India: state elections reveal the weakness of the opposition and the lack of a clear alternative to Modi

Results from the recent assembly elections in five Indian states saw the ruling, far-right BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) win in Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In the first two, the Indian National Congress, led by chief ministers Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Bhagal, were booted out. These elections are widely considered as a rehearsal of the upcoming general elections in 2024: the pathetic weakness of the opposition parties, which utterly failed to present an alternative, has been exposed once again.

Before the elections, exit polls widely predicted the victory of Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi. But Congress won only in the southern state of Telangana, where K.C. Chandrasekar Rao’s party BRS (Bhartiya Rashtra Samithi) was defeated. After the victory earlier in the year in Karnataka, this was the second victory for Congress in a southern state. 

The BJP continued its strong presence in the Hindi heartland. In the northeastern state of Mizoram, a local party, ZPM (Zoram People Movement) won the elections, defeating Mizoram National Front, an alliance partner of the BJP. This is a movement led by a civil society organisation on the lines of the right-wing AAP (Aam Aadmi Party). The Communist parties were able to garner only one percent of the votes in Rajasthan. 

The BJP campaign was led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The BJP campaign was, as usual, run on communal lines, dividing the masses with religious chauvinism. Amit Shah guaranteed the implementation of a reactionary CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), which is widely considered a discriminatory law against Muslims. 

The BJP also emphasised its bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two parts: the union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019. The act also repealed the special status granted to Jammu Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. 

After the defeat of Karnataka state elections earlier this year, the BJP also competed with Congress with populist schemes like giving gas subsidies to people and other similar welfare offers. Anti-incumbency and issues like corruption also aided the victory of the BJP in states like Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. It is noteworthy that in 2019  in  Madhya Pradesh, though Congress won the assembly elections, the Kamalnath led congress govt fell, and  BJP was able to form a government with the support of Congress MLAs, who switched loyalties in order to get ministries and other lucrative offers.

Congress

Congress campaign was led by Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka Gandhi, mother Sonia Gandhi and party president Mallik Arjun Kharge. They offered a cynical appeal to national unity(Bharat Joda Yatra), combined with populist welfare schemes to attract voters. This failed to make any impact in these elections, unlike in Karnataka state elections earlier this year. 

It is clear now that the decisive factor in the victory of Congress in Karnataka was not these schemes but due to the emergence of a strong mass movement against the Hijab ban in schools and colleges by the then BJP government. This movement spread to many other southern states of India and there was widespread hatred against the discriminatory decisions by the judiciary and parliament against religious minorities. 

Though the percentage of the Muslim population is very low in Karnataka, the movement had a huge impact on the election results and Congress was forced to take a strong position against the politics of Hindutva due to public anger against such decisions. Even Congress president Kharge had to publicly renounce the Hindutva politics of BJP and also announced a ban on reactionary Hindu religious outfits like Bajrang Dal.

But this time, the soft Hindutva policies of Congress to appease voters on religious lines didn’t work, as voters know that if they have to vote on religious lines, then they might as well vote for the BJP. The Congress campaign for conducting censuses on caste lines and concentrating on the votes of OBC (Other Backward Classes, an official designation for castes that are educationally or socially backward) also didn’t aid them. 

In Chattisgarh, the BJP managed to win in the tribal areas. The election boycott calls of CPI (Maoist) failed to make any impact, even though the tribal areas of Chattisgarh are considered a stronghold of Indian Maoists: the voter turnout crossed 74 percent in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.  

INDIA Alliance

INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance), led by Congress to fight the BJP, was a dismal failure, and the alliance parties like Samajwadi Party, CPI and CPI(M) were not offered seats by Congress. 

The INDIA alliance was formed as an alternative to fight the BJP in the 2024 general elections. It is a confused mixture of far-right parties and so-called Communist parties, led by Congress, with the only aim of defeating the BJP in the next elections. 

This alliance comprises many regional and national parties like JD (U) (Janta Dal United), RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal), AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, TMC (Trinamul Congress Party), DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), NCP (National Congress party), CPI, CPI(M), RSP, CPI-ML (Liberation). It is an opportunistic alliance, which includes erstwhile friends of BJP like Nitish Kumar led JD (U), who is also the chief minister of Bihar, and the fascist party Shiv Sena from Maharashtra. 

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacks the bourgeoisie of India and their people like Adani and Ambani, but its leaders like Kamal Nath and alliance partners like Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar of NCP  are close to these corporate giants. 

INDIA might attempt to appeal to the working class with false promises and some welfare schemes to garner votes in 2024, but it is now clear that overall, both Congress and BJP follow the same capitalist policies of privatisation and corporatisation, meaning this cynical alliance has no legs.

The Communist Parties

The so-called communist parties of CPI, CPI(M), and CPI-ML, instead of advocating independent politics of the working class, have become toadies of the bourgeois parties like Congress and others. The Stalinist left in India is content with supporting capitalist parties in the elections under the guise of defending democracy and fighting against the “fascism” of the BJP. At the same time, they join the INDIA alliance fascist parties like Shiv Sena!

Though rights like organising trade and student unions and protesting against the government are under severe attack under BJP rule, under the Congress, things were not much different, and in fact, the road to the current government was paved by the 10-year rule of Congress, in which Stalinist parties supported it.

In India, repressive laws like the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and the introduction of the new labour code were passed to curtail democratic rights. The draconian UAPA was used by the BJP government against activists in movements like Bhima Koregaon, anti-CAA protests, and farmers’ and workers’ demonstrations. 

UAPA laws are also used by the CPI(M) government in Kerala state to arrest students subscribing to Maoist ideas. There have been no qualms, either from Congress or the BJP, in using these laws against anti-government protesters and in suppressing workers’ protests. 

Democracy is allowed only to the extent that it doesn’t affect the interests of capital. Democratic rights can only be protected and defended through organising students and workers on the lines of the farmers’ protest and anti-CAA protests and linking this struggle with the overall fight against the capitalist system.

Alternative needed!

The state assembly elections were a convincing win for the BJP. The parliament elections might not be similar to the state assembly elections, but Congress might garner more votes and seats than in the last elections due to huge resentment against the policies of the Modi regime. To divide the working class, the BJP might rely on Hindutva rhetoric around building the Ayodhya temple, hijab ban, beef ban, implementing the CAA, warmongering against Pakistan and China, and similar tactics. Moreover, the BJP openly advocates support of the Israeli invasion of Gaza on the pretext of opposing Muslims in India.

But there is no clear alternative for the masses in the next general elections. No political party in the opposition is offering a clear ideological line against the communal divide of the BJP. The opposition parties mostly play on similar grounds of attracting voters on caste lines or through religious, regional and other similar allegiances. 

Congress has mostly tried to appease the religious sentiments of Hindu voters and has tried to appear more religious than the BJP. All this has played in the hands of the BJP. For the media and most of political analysts, the most important factor is the presence of the number of voters of a particular caste, nationality or religion. No one is interested in a political battle to defeat the BJP. 

On that plane, the slogans mostly used by opposition parties emphasise secularism, democracy, communal harmony and the rule of law. But voters have seen the politics of all these opposition parties, which are no different from BJP on all these issues. These parties in turn, have also used religion and coercion to attack their opponents and have always served the interests of big business. The bankruptcy of the Maoists is self-evident, as they are losing support in former areas of their influence. 

But there is also a rise in the mass movements outside the structures of these political parties. The victory of the farmers’ movement against Modi was a huge example of this, along with several countrywide general strikes, which involved more than 250 million workers across the country.

The need of the hour is an alternative political programme to galvanise these movements. At the moment, millions of working-class people are suffering from extreme poverty, hunger and disease, while unemployment is rising. All the parties are putting forward an economic programme that benefits the rich and fills the coffers of big businesses like Adani, Ambani and Tata. 

In order to defeat these parties, a way out must be offered to the working class. This can’t be based on reformism, petty welfare schemes or hollow slogans for democratic rights, but only on a bold, anti-capitalist, revolutionary programme to expropriate the rich, nationalise the industry, and place all financial institutions under the democratic control of workers, along with the overthrow of the bourgeois state and its rotten institutions. 

This revolutionary programme must include the right of self-determination of all oppressed nationalities, including that of Kashmir, and guarantee all democratic rights of religious minorities, including Muslims. This revolutionary programme is the only guaranteed way to end the oppressive and discriminatory caste system in India, which is used by the bourgeois state to divide the working class. 

The conditions of the masses have not changed under capitalist parties other than for the worse. The increased privatisation and increase in indirect taxes, i.e., the Goods and Service Tax (GST) have made them poorer. Inflation and unemployment are at their highest-ever levels. Oxfam reports that India has the highest income inequality rate in the world, where 30 percent own 90 percent of the wealth, and 70 percent own the remaining 10 percent. Lenin said that capitalism is horror without end. Nowhere is this clearer than in India. Wars, climate crisis, unemployment, pandemics, religious fundamentalism, corruption, and caste and ethnic conflicts along the lines of Manipur are products of capitalism. Only by uniting and organising the masses on class lines, under the leadership of the working class, to overthrow this system can the people be liberated.