NEW DELHI – General elections to India’s lower house, the Lok Sabha, will be held in four phases in April and May. The main task facing the left and democratic parties is to dislodge the right-wing, communalist forces – headed by the Baratiya Janata Party – from power. The BJP, led by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, currently has a majority in parliament.

In the last election in 1999, the National Democratic Alliance, headed by the BJP and including elements of the fascist-like Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement, succeeded in capturing nationwide power with the help of regional allies.

For the past 15 years the country has witnessed an extreme right-wing shift in the political landscape. The RSS-led “Hindutva” forces have exploited Hindu religious sentiments to foster hatred and to divide India’s communities.

Now, on the eve of the elections and in a bid to change their communalist image, the BJP is trying to woo the support of non-Hindu minorities. However, after the 2002 Gujarat massacre, in which hundreds of Muslims were killed by rioting Hindus with the alleged complicity of the BJP-dominated state government, minorities have felt more and more insecure. There was no justice for the victims. The state police are still biased, and minorities live in fear.

In the run-up to the elections the BJP-led government has spent millions of rupees for its “India Shining” campaign, a propaganda campaign filled with false claims.

The BJP trumpets major achievements during the party’s five years of rule, including the securing of a nuclear weapons capacity. The BJP holds up Vajpayee as an “icon of modern India,” and claims that foreign exchange reserves have overflowed and that grain reserves are full.

What is the reality? Is India really “shining”?

The country’s economy is in shambles due to wrong economic policies, policies that were initiated by the Congress Party government in 1991. The basic principles of these policies are those of the “free market” economy, guided by the dictates of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

The IMF-inspired corporate restructuring of the economy has led to heavy job losses and worsening employment conditions for most Indians, alongside the enrichment of a privileged few.

BJP leaders speak of food surpluses in government warehouses. While it is true that food production has increased during the last few years, it is not because of the “good governance” of the BJP or NDA, but because heavy rains fell in parts of the country.

Claims about an abundant food supply are belied by reports of starvation deaths in Orissa, Rajasthan and other parts of the country. Farmers are committing suicide because they are so deep in debt – a consequence of WTO export-import policies and the elimination of agricultural price supports and subsidies for farmers.

The BJP-led government came to power with the promise that it would create ten millions of new jobs every year. It has utterly failed to keep this promise. Under the BJP, the pace of job creation has declined. The rate of new-job growth fell from 2.7 per year between 1983-84 and 1993-94 to 1.1 percent during 1994-2000.

The unemployment situation is becoming more and more explosive. According to official figures, 40.2 million educated youth were unemployed in 2003. The actual figure is above 150 million. While a few thousand jobs have been created in the fields of information technology and various outsourcing enterprises over the past few years, unemployment has risen.

The dismantling and privatization of public sector enterprises continues. Plant closings, privatization, retrenchment, and downsizing have thrown out millions of workers into the streets and created widespread hardship.

The last years of BJP rule have been “shining” with corruption and scams, characterized by bribes, irregularities in state purchases, inequitable allotments of fuel, and the looting of the public sector.

The elections are an opportunity for the left and democratic forces to save secular values by defeating the forces of fanaticism and fascism. Even though there is no formal, all-India alliance or front in the elections, the Congress Party has also said its main objective is to defeat the BJP and its allies.

This is the first time electronic voting machines will be used through out the country. The election results will be announced on May 13.

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