This article provides an overview of the political situation in India, in which the reactionary BJP-led government of Narendra Modi has turned the COVID-19 crisis into an unprecedented disaster. The ruling class is tearing up labour protections and stoking sectarian violence, while rewarding its big business cronies. Hundreds of millions face destitution, violence and oppression. A revolutionary backlash is inevitable.
The Narendra Modi government’s unplanned, nationwide lockdown, affecting a population of 130 million within four hours, has led to huge chaos. Migrant workers were left to fend for themselves. There are some 130 million migrant workers in India. Since there was no transport, they had to walk all the way back to their homes. Nearly 200 people died on the way and due to accidents, violence and starvation. In Aurangabad, the workers who were on their way home, thinking that, due to the lockdown, there wouldn’t be any trains, took a nap on the railway lines. Unfortunately, 13 workers were run down by a goods train. The Modi government initially diverted the masses' anger against these horrors by blaming the spread of the virus on Tablighi Jamaat gathering: a religious meeting of Muslims planned in Delhi. The reaction of Modi was no different from that of U.S President Trump: complete disregard for the working class, elderly and poor.
There has been a steep increase in COVID-19 cases to more than 3.3 million. Health infrastructure is very weak in India, which spends only 1.2 percent of its GDP on healthcare. The hospital bed-to-population ratio is also far lower than WHO norms. Aside from a lack of beds, there are insufficient ventilators for COVID-19 patients in government hospitals. The people are left to the mercy of private hospitals. Instead of considering COVID-19 as a health crisis, the Modi government is dealing with it like a law-and-order issue. There have been many instances of increased police violence against the workers and people.
Data released by the finance ministry showed that GDP has shrunk by 23.9 percent for the April-June quarter. In gross value, the Indian economy has shrunk by 22.8 percent. India faced the biggest economic contraction of all the major economies in the world, at 23.9 percent. Even America only saw a 9 percent decline in its economy. The Indian economy already started contracting in 2016-2017. The unemployment rate in 2019 before the pandemic was the highest in 45 years and now it is estimated to increase to 27 percent.
Modi came to power in 2014 with the slogan that he would create 20 million jobs every year. But his policies, like demonetisation, introduction of GST (Goods and Service Tax), accompanied by the world economic crisis, led to the closure of hundreds of thousands of small-and-medium-sized factories and a huge loss of jobs. The ILO (International Labour Organization) estimates job loss at 140 million. If daily workers are added, this would extend to 240 million. According to the ILO’s report, around one billion people in the world will be pushed into destitution, and 40 percent will be from India.
The fiscal deficit has increased to 7.4 percent of GDP. The economic contraction has been aggravated due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Modi’s ‘Self-Reliance’ (Atma Nirbhan) programme and Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman’s economic package of $265 billion, which she said to be amounted to 10 percent of GDP, have already been exposed by economists, who say that the economic package will actually only be one percent of GDP. IMF economist Gita Gopinath asserts that India is facing one of the deepest slumps in history. In addition to this economic slump, India is one of the most unequal countries in the world, where there is an accumulation of huge wealth for a small minority at one pole and immense poverty for the majority at the other pole.
The working class
Workers have been engaged in strikes and protest ever since the lockdown. Since the start of this year, India has seen some huge general strikes. The central trade unions: CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, AICCTU and LPF called all-India protests on 22 May, 3 July and 9 August. Nearly 200 million workers participated in these protests in 100,000 locations against the dilution of labour laws and on inaction of the government, for a 12-point charter of demands by the Central Trade Unions, and for arrangement of free transport for migrant workers.
Thousands of coal workers all over India protested from 1-3 July against the government’s decision to privatize the coal industry to benefit corporations. Hundreds of thousands of health and sanitation workers, ASHA and Anganwadi (rural child care centre) workers, who are some of the most exploited layers of the class, joined hands in protest on 9 August. They also engaged in protests in their workplaces on 7-8 August, demanding increased and regularized wages.
There have also been increasing farmer suicides under the Modi government. Peasants and Adivasis (indigenous peoples) also joined the workers’ protest. The All-India Kisan Sangharsh Committee (an umbrella organization of 130 peasant and peasant-worker organizations) joined in these protests as well. Peasants had been protesting against the dilution of land ownership laws, which allowed easy takeover of agricultural land by corporations. The privatization of the coal sector and introduction of laws like the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Act 2020 will affect the peasants, Adivasi and fishermen, and will make the local communities voiceless. EIA Act 2020 will accelerate capitalist exploitation of nature for profit. Projects will be started without public consultation and many people stand to lose their land and livelihoods. The scope of public consultation in the EIA Act has been scrapped for some major industries and for strategic projects. Development works done within 100km from the north-east border will be exempted from public scrutiny under the new act. This would cover all the north-eastern states. Another irony is that it has legalized environmental law violation by bringing in post-facto clearance. All these would lead to destruction of the rich biodiversity of the borth-eastern states.
Attack on Dalits, women and intellectuals
There have been increasing attacks on Muslims, women and Dalits (the lowest rung of India’s caste system) after Modi ascended to power in 2014. Some instances include the brutal murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in 2015 by BJP goons in Uttar Pradesh for possessing beef in his home. That same year, cattle trader Pehlu Khan was beaten to death. Junaid, a young teenager who was going home to celebrate Ramzan, was murdered in cold blood. And Dalits in Una in Gujarat were attacked on the pretext of cow protection.
Progressive intellectuals and communists like Narendra Dabolkhar, Gowri Lankesh and Govind Pansare were killed by members of Hindu fringe outfits. There has been no breakthrough in the investigation of these killings. The Kathua and Una rape cases also shook the consciousness of the masses. In Kathua, Jammu Kashmir state, an eight-year-old girl was found to have been raped multiple times by different persons in a temple after she went missing. Later, she was discovered dead and with injuries all over the body. Right-wing groups like Hindu Ektha Manch created by the BJP supported the accused and held rallies in their support. Similarly in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, a 17-year-old girl was raped by BJP leader Kuldeep Sengar.
There has been an increase in attacks against the working-class under the Modi government by fringe outfits and an increase in state repression and killing of dissidents. A report in 2019 found many arrests due to false charges: 35 percent of these were Dalits arrested on false charges of petty crimes, 27 percent were Adivasis apprehended on false charges of being part of a Maoist rebellion, and the rest were Muslim respondents held on false terrorism charges.
Progressive writers, lawyers and intellectuals like Varavara Rao, Sudha Bhardwaj, Surendra Gadling, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltimbu and others who participated in the Bhima Goregan commemoration ceremony were arrested on false case charges under the 1967 UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) for having alleged links with Maoists. They have been in jail for the past two years without any trial. UAPA is a draconian law with stringent bail provisions, under which anyone can be declared a terrorist and languish in jail without trial.
In one such instance, Kafeel Khan, a progressive doctor, was incarcerated by the Uttar Pradesh government of Yogi Adyinath for criticizing the anti-people CAA law. He was in jail for some eight months before the High Court granted him bail. There is increasing state repression and attacks on minorities and Dalits under BJP-ruled states. As many as 122 alleged criminals were killed in over 6,000 encounters in Uttar Pradesh over the past three years. Dozens were also killed in the brutal state crackdown during the anti-CAA protest in Uttar Pradesh. The Modi government is using the governor as a puppet to remove the non-BJP state governments. They manipulate MPs of other parties through horse trading (bringing over members from opposition parties in order to gain a majority in state assembly, often with the offer of financial benefits and ministerial berths). Horse trading has been practiced by all ruling class parties in India in the past, but the BJP has out maneuvered its opponents lately, although this ploy was defeated in Rajasthan.
Students and youth
The Modi government saw huge student upsurges against the increasing state repression and intervention in universities. The Modi government is trying to stifle the democratic atmosphere in universities like the JNU. The government is increasing the fees for these institutions, making them inaccessible to poor students. There was a protest against these moves by the students, which was suppressed by the BJP and ABVP (student wing of fascist organization RSS), when fascist thugs with the aid of police attacked the protesting students. JNU Student Union President Aishe Ghosh, along with the secretary, were attacked with iron batons by ABVP thugs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi government has introduced the National Education Policy 2020, which seeks to further privatize and communalize education. Education will become inaccessible for the poor and the new policy attempts to centralize education, and impose Hindi and Sanskrit languages in non-Hindi speaking states. Students will have to clear entrance tests for admission to arts and science colleges, which hitherto was only a requirement for medical and engineering studies. This would lead to increased drop outs and exclusion of Dalit and other oppressed classes of students from education.
There have also been student upsurges against the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET), which is a centralized exam system based on the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) syllabus for admission to medical education courses in India, through which students from rural areas and those on the state syllabus are made to compete with students taught on the CBSE syllabus. This will lead to the exclusion of poor students, who are unable to afford additional coaching and CBSE education. The Modi government is also attacking the reservation (positive discrimination) policy for Dalits and backward classes in education, without providing any alternatives for these underprivileged layers of society.
Opposition to the CAA, NRC and NPR
The ruling classes worldwide, being unable to solve the capitalist crisis, have also resorted to whipping up nationalist hysteria to divide the working classes. The propaganda of the right-wing Modi government blames the economic, health and social crisis on illegal migrants. An idea has been propagated by the BJP that, in Assam, all illegal migrants are Muslims, and that Muslims are responsible for terrorism and unemployment. On the order of the Supreme Court of India, the National Register of Citizens was conducted to identify the illegal migrants. The people of Assam had to prove that they came to India before 31 March 1971 to get national status. This date marks the start of the war in Bangladesh.
This whole process led to huge chaos and oppression for millions of people in the state. There were allegations that the NRC was not conducted in a fair manner. People were left at the mercy of the bureaucracy. Most of the poor in India don't possess any official documents. After the declaration of the NRC, it was found that, out of 1.9 million illegal migrants in Assam, 1.6 million are Bengali Hindus and only 300,000 were Bengali Muslims. This was against the claims of the BJP government that all the illegal migrants are Muslims. The government therefore tried to suppress the NRC results.
Counting on Hindu votes, Modi and his home minister Amit Shah brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 soon after coming to power for the second term. As per the Constitution of India, citizenship can be given based on birth, naturalization etc. But the CAA provides citizenship to all migrants other than Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have migrated to India before 31 December 2014. CAA would deprive the citizenship of migrants from other countries like Sri Lanka. The Modi government also said that it would extend the NRC to all other states of India. The implementation of the NRC in Assam cost about 12,000,000,000 Rupees. The people, whether Muslim or Hindu, will be at the mercy of the bureaucracy to prove their citizenship. There were reports that Muslims were treated unfairly under the NRC in Assam. Even the family of former president of India, Fakrudeen Ali Ahmad, were not entered into the National Register of Citizens in Assam. Detention centers have been constructed by the Modi regime in different parts of the country for illegal migrants.
The CAA is a ploy to divide the working class on religious lines. There were huge protests against the implementation of CAA, NRC and NPR all over India. Women and students spearheaded the protests. Modi said there was no opposition to the CAA and protestors could be identified through their dress. This was a racist slur by Modi, implying that only Muslims are protesting. The students of Jamia Millia and JNU in Delhi were all harassed and attacked. Protesting women were molested by the police. BJP leaders like Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra instigated riots against CAA protestors and attacked Muslims with the slogan “shoot the traitors”. It led to communal violence in Delhi, in which 50 people died. There was a huge loss of life and property. Muslims and Hindus alike died in these riots, even though Muslims faced the brunt of the attacks. The Delhi police aided the BJP thugs in the attacks against Muslims. The BJP government was trying to replicate the Gujarat Riots, where 2,000 Muslims were massacred and burned, and Muslim women raped. The Delhi Riots in 2020 coincided with Trump's visit.
Mere days after the incidents, several bodies were recovered in Delhi’s drains. At the time of the pandemic, instead of arresting Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra and other BJP leaders who had instigated riots, the Modi government has resorted to arresting anti-CAA protestors like Akhil Gogai (a peasant leader from Assam), Safoora Zargar (a student of Jamia Milia in Delhi), University Professor Hany Babu and many others.
On 5 August 2019, the Modi regime scrapped the special status of Article 370 (Limited Autonomy) and Article 35A of the Jammu and Kashmir state and divided it into two union territories: Ladkah and Jammu & Kashmir. All the political leaders from various political parties like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and thousands of other activists have been imprisoned. Some leaders are under house arrest.
There is a complete curfew in Kashmir today. Internet services are suspended. The central government has said special status was revoked only for development of the people. But since the lockdown, the estimated economic loss is Rs.50,000,000,000,000. Most of the people of Kashmir depend on tourism for employment, but that economy has been shattered. There is not a single tourist coming to Kashmir. The intention of the BJP is to change the demography of Kashmir and divide the working class on religious and sectarian lines. Colleges and schools have been closed for nearly a year. Kashmir remains in lockdown, though this has been lifted in all other parts of the country. The lives of millions of people are affected due to the present state of affairs. The horrific oppression of Kashmiris seems endless. It has become one of the most militarized zones in the world.
BJP is heavily influenced by the RSS: a fascist, cadre-based organization. It has its support among the lumpenproletariat and middle classes. It played no role in the Indian freedom struggle. Babri Masjid, a medieval mosque in Ayodhya, was illegally demolished on 6 December 1992 by the RSS. Nearly 2,000 people died in the riots that erupted after the destruction of the more-than-500-year-old mosque. Senior BJP leaders like Vajpayee, Advani, Pramod Mahajan, Uma Bharati and Bal Thackeray of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena Party, made instigating speeches that led to demolition of the mosque. The criminal cases against them are still pending, even after 30 years.
In November 2019, the Supreme Court of India concluded deliberations on the 2.77 acre site of the Babri Masjid mosque. They said it was where Lord Ram was born, found in favor of the Hindu Maha Sabha, and asked the government to provide alternative land in some other place for the building of a new mosque for the other party in the case, the Sunni Waqf Board. The Supreme Court of India has confirmed that, under bourgeois democracy, all institutions protect the interest of the ruling class and attempt to divide the people on religious lines.
Modi, on the one-year anniversary of the derogation of Kashmir’s special status on 5 August, amidst the pandemic, inaugurated the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. It was only another ploy by Modi and the ruling class to exploit anger and resentment to divide the working class. The Chief Justice Ranjan Gogai, who authored the judgment after his retirement, later became Rajya Sabha MP (in the upper house of parliament) with BJP support. The Supreme Court has now started criminal contempt cases against lawyers and activists who raised the issue of corruption in the judiciary. A famous lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, was convicted of criminal contempt for raising this matter. Later, the Supreme Court had to retreat by giving only a small punishment, because of huge protests from lawyers and students.
India – China LAC dispute
Since May 2020, there have been reports of intrusions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by both China and India. The LAC is a loose demarcation line that separates Indian and Chinese controlled territory in the disputed territories between the two countries.
The Sino-India border is 4,056km long and covers one Indian union territory (Ladakh) and four states (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). The standoff between the two sides accelerated in June, which led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers in the Galwan valley and also an unconfirmed number of deaths on the Chinese side. Both sides warn each other against intrusion.
On 30-31 August there a new standoff started between India and China on the southern side near Pansong lake in Eastern Ladakh. The Modi government and BJP have used this opportunity to incite national chauvinism. There has been a huge rise in nationalist rhetoric on the Indian side from the right-wing parties and corporate media. During an earlier standoff, Modi banned some 40 Chinese mobile apps. In the present standoff, it has banned some 118 Chinese apps like TikTok, cam scanner and others in India, in a continuation of this policy of national chauvinism.
China is India’s biggest trade partner and 73 percent of raw materials for pharmaceuticals come from China. The Indian economy is hugely dependent on Chinese companies. Modi and the BJP are unable to handle the COVID-19 pandemic and the capitalist crisis, but now, with the support of the corporate media, they are using nationalist rhetoric to divert the working class from domestic resentment.
Trump has come out in support of Modi, in opposition to China. As Clausewitz said: “War is a continuation of domestic politics.” The situation between India and China is not much different. The ruling class in both India and China use these clashes to divert the attention of the masses away from the consequences of the current capitalist crisis. But this is a risky gambit, and the ruling class knows that, if matters spin out of control, it will be very costly.
The mainstream left in India includes the CPI, CPI(M), CPI (ML) Liberation, RSP, Forward Block and many currents claiming the heritage of the Naxalbari (Maoist peasant revolutionary movement). A CPI(M)-led left government is presently ruling the state government in Kerala. The left was in power for more than three decades in West Bengal and Tripura. But now they have lost these areas to the BJP and other right-wing parties. At one time, they had 63 seats in parliament but now they are reduced to only three. They have lost their ground because they offer no alternative to privatization and liberalization. In states where they came to power they could not play a role of revolutionary opposition to the central government but were reduced to implementing the pro-corporate policies of the Centre.
The Stalinist leadership of the communist movement in India tailgates the bourgeois parties like Congress and is content with making alliances with Congress and other regional bourgeois parties. CPI-ML Liberation, which calls for the independent assertion of the working class, forged an electoral compromise with bourgeoisie parties like Congress and RJD in the last parliamentary elections. They work on the notion of Stalinist two-stage theory, which asserts that a people's democratic revolution must necessarily be followed by decades of capitalist development before there can be any talk of socialism. On this basis, the Stalinists argue that the task of the working class, and its party in less developed countries, is to bring the capitalist class to power. This is the excuse the so-called Communist Parties have used to justify collaborating with the bourgeois all over the ex-colonial world.
However, Leon Trotsky rightly explained that capitalism and the capitalist class is no longer capable of playing a progressive role. The only class that can take society out of the present dead end is the working class.
Stalinist parties all over the world have reduced themselves to reformism and parliamentary politics. Meanwhile, the objective situation clearly requires the overthrow of capitalism through a socialist revolution. India has a strong working class and the democratic tasks of revolution in India can be successful only under the leadership of the working class, and through socialist revolution. This alone will solve the problems of the sub-continent, which include overthrowing semi-feudal relations like the caste system, and resolving the questions of national oppression and ownership of the land.
The Modi Government, unable to contain India’s mounting debts even before pandemic, is now facing a 23 percent decline of GDP, huge unemployment, mountains of NPA (Non-Performing Assets) in banks, and ballooning state debts, along with several other problems.
Ultimately, someone has to pay for the crisis and the ruling class is resorting to attacking the working class. Amidst the pandemic, BJP-ruled states have suspended labour laws and increased working hours from 8 to 12 to “stimulate” the economy. The Modi government has also decided to freeze the dearness allowance (DA: an allowance given to government employees in order to counteract inflation) of 4.8 million central government employees and 6.8 million pensioners. The government has also been increasing fuel prices, cutting gas subsidies; and privatizing coal, rail, Profit Making Industries (PSU), banks, insurance (LIC) and BSNL. Reactionary policies like the EIA, NEP and electricity distribution laws have been introduced to further exploit natural resources and transfer public assets to corporations.
There is widespread anger amongst the working class and the youth at these policies. In spite of the pandemic, millions of workers participated in protests called by the trade unions. Soon after Modi came to power, there was a huge strike of workers all over India on 8 January 2020. The ruling class and Modi government are trying to divert the widespread anger of the working class by resorting to national chauvinism, religious fundamentalism and so on.
Ram Mandir (mixing religion with politics) is a ploy by the ruling class to divide the working class on religious lines and to divert masses from their day-to-day issues. The Indo-China border standoff and other disputes with neighboring nations will be used by the ruling classes in these nations to whip up national chauvinism to distract people from the capitalist crisis. The working class in these countries shouldn’t fall for this ploy. Marxists should appeal for internationalism and explain the capitalist nature of the crisis. The Indian National Congress and other bourgeois parties are no alternative to solving the problems of the masses.
Capitalism is in crisis, unable to provide jobs and develop the productive forces. As Lenin said, “Capitalism is horror without end”. The condition of migrant workers, poor health infrastructure, unemployment, huge inequality, the landslide in Pettimudi (Kerala), COVID-19 deaths, caste oppression across the country and national oppression in Kashmir show the horrors of this capitalist system. There can be no solution under capitalism.
The working class and youth of India are already demonstrating and planning for bigger strikes and protests against the reactionary policies of the Modi regime. Class contradictions and the crisis of capitalism will further push the working class towards revolutionary conclusions. Wherever Marxists work, we must do so on the principles of Bolshevism, which are class independence, working-class unity and internationalism. We have to organize our forces under the banner of socialist revolution and on the firm foundation of Marxist ideas.
- Oppose all citizenship laws!
- Nationalize the health sector and education!
- Expropriate the banks, insurance companies and monopolies!
- Nationalise the main levers of economy and organize industry under workers’ control!
- For an end to capitalism and construction of a socialist planned economy under the democratic control of workers – the only alternative for the masses!