Indian voters oust right wing

NEW DELHI – Indian voters threw the right-wing, Hindu nationalist forces out of power in the recent national elections. A surprise rebellion of workers, farmers, women, youth, academics, poor, religious and national minorities took place against the policies of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. The political earthquake swept the Indian National Congress party and its democratic and secular allies into power.

Congress won 145 seats in the 545-member lower house of Parliament, called the Lok Sabha. The left, including the two largest Communist parties – the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India – bagged 62 seats, the largest number since 1952. The left parties promised to support the Congress-led government but not to formally join it. With the other parties in the secular alliance, Congress will more than cross the threshold of 272 needed for a majority.

At the election’s core were issues that struck at the very heart and soul of Indian democracy: a secular government vs. a hard-line, Hindu fundamentalist government; economic policies benefiting the workers and poor vs. policies that benefit the corporations and the super-rich; and an independent foreign policy vs. a policy aligned with U.S. imperialism.

Tens of millions in this country of just over 1 billion were further impoverished and marginalized during the period of right-wing rule, completely left out of the “India Shining” portrait painted by the BJP. Hunger is rampant, even as warehouses sit idle with food, because the BJP all but destroyed the government’s distribution system. Millions of young people are jobless. Privatization has increased poverty and suffering.

An example of the rebellion from below happened in the southern Indian state of Andra Pradesh (AP). In provincial elections there, the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a key ally of the BJP, was trounced. AP’s Chief Minister Naidu was the darling of Wall Street and Indian CEOs for ushering in the so-called high-tech economy. Yet the people’s needs – from water to electricity to education – suffered under Naidu’s regime. At least 3,000 farmers in AP alone committed suicide over their desperate conditions.

Over the last eight years, the BJP-led government pushed and implemented policies that fanned the flames of religious fanaticism leading to brutal attacks on Muslims and Christians.

“People have rejected the communal-fascist policies pursued by the BJP-NDA and upheld the secular-democratic character of the country,” the Communist Party of India said in a statement thanking the voters of India. “[The voters] have rejected economic policies pursued so far, which were attacks against workers, against the livelihood of the masses, against the poor in general and only served the interest of foreign multinationals and domestic monopolists.”

“This scale of anger was not expected by us. The question before us now is to bring together all the forces that worked against the BJP,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet said.

Shortly after the Congress victory, Sonia Gandhi, the party’s Italian-born leader, unexpectedly declined the post of prime minister, pulling the rug out from the BJP who promised a bitter campaign against her. The Congress party elected Manmohan Singh as prime minister. A Sikh, Singh will be India’s first non-Hindu prime minister.

While Congress started the “neoliberal” economic programs in 1991 – opening India up to more foreign investment and privatizing public-sector entities (with Singh as its architect) – the left’s influence on the new government will be a key factor. The new Congress-led government is expected to slow divestment of the public sector, pledging it would not privatize profitable “public sector units.”

“The market cannot solve all the world’s problems,” Eduardo Faleiro, a senior Congress party member said. “You need some state structure for purposes of education, for health, for alleviating unemployment. A safety net has to be there.”

The left has also indicated it is not against economic reforms. In a recent interview, CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan said, “We are against reforms that lack a human face. We are against reforms that lead people to lose their jobs. We want reforms to end poverty, illiteracy and improve the health conditions of millions of people.”

The left will also help influence India’s foreign policy towards a more non-aligned path. A senior official in the Ministry of External Affairs told the World that the excessive tilt towards U.S. interests, evident in India’s foreign policy under BJP rule, can be expected to be corrected.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org.