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Going Forward from the 2014 General Election

womaniya

20 June 2014, New Delhi: The general election result of the 16th Lok
Sabha has come as a surprise to many of us. This result is an enormous
defeat for the centrist, regional and the parliamentary left parties.
The result is unexpected because for two decades no single party has
had the capacity to win an absolute majority in the parliament. The
overwhelming victory of the BJP by securing 282 out of 543 seats marks
a significant and critical shift in our country’s parliamentary
politics.

The victory of BJP is more than an arithmetic coincidence

It would be easy for us to convince ourselves that the victory of the
BJP is a mere arithmetical co-incidence. It is indeed correct that the
BJP has secured an absolute majority with only 31% of the popular vote
and at no time in our electoral history has any party secured an
absolute majority with less than 42% of the popular vote. We would,
however, arrive at such a self-satisfying conclusion at our own peril.

The fact remains that the BJP won an overwhelming number of seats in
the states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Assam, Bihar,
Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh,
Nagaland, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and in the states
of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Maharashtra with its partners in the
National Democratic Alliance. Added to this, the BJP secured a
significant increase in share of votes in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and a
phenomenal increase in its share of vote in West Bengal.

This is not a time for us to use numbers to come to conclusion of it
being business as usual or a time to question the electoral system,
howsoever flawed it may be. Understanding the election result, and the
constellation of class forces that have contributed to the formation
of a BJP government, with Mr Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, is
important for us in the NTUI, as also the working class as a whole.

The failure of the UPA and the Consolidation of the Capitalist Class,
Upper Peasantry and Upper Castes

The media and the edit page writers have described the election result
for the most part as a vote for ‘stability’, ‘development’ and for
‘good governance’. This is a superficial way of explaining this
overwhelming election result. This election verdict is no doubt an
expression of anger against the outgoing Indian National Congress
(INC) led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The voting
citizenry has undoubtedly voted against inflation, it has voted
strongly against what was widely perceived as an inept,
non-functioning and corrupt government. Of course, the deep revulsion
against the outgoing government, inept as it may have been, was
cultivated by the BJP , both within parliament, with direct or
indirect support of the regional parties and the parliamentary left,
and outside with the unbalanced and one-sided coverage that it
received in the media. While the intention may have been to the
contrary the Aam Aadmi Party’s high pitched single agenda campaign
against corruption also contributed to the revulsion against the UPA
and may have also pushed some of the core INC vote the BJPs way.

That said, the outcome of this election also subsumes a strong
aspirational vote for the BJP and what it represents. The BJP was
strongly supported by all sections of the capitalist class – be it
big, indigenous or foreign, medium or small – across the spectrum of
accumulation – industrial, trading, services or agrarian. As is well
recognised the BJP had access to large sums of money in the election.
Apart from money the BJP received direct corporate support and
participation hitherto unknown to Indian elections. BJP also received
support from large sections of the upper and middle peasantry. The new
middle class that is an important opinion maker and measure of
aspiration strongly rooted for the BJP. Ironically it is these three
sections of society that have benefited enormously from the 10 years
of the UPA government.

What perhaps swung the election the BJP’s way was the aspiration of
young citizens, the first time voter, a majority of who voted on their
feet for the BJP.

The inability to counter the BJP ideologically

The election data that is now becoming available shows sharp
polarisation of votes between Hindus and Muslims and an equally sharp
polarisation between upper caste and non-upper caste Hindus. The BJP’s
ability to swing a section, howsoever small it may be, of backward
caste, dalit and adivasi votes finally tipped the balance in its
favour. This critical share of votes is not just an outcome of the
economic despair of a section of the working class or their rejection
of the INC or the regional parties but also the outcome of sustained
efforts of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in engaging this
section of society culturally, socially and politically within the
ideology of Hindutva, especially in mid-sized cities, semi-urban areas
and rural areas. While the BJP leadership at various levels employed
Hindu nationalism, which defines Hindu majoritarianism in direct
opposition to Islam and those of the Islamic faith, to polarise the
vote along religious lines, the RSS with its sustained efforts on the
ground through education and cultural interventions has been
influential amongst a section of the working class.

Alongside this very intensive work of the RSS, the expansion of the
BJP has also steadily been contributed to by the divisions between
regional parties, including those drawn from the Socialist tradition,
who have at one time or another aligned with the BJP for immediate
electoral gains. In this election a significant vote and a huge chunk
of the BJP’s parliamentary seats (10%) came from Bihar, as the BJP
with relative ease moved its electoral alliance from the Janata Dal
United (JDU) to the Lok Janshakti Party. This was the result of the
BJPs patient expansion through its two decade of long alliance with
the JDU. The JDU, months before the election, sought to go it alone on
the back of the ‘good government’ and ‘development’ it had given to
the poorest state of the country, having, after nearly a 20 year
alliance with the BJP come to the view that it was a communal party.

With the INC in complete disrepair, the principal responsibility of
denying the BJP a clear majority rested with the regional parties.
With the exception of those states where the BJP is not one of two
largest parties – Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal – the regional
parties were swept aside. This reflects the failure of the regional
parties especially in UP and Bihar to challenge the BJP ideologically
as also their inability to keep up with the aspiration of their
supporters, whom they took for granted.

The parliamentary left with its already whittled down strength has
faced significant erosion not just in numbers but in its credibility
as well. The collapse of the parliamentary left’s vote is the result
of long years of courting neo-liberal policies, through its state
governments, and simply not offering an alternative economic, social
or political vision that it could then carry forward in struggle when
in opposition. The significant fall in the vote of the parliamentary
left and the corresponding rise in the BJP vote in West Bengal is a
clear indication of this. The erosion of its credibility is linked to
the inability of the left to offer a coherent ideological alternative,
along with electoral opportunism that at least in part helped shoring
up the BJP’s credibility, by enjoining with it in parliamentary
opposition to stall government during the life of the last parliament.

Trade Unions in the political space and our efforts

The failure to influence the electoral outcome cannot rest with
electoral parties alone. The alliance of all Central Trade Union
Organisations (CTUO) that adopted the 10 point charter in 2010 and the
call to action, including the two-day general strike of 20-21 February
2013 and the march to Parliament of 15 December 2013 which was, in the
interest of working class unity, adopted by us in the NTUI and other
progressive national trade union centres, was critical for advancing
the interest of all working people. However this call for action
neither influenced the political actions of the working class nor did
it engage or influence political parties in their manifesto decisions
or in their promise at the election. The alliance of CTUOs in fact
went silent the moment the election process began, signalling their
respective affiliation to or proximity with one or another political
party. Nothing brings to the fore the importance and primacy of
autonomy of the trade union from parliamentary political parties than.
Only autonomy from parliamentary parties will ensure that the united
voice of the working class can influence parliamentary politics.

We in the NTUI too must introspect about what we did or did not do to
influence the outcome of the election within the capacity and strength
we have. It goes without saying that our efforts are not one that
makes the difference in the immediate run up to the election.  Yet we
too must assess and analyse our political reach and impact. Our
efforts on standing up against the enormous attack on democratic
rights – including trade union rights – has at best been sporadic. Our
efforts in addressing the divisions within our own membership that
persist – be it on gender, caste, religion, region and language – too
have been limited. We have also not succeeded – except in very small
numbers – in making inroads into bringing into the union fold the new
generation of workers in new industrial enclaves and in new sectors
most notably, in terms of employment, the vast service sector. Despite
our membership amongst both rural and urban workers we have not been
able to bring the rapidly growing migrant workforce to our membership.
It is not enough for us to say that other trade unions have not
succeeded either. If we stand for a renewal of the working class
movement then the task is ours.

Our inability to deal with the task at hand has largely been the
result of the focus of our engagement with local and immediate issues.
While this focus is both important and necessary we are yet to find a
balance between these urgent tasks and the political and social
aspirations of our membership which in turn affects both the growth of
membership and our inability to build a countrywide movement for
defending working class rights. We were correct in recognising this
weakness at our 3rd General Assembly and the enormous challenge of
building a progressive understanding within the working class.

The BJP Government

All of this together paved the way for a right wing offensive
combining the ideology of Hindutva, an unbridled commitment to market
force and a promise of ‘minimum government’ by the BJP all carefully
packaged in the slogan: ‘Good Times to Come’. The victory of the BJP
marks a decisive shift of the Indian polity to the right.

The BJP comes to government at a time when the world economy has only
shown feeble signs of recovery, and economic policy across the world
has shifted steadily to the right as capital has adjusted itself to
deal with the shock of the crisis – by imposing policies of austerity
by curtailing social security and social protection – in the absence
of an opposition and a robust alternative from the Left. The BJP seeks
to ride this trend.

The new Prime Minister acted in the right direction by reaching out to
the Heads of Government of the SAARC countries by inviting them to the
swearing in of the government. We believe that this country cannot go
forward and the aspirations of the working class cannot be met unless
we have peace in our sub-continent. Breaching the divisions in our
sub-continent is however difficult to achieve with a ‘strong’ India
locked into an opportunistic engagement with imperialist forces and
would need a foreign policy based on principles of mutual-respect and
in opposition to imperialist domination. Equally we are cautioned by
the references to repealing of Article 370 of the Constitution that
remains the cornerstone of far from complete measures to address the
aspirations of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir and their integration
with the rest of the country. This does find reference in the BJP’s
manifesto.  We note the complete silence from the non-BJP NDA partners
on this issue. We also note the hasty ordinances to force ahead the
Pollavaram Dam by altering the border between Seemandhara and
Telengana, and the one involving the appointment of the Prime
Minister’s Principal Secretary. These may be important signals of what
lies ahead.

A month after the election result the BJP which projected itself as
the ‘government in waiting’ has not said a word on key policy issues
that are of immediate and direct concern to working people. The
limited utterances of the new Prime Minister are slogans of leading a
government ‘for poor people’ while the 10 goals of the new government
announced after the cabinet meeting on 28th May are limited to the
style of government and bear no reference to the substance of
government policy or programme that can make the difference to the
lives of working people faced with high inflation and poor employment
opportunities.

To the extent that the BJP’s election manifesto commits itself to
fiscal tightening especially on subsidies that directly affect both
prices of essential goods and its effect on the cost of living amongst
the worst of the working population, the working class cannot but
expect any improvement in its situation. The Prime Minister and ‘his
ministers’ have already committed themselves to fiscal discipline,
disinvestment of the public sector and expansion of foreign direct
investment, while easing employment legislation to provide employers
more ‘flexibility’ and workers fewer rights. Furthermore, while the
BJP seeks to revive growth it promises to do so from the supply side
by encouraging investment and not by addressing the structural demand
constraint within the economy. Addressing these structural constraints
cannot be left to market forces.  In so far as reliance on the market
will be the approach to economic policy the attack on the working
class will persist, and even be sharpened. Realising profits through
the downward pressure on wages will translate into continuing the
attack on the very elemental democratic right to join and form unions
and on the right to differ and express dissent. Dissent in other
quarters too may come under attack.

Our task

Defending democratic space and expanding it must remain the primary
objective for the NTUI and the rest of the working class movement. At
our 3rd General Assembly in November 2013 and at our Pre-Election
Workers’ Convention in March 2014 we set ourselves the goal of taking
our accumulated experience of wage struggle – at the plant level, in a
village, in a sector, in state – in all forms of employment – regular,
contract, casual, temporary, ‘honorarium’ workers, trainees and
apprentices – forward by building a countrywide struggle for an
increased share of wages in national income. We cannot achieve this if
we do not cement the social divisions within the working class. We
cannot achieve this unless we intensify the political engagement of
our membership. We cannot achieve this without growing our unions. We
cannot achieve this without addressing the consciousness of our
membership. We cannot achieve this without building a united front of
trade unions and people’s organizations. We cannot achieve this unless
we can advance an alternative to imperialist globalisation. These
challenges have never been more important ever before as they are
today.

We must build a renewed working class resistance to defeat the
consolidation of the capitalist class and the upper peasantry, to
defeat the forces of economic, social and political discrimination –
be it by gender, caste, region, religion or language – to defeat the
forces of sectarianism, sectionalism and communalism.

We must build a united front of trade unions and people’s
organisations to win economic justice, social equality and a
democratic polity.

Gautam Mody

General Secretary


New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)
B-137, First Floor, Dayanand Colony,
Lajpat Nagar IV,
New Delhi 110024
Telephone: +91 11 26214538
Telephone/ Fax: +91 11 26486931
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://ntui.org.in

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