India: Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi elections – what do they tell us?

The current right-wing Modi regime in India won the assembly elections in Gujarat, which were seen as a rehearsal for the 2024 general elections. The reasons behind this victory are complex and must be explained, against the context of other state elections that produced different results.

The economic crisis in India endures and unemployment is rising. Despite something of a faster recovery than expected, this is not felt by the majority of Indians. Class contradictions are sharpening across the country and could burst out even before the elections, transforming the whole situation.

But the BJP, along with all other political parties, will try to maintain the status quo. They will use every means available, including sectarian division, to strangle any eruption of the working class. In this situation, it is important for revolutionaries to expose the class character of India’s bourgeois democracy.

Gujarat elections

The BJP won 156 seats in Gujarat, thus forming a majority in the 185-seat state assembly, controlling the state government for the seventh consecutive time. While a crushing majority on the surface, a deeper look at the facts and context offer a somewhat different perspective. Notably, there was no serious class-based alternative to the sectarian politics of the competing parties, which meant the Hindu-Muslim divide was more decisive. The Stalinist and reformist leaders of the left parties and labour movement have manifestly failed to galvinise the rising anger in society into action, which assisted Modi.

Gujarat riots Image Aksi great Wikimedia CommonsModi was Chief Minister when the Gujarat riots took place in 2002 / Image: Aksi great, Wikimedia Commons

The BJP garnered 53 percent of the votes in Gujarat, while Congress reduced its tally from 77 seats in 2017 to 17. A new entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a soft Hindutva and petty-bourgeois outfit, was able to garner 13 percent of votes, winning five seats and splitting the opposition vote.

This is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and winning the elections was a matter of prestige for the party. Therefore, Modi and leaders from the Central Government undertook a huge campaign to ensure victory. Modi himself participated personally in huge rallies in Gujarat, as well as in Himachal Pradesh. He threw everything he had at these elections.

In addition to this, one reason the BJP was able to win the Gujarat elections was by polarising the electorate on religious lines. This strategy of divide and rule was previously utilised by the British imperialists to split the masses and divert class anger. The ruling regimes in India – both under Congress and the BJP – have used this strategy at various occasions to preserve their rule. The BJP seems to have perfected this policy in Gujarat, and does so against a backdrop of renewed communal tension.

In 2002, the Gujarat riots took place, when Modi was Chief Minister. A train carrying members of the right-wing militant outfit, RSS, was going to Ayodhya from Godhra. It was alleged that the train was set on fire by a Muslim mob. This incident led to large-scale violence against Muslims by RSS, BJP and Hindutva right-wing groups. Nearly 2,000 Muslims were killed in the communal riots in Gujarat. Even sitting Congress MP, Ehsan Jaffri, was burned to death by rioters. The state government led by Modi was not only blind to the violence by these right-wing thugs against Muslims, but helped inflame it.

There was also widespread rape of Muslim women during the riots. One such woman, “Bilkis Bano”, was five-months pregnant, and raped by Hindu mobs while unconscious, awakening naked and injured three hours later. Eight of her 17-member family were killed. Her first daughter, Salesha, had her head smashed in. She was later helped by Adivasi [a group of tribal people] and borrowed clothes from them, after which she reported her ordeal to police constable Somabhai Gori. He failed to take her complaint and instead sent her to a relief camp.

In the relief camp, she met her husband, and the National Human rights Commission took her case. Her case was eventually taken up by the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and then transferred to the state of Maharashtra. On 21 January 2008, 13 men were convicted of rape charges, out of which 11 were sentenced to life imprisonment. But all 11 prisoners were released after 14 years by the Gujarat Government through remission in August 2022. Most of the prisoners also got parole for nearly two years of their period of imprisonment.

Before the recent state elections, Bilkis Bano and her family were shocked to see the perpetrators of these crimes released so easily. She challenged their release before the supreme court of India. The ruling class has always been selective in its remission policy. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes are released readily, whereas human rights and labour activists arrested in the Bhima Goregan case, and other such cases, are still languishing in prison, without bail, for more than two years. The capitalist courts and constitution fundamentally exist only to maintain the status quo of the capitalist system. They offer slim protection to the oppressed and exploited. In this instance, Modi exploited a terrible injustice to whip up the most backward layers of his Hindutva support base in advance of the state elections.

Morbi collapse

The elections were also preceded by the Morbi Bridge collapse. In Morbi city, a nearly 150 year-old suspension bridge was closed for repair and maintenance, then reopened to the public before Diwali in October. The contract for repair was given to Oreva: a clock manufacturing company. The contract was given for Rs. 20,000,000, but only Rs. 1,200,000 was spent on the maintenance. The bridge collapsed on 30 October, and over 140 people, including 47 children, died by drowning in the river. The owners of the Oreva company have not been named in the FIR (police report).

Morbi bridge Image Camaal Mustafa Sikan Wikimedia CommonsThe elections were also preceded by the Morbi Bridge collapse / Image: Camaal Mustafa Sikan, Wikimedia Commons

The investigation revealed that the job was subcontracted to a local company, which has no expertise to carry out such heavy renovation work. The incident exposed the farce of the Gujarat administration. Modi came to power by propagating his so-called ‘Gujarat Model’ of development as the road to progress for the country. But this tragic incident exposed the corruption of the government in Gujarat.

In order to distract from the incident, Modi and the BJP once again sought to polarise the voters on religious lines, also invoking Gujarati pride and Modi’s personality cult. The corporate media worked day and night to conceal the negligence behind the tragedy, and acted as if the bridge collapsed because of the negligence of the people using it! This managed to blunt the impact on the election to a certain extent.

However, despite the increased vote from the last elections, things were not smooth sailing for Modi, who personally campaigned hard to ensure victory in the Gujarat elections. Under the surface, there is rising resentment of the masses against the corruption rampant in the Gujarat government. There have also been huge protests of government workers for wage rises, farmers’ protests against corporate farm laws, and a huge protest of tribal peoples against the Par Tapi Narmada River linking project.

Unfortunately, none of these undercurrents received any point of political expression in the elections, which helps to explain the result. But this was not replicated everywhere.

Himachal Pradesh and Delhi elections

In the Himachal Pradesh elections, Congress won 40 seats, the BJP won 25 seats and three were picked up by independents. The vote share of Congress increased from 41 percent to 44 percent, whereas the BJP’s vote share decreased from 48 percent to 43 percent. The victory for Congress was narrow in many seats. The Congress campaign in HP was led by Priyanka Gandhi, scion of a major political dynasty. The Government in HP has been formed by Congress, led by Sukhwinder Singh Sakhu.

Priyanka Gandhi Image The Times of IndiaThe Congress campaign in HP was led by Priyanka Gandhi, scion of a major political dynasty / Image: The Times of India

The BJP’s tactic of divide and rule of Hindu and Muslim voters was not successful in HP because of the low population of Muslims. This state is also closely linked with Punjab (a focal point of the farmers’ struggle) and borders Jammu and Kashmir, where there is a widespread hatred for Modi and his policies. This sentiment has seeped into this state, and this whole belt in the northwest, including Delhi, is now being ruled by parties other than BJP.

No government in the state has won the elections in successive terms since 1977. The widespread unemployment, inflation, resentment of local farmers towards increasing production costs, and the anger of the youth, were all dominant issues. Successive governments in Himachal Pradesh follow the same policy of neoliberalism as at the centre and state level. In Himachal Pradesh, normally there is a higher enrollment of the masses to the army. This also indicates general unemployment.

The Modi government's new scheme, titled Agnipath, seeks to change recruitment to the army to a contract basis rather than on a permanent basis. This led to widespread protests across the country, in which youngsters from Bihar and other states were protesting against a policy that will end their dreams of future employment. There was also huge resentment and protest against this scheme by youth in Himachal Pradesh and the northern states of India, which depend on the army for jobs.

A high percentage of people in Himachal Pradesh are also employed in government service. They demanded implementation of the old pension scheme. Congress included in their campaign the restoration of the old pension scheme, which would benefit government employees and make an impact on their families.

And in Delhi, 15 years of BJP rule has ended. The BJP was defeated by the AAP Party. The people of Delhi are being suffocated due to the quarreling and petty conflicts between the BJP and AAP, as the BJP rules in the centre, while the AAP ruled the state. The governor in the state has not passed bills passed by elected state governments, which have also caused disaffection among voters, costing the BJP support.

The AAP has been able to grant electricity subsidies and other welfare schemes, but just like the DMK party in Tamil Nadu’s promise of welfare schemes, they simply use such promises as a gimmick to hoodwink the masses. The subsidies given are taken back through higher fuel, gas and property taxes. Nevertheless, the appeal of these policies shows the potential for a class-based programme of reforms to make an impact. Moreover, these BJP defeats show the cracks emerging in Modi’s previously unassailable base of support.

Opposition parties

It is clear, however, that none of the opposition parties are capturing the imagination of the masses. They are all rotten and rightly seen as incapable of fulfilling the aspirations of the people. The anti-BJP Bharat Jodo Yatra movement, led by Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, failed to make any serious impact in the elections. Despite presenting itself against the hate and polarisation stemming from the BJP, Congress has no solutions to skyrocketing prices, unemployment, lack of healthcare and education, and fees hikes etc.

Moreover, Congress and the AAP both compete on the same communalist ground, with their leaders heading to temples to curry favour with Hindu voters. In the state of Madhya Pradesh, where Congress is in power, the Kamalnath government passed cow protection laws and the NSA (National Security Act) was invoked against cow slaughter. Nearly 1,000 cow shelters were opened all over the state. Congress has no hesitation in aligning with Hindu chauvinist outfits like Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. In Bihar initially Congress, the RJD and the Left (a coalition of reformist parties) were in alliance and opposed the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government. Then, Nitish Kumar switched sides and came out of the BJP alliance. His present government in Bihar is supported by the RJD, Congress and the Left.

After the Babri Masjid collapse, Congress lost Muslim votes to regional parties. Notably, Congress’ neoliberal policies will not change the conditions of the Muslim masses. They face the same problems of unemployment and inflation as everyone else. Congress’ communal appeasement policy merely helps strengthen the BJP.

There is a vacuum in the opposition, and parties like the AAP follow the same capitalist policies. In the Gujarat election campaign, Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of AAP and chief minister of Delhi state said that he has started a scheme in Delhi under which pilgrims are taken for a free temple visit to Ayodhya and that if voted to power in Gujarat, his government would arrange free temple visits to Ayodhya from Gujarat. In 1992, a 600 year-old Mosque Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished by the VHP, RSS, BJP and other Hindutva outfits like Shiv Sena. The supreme court of India in its 2019 verdict paved for construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Congress and the AAP are both right wing parties that cannot be any alternative, and will only try to divert the class issues affecting the masses. Communal violence preceded the BJP coming to power and communal harmony cannot be created under Congress or AAP.

The so-called left parties, CPI, CPM and CPI-ML (Liberation) adopt policies of class collaboration, putting the working class under the feet of bourgeois leaders and petty-bourgeois parties, offering no alternative to the masses. They are content to make alliances with capitalist leaders and parties. The farmers’ protest against corporate farm laws, protests of youth against the Agnipath scheme, and general strikes of workers shows the potential of the masses to defeat Modi. But their Stalinist leadership restrict them to one-or-two-day general strikes against the Modi regime’s anti-people policies. Only an indefinite general strike organised by workers on the lines of farmers’ movement, can mount a serious opposition to Modi’s rule.

For a class-based alternative!

Modi’s policies have increased layoffs, income inequality and job losses. India has been ranked 107 in the hunger index behind Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Out of 853 million malnourished people in the world, 223 million are from India. The Modi regime has benefitted only his corporate friends like Adani, Ambani and Tata. Railways, airports, airlines, seaports, mines, and the energy grid, developed by the public sector, are awarded to corporates at throwaway prices. Gautam Adani has become the second-richest billionaire next to Elon Musk on the basis of these policies.

main Image DSAWHU FacebookOnly through a mass movement of the working class and an indefinite general strike can this stranglehold be broken / Image: DSAWHU Facebook

The suspension of 44 labour laws and introduction of a reactionary new labour code, demonetisation, increase in indirect tax, increasing work hours from 8 to 12 hours, and mass privatisation have been the only ‘solutions’ of the Modi regime and his Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The BJP has been unable to win state elections easily. Modi, BJP president JP Nadda and Central ministers Anurag Thakur had to campaign extensively, like never before in the recent state elections, which shows their increasing anxiety amidst huge resentment of masses. And yet, in states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, the BJP have been able to retain power due polarisation of the working class on religious lines and weakness of trade union movement and Stalinist left. Their failure to organise serious, sustained general strikes and unite the workers on class lines against Modi’s anti-people policies have propped up Modi’s government.

There is a widespread admission that parliamentary and assembly institutions are accessible only to the rich, and only people with money and power can win elections. There is huge corporate funding of elections and, as per reports submitted to Election Commission in the year 2022-23, the BJP has received Rs. 6,145,200,000,000 in donations, and Congress has received 9,500,000,000. In fact, the Election Commission of India has become nothing but another wing of the BJP. The Election Commission heads are appointed according to the whims and fancies of the Modi government. They have no independence, and there are allegations of vote rigging complaints around EVMs (electronic voting machines).

The general economic conditions are becoming unbearable for the masses and it is only a matter of time before the workers unite on class lines. All sections of the masses face the same problems of joblessness, inflation etc. Communalism and casteism cannot be eradicated under the present capitalist system. It perpetuates class divisions among masses, in order to avert them from uniting on a class basis.

The “Puja”, or servitude to the electoral process, needs to be abandoned and the real nature of bourgeois democracy exposed. It is used by the ruling class to keep the working class under the firm grip of bourgeois institutions and the state, which serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. Only through a mass movement of the working class and an indefinite general strike can this stranglehold be broken.

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