim slogans, looting Muslim vendors at various railway stations (especially at Godhra), snatching scarves from the heads of female Muslim passengers and exposing themselves in front of them. The revenge attack by the Muslim zealots was also not unplanned either. The fact that a several hundred-strong mob was mobilized as early as 7.00 a.m. suggests serious planning and preparation on the part of Muslim communalists. Out of the 58 people killed, 40 were women and children. Then all hell broke out. More than a thousand people, mostly Muslim women and children, were killed; thousands of young girls were raped; houses were burnt and millions were forced to flee. This mass lynching had an almost celebratory air. Hindu vigilante mobs roamed the streets as if on some gruesome holiday during which they had been released from all the codes of humanity; chatting as they roamed, roaring as they killed. The killings are still going on, although sporadic, but the danger of a further escalation of this violence based on religious hatred and communal frenzy looms large in India.

During the 1970s and 80s, Godhra recorded violence or curfew on as many as 150 days in some years. The town's majority Muslim population; endemic rivalry between it and the surrounding Advasi (tribal) groups, the sharp Muslim-Hindu competition over trading interests and the spread of Hindutva (Hindu mythology) among the upper caste Hindus all gave Godhra a special, incendiary, character.

The February 27 carnage was preceded by numerous provocative episodes by the Karsevaks. What followed suggests both planning on the part of Hindu communalists and the collusion of the state. In several gory incidents, it not only failed to deter or stop the violence - it actively encouraged it. Worse, it actually participated in arson, abduction, armed intimidation and downright murder, besides looting and destroying Muslim prosperities. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) goons took over more than 30 cities and towns, and rampaged, burned and killed at will. Amidst their depredations, the police were nowhere to be seen. Once again hardcore fundamentalists suborned the agencies of the state.

Interestingly, Gujarat is the home province of Mahatma Gandhi, the false prophet who has been portrayed as the apostle of non-violence and religious harmony by the bourgeoisie intellectuals of India and the West alike. Yet Gujarat has been one of the most glaring examples of religious intolerance and violence in India.

For millions of common people Gujarat has been turned into a veritable purgatory. It fits into a sordid, disgraceful pattern, witnessed right since Ahmedabad (1969) and Bhiwandi (1970). What is special about the recent violence in Gujarat is that it was planned, organised and executed by a "political" group (the VHP-RSS), which is organically linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP's chief minister of Gujarat, Narandra Modi himself has been the principle driving force behind the pogrom. A life long RSS (Rashtirya Swayamasevak Sangh) Pracharak, Modi has never concealed his hatred for non-Hindu faiths. Recently Modi said that "all Muslims may not be terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims." His government has also imposed a draconian fundamentalist syllabus with weird religious hymns (yajnas) such as "dhartimata" in all state schools supposedly to prevent future earthquakes. But Gujarat is no exception to the religious bigotry that is rotting the fabric of the society throughout India. Modi has announced that the Hindu victims of the communal violence will get twice the amount of compensation as the Muslim victims.

India has the most secular constitution in the world, yet there are more humans killed in India due to religion-instigated violence than in any other country on the planet. At the time of partition in 1947, more than a million Hindus and Muslims were slaughtered in the communal frenzy ensuing from the act of partition itself. And this religious carnage is not just between Hindus and Muslims only. In 1984, Sikhs were identified, torched and killed by sword and bullet after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In 1992 the destruction of the Babri Mosque in a disputed spot in the holy city of Ayodhya, where the Himalayas meet the plains, was followed up by the wanton countrywide riots in which Muslims were surrounded, terrorised and massacred, with rape thrown in for good measure in cities like Surat, where they even filmed it.

The bourgeois politicians who dominate the Indian political scene, always offer their formal regrets, even as they privately savour the political rewards that the storms bring their way. Some of them are barely able to keep a thin smile hidden when they trot out pompous phrases of concern, interjected with poisonous words that send private signals to their violent constituency. It is also a misconception that the BJP is the only political party whipping up and perpetuating religious hatred and frenzy to fulfil its lust for power, privileges and corruption. Most mainstream political parties use this religious and communal chauvinism time and again to serve their vested interests. It is the inevitable outcome of the ever-deepening and aggravating crisis of Indian capitalism. The Congress is equally guilty of this crime. In 1984 the Congress Party condoned the massacre of Sikhs. Congress was re-elected in the general election riding on the reactionary wave of communal frenzy that followed the Sikh slaughter.

A peculiarity of the Babri mosque episode in December 1992 was the collusion between the Congress government in New Delhi and the main opposition party at that time, the BJP, which was at the forefront of the movement to destroy the mosque built - it said - where the revered Hindu god Rama was supposed to have been born. The congress prime minister at the time, P.V. Narasimha Rao, in a modern variation of the Nero legend, slept while the Babri Mosque was being torn down. Even his cabinet colleagues were not allowed to disturb his sleep, according to numerous statements made by them (after he lost power). Rao rationalised his abdication of responsibility with Machiavellian rationale. The BJP was committing suicide, he argued; why interfere? But he, not the BJP, died a political death.

Even after partition India ended up with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, now numbering over 150 million. Communal strife, conflict and mayhem between the Muslims and the Hindu majority have been a constant feature of post-independence India. The notion of national harmony put forward by the bourgeois nationalist leaders of India has turned out to be a terrifying deception which can be seen in the black smoke that billowed from the torched Muslim homes and the smell of charred human flesh in the air of Ahmedabad. The dream of a unified harmonious India is looking increasingly like a fantasy.

Vajpayee and his BJP party claim to believe in secularism, but they came to power by banging the drum of Hindu fanaticism and fanning hatred of the Muslim minority by stirring things up in Ayodhya. With its increasing political crisis and the decline in support, the BJP regime has harped more and more on Hindu fanaticism. Just as each marauding mob in Gujarat had a leader, almost always a local policeman, their inspiration (if not their directives) come right down from people within the top party hierarchy now ruling India.

In the early 1990s, with the rapid decline in the fortunes of the Congress, the BJP started a noisy campaign to build a temple on the mosque's site. Leaning on the backward sections of society, the BJP made gains in the 1991 elections. In 1992 it brought its fanatical supporters to the Babri mosque once again.

As BJP leaders including L.K Advani (who has been legally charged with being responsible for the mosque destruction), now Indian home affairs minister, watched - professing to be shocked - trained Karsevaks break down the Babri mosque with iron rods and sledgehammers. That set off riots by Muslims across India, particularly in Bombay. As usual, the Hindus followed suit. A month later in Bombay three days of rioting killed nearly 500 Muslims. It was one of the worst communal slaughters since the partition.

Then came a nasty twist on March 12, 1993. 10 bombs simultaneously exploded, some of them near Hindu targets killing more than 300 people. The Islamic fundamentalists had replied in kind. The absence of a class alternative continued to escalate the fundamentalist frenzy. The BJP took power for 13 days in 1996 in a doomed coalition. After elections in 1998, it cobbled together a stronger alliance; despite a central government injunction on the construction at the Ayodhya site, the BJP radical counterpart, the VHP announced it would start construction of the Rama temple on land surrounding the former mosque's site. Since 1992, craftsmen shipped into Ayodhya have been carving pillars and balustrades for the temple. In the past few weeks the VHP has been ferrying thousands of Hindu pilgrims to take part in the temple-rebuilding rituals. The VHP said it would start rebuilding on March 15 and that was the time when it was thought things would get dangerous. Until that is the Sabarmati Express pulled into Godhra station from Ayodhya.

In the past the "truce" between Hindus and Muslims seems to have been a détente rather than a standing peace, based more on mutually assured destruction than on any deep understanding. That cold war turned hot at the end of February thanks to Ayodhya, the genie that Vajpayee and Advani released from the bottle. Vajpayee is in a tight corner. Many coalition partners are nervous and threatening to leave the NDA. The activists at Ayodhya have their own agenda: to build the temple.

Last week in Ayodhya a VHP activist exclaimed: "Let us see how Vajpayee stops us. He will have to shoot at his fellow Hindus and that will be the end of his premiership. If we can bring him to power, we can also take him down."

The decline of the BJP is also evident from the electoral results. After dismal performances in parliamentary by-elections and the 2000-2001 local elections, the BJP was drubbed in the recent state elections. The fractious alliance of 27 parties (NDA) regime led by the BJP saw September 11 and December 13 (armed assault on Indian parliament) incidents as opportunities to capitalize on the "anti-terrorist" rhetoric.

The whipping up of anti-Pakistan war hysteria did not help either. The BJP regime has mobilized 700,000 troops along the Pakistan border at an exuberant economic cost and high military risk. And now comes the scathing indictment from voters in four states where elections for the legislative assembly took place in February. These also include the key state of Utter Pradesh, where the BJP has been reduced to third place in the Assembly; shrunk to half its size. This is the biggest electoral setback it has suffered since 1991. In the other three states (Punjab, Utteranchal and Manipur) the BJP has also done abysmally. Its allies, specially the Akalis in Punjab, now find it is more of a liability than an asset. Apart from the political decline the BJP regime and its coalition partners are besmirched by corruption scandals.

For example, the UNIT trust scandal, involving a big state-owned mutual fund, in which over 50 million small investors lost almost half their life savings while corporate investors profiteered.

Claiming to be an "honest and nationalist" party, which would eradicate corruption and protect national capitalism from the onslaught of imperialism, the BJP has proved to be exactly the opposite. Corruption is rife in its ranks and the "Swadeshi" (nationalist) party has carried out the dictates of the IMF, the World Bank and US imperialism more than perhaps any other regime in India. The privatisation of the railways has put enormous pressure on the workers as well as commuters. The railway workers face redundancies and the passengers face brutal fare hikes. The fares have been increased to such an extent that it will cost the poor second-class passengers an extra Rs 90 billion. Similarly the increase of Rs 4.5 billion in freight charges will drastically enhance the price of essential commodities.

The new budget is a blatant attack on the living standards of the already-impoverished masses in India. The imperialist-imposed measures have failed to boost economic growth. It is at a dismal 4% and the trend is downwards with the intensification of the economic crisis. Foreign debt has increased, the rupee has further devalued, unemployment has risen and industrial production is in constant recession. India's position in the United Nations' Human Development Index of 162 countries is number 115.

This year availability of food grain per capita reduced from 426 to 390 grams, pulses from 32 to 26 grams, and edible oil from 9.6 to 8 kg. The government has slashed the number of drugs under price control from 166 in 1995 to 38 at the behest of the multinational pharmaceutical companies.

The fiscal deficit has increased to 5.7% of GDP. The so-called economic restructuring has also failed to meet its targets. The target of revenues from the sale of privatised state industries was set at $2.5 billion whilst only $1.1 billion has been raised.

The decline of Congress, which has ruled for most of the post-independence period intensified when it opted for "free market" economic policies and opened up India for more direct imperialist plunder.

The BJP's decline now seems to be unstoppable. There is no fundamental difference between the economic policies of the BJP and Congress, or for that matter of almost all the parties dominating Indian politics today. There cannot be any other policy under the rule of capital. The crisis is intensifying. The severe socio-economic crisis has had a deep impact on India's political superstructure. It has been fractured and fragmented beyond repair.

The recent barbaric episode of communal hysteria in Gujarat is only one aspect of India's rapidly deteriorating social fabric. The world recession, will seriously aggravate the crisis of Indian capitalism. The misery, poverty, disease and primitiveness resulting from the crushing exploitation of the capitalist system, stokes the fires of communal, ethnic and religious savagery. Violence breeds violence and this vicious cycle of hatred and bloodshed based on the prejudices of the past spirals on and on. It can only be ended when an upsurge of the masses based on class solidarity and unity cuts across this vicious cycle.

But the question is what will replace the BJP regime after it falls. Congress is in extreme disarray and unpopular. It came last in the UP legislative election in February. Its history is almost over. There is very little chance that it will gain the position it held in the years immediately after partition. There is no other political party which has a national basis in India. This shows the abject failure of Indian bourgeois politics. The Indian ruling classes have failed to solve any question or accomplish any task of the national-democratic revolution. Paradoxically the conditions in all sectors have worsened. The patterns of combined and uneven development under a decaying capitalism have exasperated the contradictions. These contradictions are now exploding in all directions. Along with this reactionary frenzy there is also revolutionary stirrings in the Indian proletariat.

The 27-day strike of government employees and teachers has intensified all over the Kerala state. The UBF regime's acts of repression have failed to end the strike.

Thousands of left-wing political activists are supporting this strike action of state employees and teachers. There are numerous such strikes and retaliatory actions going on in India in which the international and Indian media conspire to maintain a criminal silence.

The leaders of CPI and CPI(M) have been rebuffed by the election results. They left the revolutionary path to submerge these traditional parties of the Indian proletariat into the morass of bourgeois parliamentary politics. The change in the objective situation and the upsurge of the class struggle will force these CP leaders either to abdicate or to tread on the path of revolutionary politics.

March 15 is the date set by the VHP to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya. But what has not been reported in the bourgeois press is that March 14 is the date set for countrywide demonstrations and mass action against the BJP regime's anti-worker policies of privatisation, restructuring, etc. All the left-wing trade union federations on a national scale have jointly called this action.

Revolution and counter-revolution have come face to face in India. Religious bigotry and communal frenzy are the products of the aggravating capitalist crisis and the failure of the traditional workers' leaders to put forward a revolutionary alternative. Paradoxically after Congress and BJP, the Communist parties are the only political force who have, although small, a countrywide presence. On the basis of a revolutionary programme and policy they could gain a mass basis across India.

There is a colossal political vacuum developing in India. If a revolutionary Marxist leadership does not fill it then India will head towards a bloody fragmentation, turmoil, chaos and barbarism. That is the only future that capitalism offers to India. Its symptoms are clear from the horrific events which took place in the last few days in Gujarat. The only way out of these horrors is the overthrow of the rotting capitalist system. This can only be accomplished through a socialist revolution. The Indian proletariat has proved more than once that it is more than capable of taking up this challenge. The only factor missing is a revolutionary programme, party and leadership. In the new epoch the rising tide of proletarian revolt will sweep through India, cleansing it of the poisonous rubbish of communalism and religious strife, and preparing the way for a new civilisation on the basis of socialism.