Understanding the verdict of the 2014 elections

The Indian elections of 2014 were the largest the country has witnessed in its history, with around 816 million voters involved in the process. The elections were divided into 9 phases, making it the longest elections as well. The verdict was given on the 16th of May with the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi winning a singular majority on its own. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) alliance which it leads garnered 337 seats. Thus, after 25 years we are witnessing a government founded on a solid singular majority.

The verdict however, isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. While the NDA did win more than 3/5th of the seats in parliament, it won only 33.7% of the total votes polled. The second and third largest parties by vote share would be the Congress with 22% and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with around 4% of votes . In total, around 45% of votes were scattered among smaller regional and national parties. The regional parties like the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Jayalalitha’s party the AIDMK (All India Dravida Munetra Khazagham) won around 3.6%-3.8% of votes polled. In West Bengal and elsewhere, the Stalinist parties of the Left Front won around 3.2% of votes polled giving its worst ever performance in parliament. However, what this reality reflects is that the system even a small share in votes translates to a huge difference in seats won. Thus, over 65% of the voters who did not vote for the BJP or NDA alliance partners will go unrepresented. This is a telling feature on just how ‘representative’ India’s bourgeois ‘democracy’ is.

The implications of this result will be profound and will affect the country’s working poor as now a party of the bourgeoisie literally has absolute majority in parliament. It can wield enormous power including push forth any kind of parliamentary amendment it would like.

The dynamics of the indian elections :

We had earlier commented that this election gives no option to the working masses of India. On the one hand was the possibility of dynastic rule which would instill a ruthlessly pro-bourgeois rule in parliament, on the other hand was the possibility of a rule by a party under the influence of obscurantist reactionary forces running with a ruthlessly pro-bourgeois and anti-working class government in parliament. Between these two choices there would only be a myst of anarchy.

Till at least 2012, the verdict seemed unclear as to which party could win the elections. After the state elections in five major states, in which the BJP won all but one state election, the tide seemed clearer. The people had had enough of the misrule under the Congress, with constant attacks on the poor, mammoth corruption scams and complete failure to deliver any concrete benefit to the poor. Its promise of dynasty was hardly of any use in endearing the masses to it. As a party of the bourgeoisie, it had failed to appease the interests of any sector of the bourgeoisie to any satisfying degree, its strategy of concession and coercion hardly successful in pacifying the masses’ anger.

To this party of total misrule, the people had two alternatives, broadly speaking. One was the traditional regional parties and their front known as the third front led by the Stalinist coalition called the left front. The other was the new and rising force of the Aam Admi Party, which was forged in the heat of the anti-corruption mobilization which had shaken the foundations of the Congress rule and aroused the petty bourgeois, particularly in Delhi.

As we shall see, neither alternative were any good against the Congress and the people unsurprisingly rejected both.

On the Left Front led third front coalition, the core of this popular front alliance, the Stalinist CPM and CPIM lost in an unprecedented way in West Bengal winning hardly 8 seats. While the main reason would be the almost militarized efficiency with which rigging was conducted by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party government, it is also due to the failure of the Stalinists to wage an effective fight against this fascistic violence conducted by the TMC party. This has not only confused and demoralized the people in West Bengal but is having its impact on the party cadre as well. The only state where the CPM is holding out is Tripura which seems to be acting like a mountain refuge for an ailing political force whose future is uncertain.

Of the other regional parties, it is hardly worth mentioning, that they have degenerated a long way since their lohiite roots. They are no longer seen with the halo of a party which fought against the corruption and bonapartist attitudes of the Congress in the 60s and 70s, but as a corrupt bourgeois party no different than that of the Congress. Indeed for all their ‘secular’ posturing the regional bourgeois alternatives like the Samajwadi Party or even the BSP is hardly anything but a party for the enrichment of their respective political leaders. No doubt these parties have been sidelined as well.

In the midst of this sea of corruption and betrayal, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) seemed to stand as a real political alternative of the people. Whatever illusions people had in it, were dashed soon after its formation and meteoric rise. The AAP had recently won the elections in New Delhi and briefly took power, before relinquishing its position due to its failure to push for the appointment of a Lokpal. In course of their tenure in Delhi, they promised a lot and delivered little. Its politics of conciliation with capitalism and combining seemingly opposing social forces in its party (exemplified by its recruitment of millionaire capitalist robber barons like the Vice President of Bajaj along with anti-capitalist social activists like Medha Patkar ) only confused its supporters. Ultimately, neither the urban working class nor the urban elite supported this party. It achieved nothing but to confuse its supporters and detractors alike. After failing in Delhi, the AAP could not recover its credibility a a party of the people, unsurprisingly it hardly garnered more than 2 seats.

With such pathetic alternatives to the Congress party, one would be tempted to think that the BJP won almost by default. It wouldn’t be entirely mistaken to say so. More than anything else the people wanted to overthrow the Congress government, no matter who comes, the Congress must first go. At the same time, with hardly any national alternative in sight, the only party which could guarantee such a verdict would be the BJP. The other big national party of the Indian bourgeoisie. At once we see both a situation of social tension as well as the total lack of class consciousness among the Indian working class and poor.

How the BJP won the elections :

Much before the 2014 election campaign set in, the mood of the people were already turned against the Congress. The first decisive break was the anti-corruption movement in 2011. During the same period, a series of general strikes had been conducted in India mobilizing a historic number of workers across the country. The largest general strike in the world had occurred in February of 2013. In this period, the BJP had been a very peripheral force. Even though it made its presence felt during the anti-corruption movement. It would not have been possible for any bourgeois force to hijack and finish the whole movement if it wasn’t for the conciliatory and reformism approach of the leadership of the movement. However, the seeds of the BJP emerging as a populist force had been sown at that time.

During the elections, money power and propaganda were in full display. Supporting the BJP was large funding by the leading capitalists of india, in particular the Birla family which leads the Birla group of companies which was the leading source of funding for both the Congress and the BJP. In addition to this, was a concerted media campaign which created a personality cult around Modi. The biggest impact of this media campaign was to win over the majority of India’s urban educated middle class who have access to tv and are more prone to media propaganda. Furthermore, the BJP and its linked organization the RSS mobilized a number of their cadre to conduct a massive propaganda on social media. Not to forget is the massive presence of the RSS through its thousands of branches and almost 8 million strong cadre force spread throughout the country. This was the organizational foundations of the BJP’s strength which allowed it to take furthest advantage of the anti-Congress mood in the country.

In the run up to the elections, the BJP had succeeded in mobilizing the RSS cadre and actively promoted a divisive communal agenda focussed around the Muzaffarnagar riots. Modi’s “right hand man” Amit Shah was active in the region playing on communal sentiments of the Jat community and turning them against the muslim community of the region. The riots of Muzaffarnagar were the fruits of a sustained covert propaganda campaign by the RSS in the region. Even so, it would never have been successful if it wasn’t for the inconsistent response of the state led by the supposedly secular Samajwadi Party. Traditionally, communal forces have been tolerated by the liberal bourgeoisie so that they can implement their divide and rule policy. However, in Uttar Pradesh, they seem to have overplayed their hand, for it was not the Samajwadi Party which took advantage of the situation, but the BJP.

Throughout the election they cemented a reactionary consensus emboldened by the developments in Muzaffarnagar. Modi himself seems to have replicated his success in Gujarat, where he successfully cemented his power through the Gujarat riots of 2002, which remain one of the bloodiest riots in India. Throughout the elections, Modi was liberal in the use of hindutva symbols like choosing to campaign in Varanasi, the holiest city of Hinduism. By using symbols which fit into a hindutva schema, he succeeded in galvanizing the support of upper caste reactionary segments of society. This however, explains only the success of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Elsewhere, he was aided much more by the negative perception of the Congress than anything else.

Thus, through a cleverly constructed campaign strategy, the BJP could win over the urban young middle class as well as the more traditional sectors of the population. This constituted the constructive part of his campaign. The other was the negative/destructive part of the campaign. This involved breaking the opposition of the muslim voters.

First of all, it must be said, that if secularism has died in India, the Congress and other bourgeois parties must be the first to blame. The continuous deprivation and marginalization of the muslim community in India has occurred under the rule of the Congress over 60 years. The regional parties and Stalinists purporting to be secular have no better a record to show. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal show the worst conditions of backwardness among the community in India. In a popular talk show on CNNIBN one muslim citizen from Delhi when asked about whether he fears Modi said “We have nothing to fear from Modi, because in truth the Congress has left muslims with nothing that Modi would take away from us”. This statement summarizes the pathetic conditions of the muslims in India.

When the elections did come, the muslims were just as fed up with the Congress as they were with every other party. The result of this was that their votes ended up being divided among many smaller regional parties. The advantage of this was taken by the BJP having destroyed the idea of a “muslim votebank”. As if this weren’t enough, to cement this the BJP undertook a “muslim outreach” programme which confused sections of the muslim community, whose political consciousness was in any case destroyed by decades of Congress rule and polarity.

Thus, we must conclude that Modi’s victory is in truth the combination of various factors which worked to his advantage. Most important of them, is the failure of working class leadership, which failed to build a political alternative to the bourgeoisie and cement the position of the working class as the leading political force in the country despite having arguably one of the best political opportunity in the history of the country. The energy that was unleashed by the pre-revolutionary period in India, and the mobilizations which occurred, were thus wasted away first by misleaders like the AAP and then by the BJP which used the petty bourgeois rage and discontent to propel itself to an unprecedented position of power.

What are the consequences of Modi’s victory ?

A preview of the future of India may be seen not only in Modi’s Gujarat but in TMC ruled West Bengal as well. Both nationally and worldwide there appears to be a reactionary wave underway. The revolutions in Middle East and North Africa all appear to be fading. Europe after a rise of worker’s struggles too has calmed down, while in the Americas, the forces of counter-revolution are re-emerging with a vengeance.

India too is witnessing a reactionary wave symbolized by Modi’s rise to power, and other reactionary forces like the RSS re-emerging after being dormant for almost a decade. A popular saying goes that “What India thinks tomorrow Bengal thinks today” . This seems to have come true for the worse rather than for the better. The failure of Stalinism is what has resulted in the victory of the TMC in West Bengal today and it was the failure of Stalinism and bourgeois and petty bourgeois alternatives which has resulted in the victory of Modi. Ironically, just like in the case of the TMC the BJP too won a massive majority in these elections. The TMC dominates the seats from West Bengal in the lower house of the parliament having won 31 out of 42 seats.

Yet if West bengal is any indicator, the immediate future will see a period of great chaos and conflict. The TMC when it came to power in the state elections engaged in violently consolidating its political power within the state. It didn’t hesitate in turning on the Maoists who had hitherto acted in helping it fight the Left Front. Neither did it hesitate to turn on the Gorkha National Front which were allies to the TMC till now. Today, West Bengal is in a state of chaos with the bands of lumpen goons under the command of the TMC wreaking havoc across the bengali countryside and in the cities. The TMC oligarchs rule with impunity taking the law into their own hands and brutally crushing any opposition. The party functions in a way that borders on outright fascism with harsh laws against organization and dissent. Gujarat has had a similar story.

Upon coming to power in Gujarat, Modi first eliminated his political opponents, both from within the party and from without. Consolidating political power was the first thing Modi did when in power a part of which was to conduct riots and use that to propel him to power. Once entrenched, he went about re-creating Gujarat in the image of a special economic zone where it is notoriously difficult to organize and agitate. The marginalization of muslims starting from the great purge in 2002 has gone on unabated. His state functions on the dual pillars of communalism and brutally neo-liberal economic policies. The former is the source of his political power and the latter the outcome of his economic power. His style of governance involves tight security

While it is infinitely more difficult to implement such policies on a national scale, we can expect him to try and implement it. This will cause tremendous tension from those resisting his policies. Even within Gujarat, where Modi rules with impunity, his rule is not unchallenged. A great example of this is in Mithi Virdi where thousands are protesting against a nuclear power plant project. This is being touted as Gujarat’s “nandigram”. For those of us who may have forgotten, the peasant’s protests at Nandigram, and the subsequent reaction of the Left Front led state government is what brought down the government from power. There have also been encouraging examples of worker’s strikes in Gujarat like the recent one in the textile sector. This led to the government increasing worker’s daily wages.

The rest of the country is even more volatile. For Modi to reign in on the entirety of class struggle would require a herculean effort. Even Thatcher couldn’t survive the fight against the class conscious British working class. Her government fell after ten years of fighting the British working class and no Tory government could come to power till the present one in alliance with the liberals. The Indian working class is on the move, and it will be just as difficult to curb it. This does not mean, we take things for granted.

How must we prepare ?

What this election shows is the bankruptcy of the traditional leaderships of the working class. We must fight for a new radical leadership for the working class, one which can fight on a war footing with the new reactionary government in power. It is not that class struggle has ended, or that people actually ‘prefer’ a reactionary and autocratic leadership at the helm. It is a fact that they saw no alternative in the feeble traditional leaderships around them. The result has been the election of a reactionary government in an unprecedented position of power. The present situation will bring new challenges in organizing the working class and poor for struggle. The attacks against them will not stop, rather it will grow sharper. Like Modi has shown in Gujarat, and how Mamta has shown the way in Bengal, the state will grow more aggressive. Building a revolutionary Bolshevik Leninist party becomes the need of the hour !

For those of us who are in the process of building this party, must prepare for the worst possible scenario. State owned companies will be privatized, labor laws will become more adverse, they will attempt to crush unions, curb free speech and increase militarization of the state. To counter this, we must organize more aggressively, for their every attack, we must prepare a massive counter. To every attempt at privatization, we must mobilize the workers of state enterprises. Here again, we state that it is time to shed the bureaucratic fragmentation of the workers by the sector they work with. ALL state sector workers must unite in their struggles against privatization. When they attempt at changing labor laws or curbing militant unions, we must ready the workers for an indefinite general strike ! When they attempt to curb free speech, we must mobilize activists across the country to challenge it. It has been done before, when Binayak Sen was unlawfully imprisoned or Shaheen Dhada was being harassed, everyone showed their support. Such must be our fervor.

There are those who are pessimistic and think that Modi and the forces which support him are unchallengeable. To them we have only to show the brave textile workers in Gujarat or the thousands of peasants at Mithi Virdi who are on struggle. Modi’s british precursor, the autocratic and megalomaniac Margaret Thatcher, couldn’t withstand the working class on the move. Not to forget, Modi and the RSS’ ideological mentor, Benito Mussolini. was ignominiously lynched on a lamp post. No matter how overbearing or ruthless the class enemy may seem, they are no match for the power of the working class in struggle !

The new government is going to make life difficult for the masses and for those fighting for their interests. But it will also get rid of any illusion that they may have on bourgeois democracy. The Congress and the Stalinists have been one huge smoke screen. That has now disappeared. This is a time to fight, and we must fight hard !

Long live working class unity ! Struggle until Victory !

Perspective on the work stoppage at Bajaj

The nearly 50 day long tool down action at Bajaj’s Chakan plant was a landmark action by the workers of the Chakan industrial belt, both for it’s duration and the impact it has had in radicalizing the otherwise ‘peaceful’ situation at the Chakan industrial belt. The core issue of the struggle was over the ill-effects of the imposition of total productivity methods at Chakan modelled on the system at Maruti Suzuki and union busting tactics of the management at the Pantnagar plant.

The action at Chakan may be linked to the developments at the Pantnagar plant in Uttarakhand where the workers were deliberately denied from joining the Vishwa Kamgar Kalyan Sangathana ( VKKS ). The harrassment of workers at that plant led to the union at Chakan break the old agreement and make a fresh set of demands targetting an improvement of their working condition. The union leadership however, was limited from the start, by targeting shareholding in the company for workers as a ‘lasting’ means of improving worker’s wages. The leaflet distributed by the union expressed the ideological basis for their demand for shares, the belief in trusteeship, championed by Jamnalal Bajaj. This demand more than any other was what was highlighted by the union.

There were other issues as well. During the meetings, the question of condition of work for contract workers was raised more than once. Bajaj like every other major industry prefers the hiring of contract labor to use of permanent workforce. In the slump period in the auto industry, contract labor again gave way to the use of trainee workers. This together with the total productivity methods, squeezed out the highest possible productivity out of the workers at the plant, not to mention rendered them precarious owing to the contractual nature of work and the temporary or trainee status of the workers. However, the union did not raise these questions concretely in their charter of demands. On the contrary, the allotment of shares, which was stressed by the union, would only aid the management in exploiting the workers. With shareholding, the workers are tied in to the profits and losses of the company, and consequently, hostage to the policy of the management.

At no point was the tool down action directed towards more militant forms of protests like gheraos or factory occupations, or pickets. The result was that the company had a free hand in forcing the trainee workers to work overtime to compensate for production losses due to the tool down. Even though this was illegal, the union leadership preferred a legal course to tackling this than the more militant alternative of installing a gherrao of the factory. However, the enthusiasm of the young workers at the union ( their average age being 26 ), proved to be an inspiration for other workers to join in solidarity. The Shramik Ekta Mahasangh which was the umbrella body of industrial unions in the Chakan belt expressed their solidarity with the workers. However, no tool down action was taken by them.

All in all, the workers at Bajaj had to go on their own. The workers showed both determination and unity in carrying on the tool down action for more than 50 days beginning from the 25th of June till August 14th. This was all despite management tactics of harrassment and attempts to break the strike, not to mention, threats of shifting production away from the Chakan plant to neighboring Aurangabad. In the end the strike was ended ‘unconditionally’. The union leadership under has promised to ‘continue to press for the demands raised by the strike action including wage revision’.

Thus, the work stoppage action ended without any demands conceded, and a murky uncertain future awaits for the suspended workers. The management feels emboldened with its success in ending the struggle without any concessions made, and in potential for shifting production to any other plant in the country.

The unity of workers which has been building up albeit in a somewhat distorted manner since the general strike of 2010, has tremendous implications for the future of the worker’s movement. The Bajaj tool down action represents both the problems and the potential in mobilizing workers in India.

The larger picture :

Though the action at Bajaj ended without consequence, the significance of this work stoppage action can’t be ignored in the larger picture. Since the beginning of market reforms and what is generally called ‘neo-liberal’ growth, the condition of workers in India has become more and more precarious. Contractorization, casualization and rationalization of workforce in addition to privatizations of public companies have added to the burdens of the working class. The ‘boom years’ of the Indian economy also saw the birth of a new phase of class struggle, with the workers at Honda revolting. Soon after, the Gurgaon industrial belt became the scene of the most significant labor movement in recent times centered around Maruti. The rest of the country has not been immune to this. It was not too long since the workers at Mahindra’s Nasik plant struck work after the arrest of it’s union leadership there.

With worsening conditions of work, and the entry of millions upon millions of freshly proletarianized peasant populations ( people who’ve been rendered wage slaves due to loss of subsistence income from the countryside, pushed into the cities or factories to find work ), a new young working class has been created out of the most rebellious and desperate section of india’s populace. The increasing intensity of struggles, with frequent cases of workers turning violent, is an unsurprising outcome of the brutality of the system upon the lives of these populations. With shrinking stable job opportunities, owing to a stagnation of organized employment, most of these wage slaves end up with the worst kind of work in the unorganized sector, if not end up unemployed yet again.

The increase of this reserve labor has strengthened the ability of capitalists to impose their will upon the workers. It is not for no reason that the management at Bajaj could compensate the loss of man hours as easily with trainee workers. The system favored him, but the times are against him. The world crisis has affected india, and the problems of a proletarianizing economy founded on the systematic destruction of peasants and petty bourgeois, has come crashing in. Workers become more rebellious and there is an ever present danger of it becoming violent. The example of Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt stands as a warning before the greedy bourgeois.

With this new method of exploitation, there have been new movements of resistance against it. The movement for organizing contract workers for decent, secured job opportunities through their regularization, epitomizes this. The proliferation of contractorisation in Indian industry has given new impetus to the movement to organize contract workers. There is not a single major company where contractorisation has not taken roots, and consequently, there is an ever present struggle against the conditions which it brings about. This is one area which can combine the struggles of workers in private industry with those in public industry where contractorisation is emerging in a major way. Take the case of BSNL where almost 100000 workers work as ‘outsourced’ contract workers. But while the significance of the struggle seems obvious, the nature of the movement is restrained to a company specific approach. No focussed effort seems to be in place to create a movement of all workers against contractorisation uniting both public and private sector workers. Building such unity is the need of the day !

This is not unconnected with the developments in the public sector. The crisis has forced the government to aggressively target the public sector for increased privatizations. The results have been a spree of strike actions by workers against privatization. Coal India Ltd, BSNL, Neyvelli lignite have all been witness to workers protesting efforts at privatizing these companies. These have so far been successful in restraining any efforts at completing the privatizations of these companies. The question of contract workers and overall, the question of improving work conditions are not unrelated to this. Privatization brings with it a worsening of working conditions, and increasing precariousness of work. The workers of the public sector companies are essentially waging a defensive struggle against privatization and against losing the security that comes with state ownership. This stands in contrast with the actions in the private sector where existing conditions of work are being challenged.

The public sector is a fortress for the working class, and a lifeline for giving sustainable secured employment. It accounts for a majority of organized workforce in the country as well as being in the commanding height of the economy. Uniting the workers of these two sectors would strengthen the working class in their struggle against Indian capitalism. This would not be possible without the necessary political leadership.

ALL OUT SUPPORT TO THE GENERAL STRIKE !

Rising inflation ! Rationing of LPG cylinders ! Price hikes in essentials ! Divestments in public sector companies ! Mass arrests and repression on worker’s organizations!
These are the reasons why all the major trade-union bodies and even smaller trade unions throughout India are coming in a general strike on 20th and 21st February.

We want to express our unconditional support for the General Strike. Only the uninterrupted and permanent mobilization of millions can bring a real change in India. A General Strike is great weapon in the hands of working class. Even a two day strike shows everyone who really runs this world! It shows what will happen once the entire proletariat arises in indefinite general strike against the intolerable exploitation of the capitalist bosses and government. The only thing a boss can keep moving is a whip… For the third time in three years that workers of India are rising against inflation, for defense of worker’s rights and social security !

A charter of ten demands has been drawn up to rally the workers in struggle. We fully support to these ten charter demands, but to really improve our lives we must mobilize behind a more aggressive programme with the following demands :

1) A sliding scale of wages :

To fight inflation, worker’s wages must be compulsorily increased along with the price levels of essential commodities starting from a minimum living wage of Rs.15000. All wage agreements signed between workers and management and the statutory minimum wage of a state must be subjected to regular increases based on rising inflation in essential commodities. This sliding scale would be more valuable than gold in our fight against inflation. We would no longer helplessly watch our wages drain away. We must fight to win real wage security!

2) Price controls pegged to average minimum wages :

The government is fully capable of controlling the prices of essentials, if it wishes to. It fails to do so because it is not interested in our needs, and only caters to the needs of the Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis and Mittals. These corporate interests pressure the government to deregulate prices so that ‘market’ forces will boost their profits. We must teach them the lesson that our needs are more important than their profits!


3) No privatizations ! No to FDI! Nationalize the Big Private Companies !

The cause of our present misery from inflation to corruption have been the corporate interests (both indian and foreign) and their lackey politicians who loot us. They hold all the wealth and power. Public Sector Companies are built by our toil and effort, and we resolve to never let them be sold off to fatten these bourgeois scoundrels! We demand an immediate moratorium on all divestments in public sector companies and a plan to nationalize WITHOUT COMPENSATION the major conglomerates of the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis to be placed under control of democratic councils of workers. We must nationalize them and bring back to the people the wealth they have looted.

4) Right to organize must be a Fundamental Right !

The class enemy knows the danger a mobilized and militant working class presents, that is why they try their best to suppress us and take away our right to organize. The Honda and Suzuki motor workers set us a proud example of a principled fight for organizational rights and the right to union recognition. When we are starved by inflation, beaten by repression and pauperized by privatizations, struggle is our only hope of surviving the attacks of capitalism. We therefore demand that the right to strike and to organize be made a fundamental right!

These demands are the core needs of the working masses of India today. The bourgeoisie and their lackey accountants and intellectual ‘experts’ will try to convince us our demands are wrong. But we must not waver. They sow fear, and doubt to intimidate us and stop us fighting. But we refuse to pay for their crisis and their failures. The workers on the move are a huge force which can change history, but no struggle will be successful without a revolutionary party to channel the energy it generates. The problems traumatizing India can only be resolved by throwing the bourgeoisie from power and replacing the capitalist ruling class! We need a workers’ state. We can only do this if we build a revolutionary Bolshevik- Leninist Party and build the Fourth International as a party of world revolution! 

 

Interview with the PSTU on the anti-rape agitation

We present below an interview taken earlier in January on the issue of the anti-rape agitations in India. Comrade Adhiraj Bose of the New Wave gave the interview explaining the causes of the upsurge and it’s possible future. The interview was conducted by Comrade Wilson Honório da Silva of the PSTU.

Her name has not been divulgated, but we know she was a 23 years old physiotherapist, who was coming back from a theater with her boyfriend, and was brutally raped, by six men, inside of a bus, on December 16h, what provoked her death, on the 27th. As you point out in your leaflets and materials, unfortunately, this kind of crime is far from being something “new” in India. What is the situation of sexual violence in India? Why, then, this specific case spread a wave of protests all over India?

Adhiraj Bose –I would like to start out by emphasizing, that Indian women are perhaps among the most oppressed in the world. Sexual violence forms a major part of the prevalent modes of oppression of women, which include but are not limited to, female foetecide (killing the woman before birth), dowry deaths, domestic violence, and constant harassment.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) compiles statistics on crime in the country and as per its records, there are above 24000 rapes happening annually and around 36000 cases of molestations last year alone were reported. Dowry deaths number between 7000 and 8000 annually and in the year 2010 around 8319 dowry deaths happened. I should of course explain a bit about the dowry system in India, the principle of dowry is that the bride’s family must pay a kind of ‘protection money’ for the ‘services rendered’ by the groom’s family in ‘taking care of the bride’. It is not the groom’s family who pays.
Although dowry was abolished in law in 1961, the mere passing of the act has not succeeded in liberating women from this curse, as the family structure remains intact. The murderous family usually finds ways of burying evidence which may implicate them in the crime. The extent of the violence can be gauged by the statistic which shows that there are 100 million missing women in India.

As in the rest of the world, apart from violence, oppression of women takes different forms, which often are combined with capitalist exploitation. How is it in India?

Adhiraj Bose – What I said above constitutes the overt and violent aspect of gender discrimination in India, the covert and regular violence that women have to endure include discrimination at the workplace with lower wages and sub-employment rife among women (over-represented in menial professions like construction work, maid service, anganwadi work [Health centres] and under-represented in management) , deprivation of equal rights in property upon succession (it wasn’t until 2005 that the Hindu succession act was amended and this right was recognized ).

Even today, after 7 years of the amendment being passed, women still don’t enjoy a joint right over their husband’s property. In many cases it has been found that their claim to property has been disrespected by their inlaws leading to mental torture, harassment and forced suicides.

The condition of women minorities is just as bad, with archaic provisions for divorce creating conditions for their misuse. One particularly infamous provision of the Muslim marriage act recognizes the ‘triple talak’ whereby the husband can legally terminate a marriage by uttering “I divorce you” thrice.

The condition of women in the rural sphere is generally worse than in the urban sphere.

This is one area where archaic customs continue to dominate despite the intrusion of modern capitalism. Far from resolving the social tensions at the roots, Indian capitalism has succeeded only in exacerbating them. Semi-feudal lords have used their political connections to become capitalist agriculturists. This is best reflected in the situation in Haryana and other parts of north western India where Khap panchayats [Khap councils, formed by the elite castes, also known as “rajas”] formed by village caste elites dispense justice based on archaic ideas and gender biases.

In December, the protests took place almost daily and throughout the country, which has been touted as a “turning point” in the fight against sexual violence in India. Why is this happening now?

Adhiraj Bose – With this background in mind, we must come to the present situation. The protests in Delhi spiralled into an aggressive revolt rather spontaneously. Before this, there were mass mobilizations around single incidents of rape; notable instances have been during the Khairlanji killings, the case of Jessica Lall.

There is an ongoing movement against the Armed Force (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which has worked to protect military personnel from rape and sexual crimes charges in northeast India. Irom Sharmila is demanding the repeal of AFSPA and is on a continuous hunger strike which continues till now. AFSPA however, remains in force empowering the armed forces with wide powers of search and seizure in the northeast which give them unfettered access to brutalize the population of the northeast.

The incident in Delhi however, is special for more than one reason. The initially peaceful protests were met by police violence, which spurred on further more intense agitations, which later on assumed the form of open revolt. Once the situation became tense in Delhi, the rest of the nation woke up and we found protests evolving in every major city.

What are the prospects regarding the continuity of mobilizations?

Adhiraj Bose – The wave continues now, even though it has ebbed considerably since the start of the protests. This is the second time in this year, that such a large scale spontaneous eruption has been seen, the first being the anti-corruption protests last year which was again spurred on by police violence.

We have earlier stated that India is presently in a critical pre-revolutionary stage where such uprisings, revolts and mobilizations will emerge. This trend we have traced to 2009 when clear signs of working class militancy were emerging in the sugar worker’s strike and the motormen strike in Maharashtra, and the peasant uprisings across eastern and central India. The world situation was tense then, and has become tenser now and we are noticing the trend is becoming only more and more aggressive.

On this particular incident of rape, the tolerance of the masses had already reached their threshold, and all pent up anger was unleashed against the government and the system it espouses. Some of the slogans at Delhi, at least, assumed a very general character; “Down with capitalism” was a popular slogan. That is reflective of the deep character of this movement and the implications are far reaching.

5. Just a day before the death, on the 26th, another girl died after being raped, in the district of Patiala. It’s said that she committed suicide after denouncing being raped on November 13th, in a Hindu Festival in Diwali. According to the girl’s family, when they tried to register the crime in the police station they were mocked, the girl was harassed and nothing was done. Is this the typical treatment given by the police for this kind of cases? What are your demands in relation to that?

Adhiraj Bose – In this context, it’s important to gauge the role of the police. The police throughout this protest wave have shown tremendous insensitivity and brutality in suppressing the protests in Delhi. In Pune the police were reluctant to allow even limited peaceful marches in the city, although there was no resort to violence. There was no need for that here at least.

The immediate incidents aside, the police have performed most ignominiously in dealing with sexual crimes in India and are notorious for corrupt practices. Not limited of course to the treatment of sexual crimes. A combination of chauvinism and apathy has made police enforcement in this sphere of policing a total waste. Often policemen are reluctant to record FIRs relating to rape, using the false categorization of ‘genuine case’ vs. ‘false case’.

Within the police force itself, there are hardly any women, and the force is by and large a male dominated force with minimal participation of women. The total participation of women in India’s police force has been reported to be as low as 3.98% of the total force size.

To this our proposal is twofold : 1) In the immediate time, we must remove the policemen who have shown insensitivity towards women during the policing in Delhi, 2) in the long run, demand for more representation of women in police and the creation of specialized cells in police stations for dealing with sexual violence and LGBT issues. Part of this campaign would be to make the existing cells more functional.

6. The Brazilian press is highlighting the demand for Capital Punishment for rapists. What is The New Wave’s position on that?

Adhiraj Bose – The sorry state of affairs of enforcement and conviction of rapists, have led to a very frustrated expression of anger which has presently assumed the form of demanding the death penalty.

Whilst we do sympathize with the mass anger being expressed we do not support any demand for imposition of death penalty. We do not stand in principle for giving the bourgeois a weapon of legalized murder. India already has provision for death penalty and by reports it has been more abused than used. (The People’s Union for Democratic rights cites 1422 executions having occurred in India between 1953 and 1963 alone) The media in India are focussing on the demand for death penalty and overall ‘stricter punishment’ for rapists.

However, the despicable strategy behind all of this is to distract the mobilizations to a dead end. Vent the anger to a dead end of execution and make sure the whole movement is pacified. Additionally, the government would also like to paint the protestors in colours of banality and barbarism, the ones demanding death penalty particularly those who do not belong to any organization are useful for painting this essentially false and one-sided image of the mobilizations. From your account it seems the international press is also playing its part in the falsifications.

7. In your leaflets you say that sexual violence targets mainly women, but also is strong against LGBT. Brazil has an average of 300 LGBT killed by year in homophobic attacks. What is the situation in India? How is the LGBT movement in your country and how is it acting in relation to the present situation?

Adhiraj Bose – Whilst it is true that our leaflet focusses on only one angle of sexual violence, that is only because it focusses on the immediate mobilization and we intended to express our support to the mobilizations.

However, our programmatic position on violence and gender based discrimination takes into account the LGBT spectrum as well. In India, the movement is quite nascent in nature compared to Brazil. It is presently dominated by elite bourgeois leadership without the participation of the poor. However, that is changing with the movement becoming wider and increasingly more acceptable in the larger spectrum of movements.

Presently, the movement for LGBT rights is gathering ground around the abolition of section 377 which outlaws homosexual sexual practices under the pretext of ‘unnatural sex’. An important judgement was passed in the Delhi high court which recognized that this section was outdated and needed to be struck down. However, the law has yet to be amended, and the case is pending in the Supreme Court currently. In relation to the present situation, the LGBT community broadly sympathizes with the rape survivor and sympathizes with the protests at large.

8. Due to the wave of protests, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to make the judiciary sue the men who were involved in the rape in the bus. Bikram Singh, leader of the Congress Party in the state of Assam, was arrested, accused of attacking a girl (on Monday, December 31). It seems that these decisions are unprecedented, since, as you say in the pamphlet, there are 369 politicians involved in such cases. What are the expectations for these facts?

Adhiraj Bose – The ‘unprecedented’ actions of the Indian government was in the face of overwhelming protests. Something had to be done to douse the people’s ire. The rapists being tried with this rapidity was the result of mass pressure which forced the normally nonchalant government to act.

This is not the first instance of mass pressure forcing the state to act to its whims, earlier in the case of Jessica Lall, mass pressure played a pivotal role in influencing judicial opinion for punishing Manu Sharma who was accused in the murder case. In the Khairlanji protests as well, mass pressure had an influence over judicial processes where death sentence was passed. However, even in this case the final verdict was passed after 2 years of the actual incident, a remarkable pace considering that cases can linger in court for well over a decade.

Eventually, the higher court turned down the death sentence of the session’s court and commuted the death sentence awarded in that matter to a 25 year rigorous imprisonment. Given this example and others like it, I remain somewhat pessimistic about the process against the rapists. I would be surprised, however, if a stern order is not passed by the judiciary in this matter.

9. What are the proposals of the New Wave for the continuity of the mobilizations?

Even if this individual case be dealt with strictly, the fundamental question of law reforms would remain unanswered. With a good number of politicians and legislators themselves being accused of rape and sexual charges, I would expect some sort of opposition from them in parliament. What form this opposition would take would remain to be seen; at this point, the bourgeois would most likely try to hide and concede to mass pressure than reveal their true character and have their heads chopped. The case of the Assamese Congress party leader is significant in this case, a recent news report showed villagers beating him in public!

A campaign which focusses on cleansing the political structure in the country of such sexist and brute elements would constitute a very vital part of a larger campaign for gender equality and must unquestionably form a part of the whole struggle against patriarchy in India. For this we have demanded de-recognition of all such politicians who have been charged with sexual crimes be they MPs, MLAs, and politicians with party tickets being fielded during elections.

The New Wave group’s present focus is to try to build up such a campaign for de-recognition with organizations involved in the fight against gender discrimination. We are presently working on that agenda. The idea of it is to suspend the position of the politician till the charge is proven, and strip him of all responsibilities pertaining to representation. If the charges are proven, to press charges and move ahead with process of law. Such people must then be banned permanently from political life.