Question: In India, the far-right government – led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – has entered its fifth year in office. How do you assess the past four years of this government?
Brinda Karat: I believe that India is endangered less by “foreign forces” than by its own government and the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the past four and a half years, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched an all-out assault on the fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution (1950). The principles of secularism and democracy, integral to our Constitution, have shaped India’s polity and society. These principles have been attacked in numerous ways by the BJP government.
As a communist, I do believe there are many areas in which the Constitution falls far short of the requirements of the people. For example, the right to work should be a fundamental right and many of the directive principles should become fundamental rights [these directive principles of state policy, such as that men and women have a right to adequate livelihood and that men and women get equal pay for equal work, are suggestions and not mandatory]. The right to property was removed through an amendment as a fundamental right but was retained as a statutory right through dossier no. 12, the introduction of clause 300 A in the Constitution.
Now, the High Courts have the right to intervene in issues concerning property rights. Look at the consequences. We now have court judgments as in Bihar that accept gods as legal entities who have rights to land. These judgments protect temples that hold huge tracts of fertile land through temple trusts controlled by the rural rich. This in a state that has a high percentage of landless rural poor. So, changes in the Constitution to protect the rights of the poor need to be made. But, today, we are facing a situation where we need to defend the Constitution from attacks by the right-wing forces. We have to defend the core of the Constitution from being modified to suit the communal ideology of the BJP and its family of right-wing organisations, the Sangh Parivar.
The first issue is secularism. The Prime Minister was an RSS pracharak [an RSS full-time worker]. The RSS, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is a far-right organisation that drew inspiration from the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Modi’s true allegiance is to the ideology of the RSS, not to the Indian Constitution, on which he took his oath as Prime Minister. He stands by the oath he took as an RSS pracharak to defend the interests of Hindus as opposed to all Indians.
As an RSS man, Modi believes in the idea of turning India into a Hindu Rashtra [a Hindu State] – a theocratic state, where citizenship is decided not on the basis of recognition of equality of all citizens, as at present, but on the basis of being Hindu. In a country of 1.3 billion, where there are 175 million Muslims as well as millions of Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Jains and atheists, where the very idea of India is a synthesis of pluralist cultures and beliefs, such a policy of religious supremacy is outrageous and dangerous.
The principles of secularism are to be defended against the RSS, whose members have openly called for the removal of the word “secularism” from the Constitution. In this context, a disturbing feature is also the growth of Muslim fundamentalist forces who are trying to divert the growing frustration of youth into sectarian lines. One fundamentalism feeds and strengthens the other. In this case majoritarian communalism is also helping the growth of Islamicist organisations.
The second issue is that of democracy. I see the defence of secularism as essentially a defence of democracy and democratic rights since it is based on the right to equality across caste, sex, creed and class. The Modi government has also twinned its attack on secularism by diluting and destroying the democratic rights of people, by subverting the autonomy of constitutionally mandated institutions to the extent that even four senior Supreme Court judges had to warn the country through an unprecedented press conference that the independence of the judiciary and the courts was in danger.
Those who challenge the BJP and its toxic ideology are branded as “anti-national”. Activists who fight for their rights face arrest under the draconian law against sedition, from students at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi to Dalits [oppressed castes] and to Adivasis [indigenous peoples], asserting their rights over forest land. In addition, opposition dossier no. 12 leaders are selectively targeted in the name of fighting corruption. These are dangerous developments diluting civil liberties and democratic rights.
Hierarchical ideas of society – based on the Manu Smriti, the text of Brahmanical supremacy – have put pressure on minorities, women, Dalits and Adivasis. Mob lynching in the name of cow protection is a frighteningly common crime. Gau Raksha (cow protection) groups have proliferated, attacking Muslims and Dalits. Linked to this attack on vulnerable groups is a direct assault on the scientific temper and on critical thinking. When people get buffeted by the storms created in their lives by the cruelty of neoliberal policies, the feeling of helplessness against forces over which they believe they have no control grows. Superstitions and beliefs in rituals tend to grow. Here you have a government that not only panders to superstitions but also actually encourages it. When farmers hit by drought went to a minister for help, he asked them to organise a yagna [sacrifice] to appease the rain gods. Another minister asked them to arrange a marriage of frogs since that makes the rain gods happy!
The BJP government has also tried to undermine science by the promotion of mythology and superstition. In the name of national pride, government ministers make outlandish statements about the existence of advanced technology in ancient India; they say the internet and satellites were used in the old days, and they say cows inhale and exhale only oxygen. The Prime Minister himself claimed that ancient Indians were performing head transplants. Such drivel makes a mockery of the actual achievements in our country’s past in the field of mathematics, medicine and so on. All this creates an atmosphere where the wildest of rumours and mass hysteria thrives, sometimes reflected in other terrible mob killings of those accused of having an evil eye or of being witches.
Third, and extremely important, is the aggressive pursuit by this government of neoliberal policies. The BJP has continued the neoliberal policies of their predecessors – notably the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (2004-2014). The major difference is not in their policies but in the BJP’s current absolute parliamentary majority, which allows it to push its policies aggressively. In 2004, when the Congress Party came to power it did not have an absolute majority. It relied upon other forces, including outside support in parliament from the left.
We, the communist bloc, had to wage a sustained battle against the Congress’s efforts to push through the entire gamut of privatisation and liberalisation policies, and we succeeded to some extent in blocking the laws to strip the working class of its hard-won rights. The left was able to push for pro-people legislation – such as the Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Forest Rights Act, and the Right to Information Act, as well as some important amendments to enhance protective laws for women. The BJP government, which took power in 2014, did not have any such pressure. It, therefore, operates as the government of the corporate sector, by the corporate sector and for the corporate sector.
When the government outlawed 86% of India’s currency, burying his hopes of selling land to pay off debts, Varda Balayya of Dharmaram village in Telangana killed himself and tried to poison his family. Because of government policies, agrarian distress is acute. An average of 12 000 farmers committed suicide every year of this government’s rule.
Unemployment is at its highest. In a country where over 60% of the population is below the age of 40, education and jobs are critical issues. But far from the 20 million jobs Modi had promised to create every year, what we have is not just jobless growth, but jobloss growth. The disaster of demonetisation, for example, led to a loss of 3.5 million livelihoods in the unorganised sector. India stands out for its increased inequalities in this period of Modi’s rule. Just 1% of the population holds 68% of all household wealth, an almost 20-point increase in the past five years. On the other hand, according to the government’s socioeconomic survey, over 90% of India’s people have an income of less than 10 000 rupees a year (R1 967).
The BJP government likes the phrase, “ease of doing business”. What this means is the government has tried to dismantle the entire regulatory system that puts checks on corporate power. Corporations have registered high profits in the period of the Modi regime. Take the example of the Adani Group, a conglomerate very close to the Modi government. It registered profits of 124% within the first year of the Modi government. In effect, Adani’s firm earned profits of R348 million per day, a three-fold surge. Most of this came through the largesse of the government in handing several projects to the Adani Group. Public sector banks had their arms twisted until they handed over public money to the Adani Group.
The non-performing assets – a polite phrase that represents the failure of the government to get back the loans the banks have given to corporates – stands at more than 9 lakh crores rupees (R40.3 billion) today. The BJP is the principal party of corporate power. This does not mean that the Congress Party has changed its class character. It just means that since 2014, corporates have shifted their support to the BJP, and it has become the main party of India’s ruling classes.
Pro-imperialist foreign policy
Fourth, its foreign policy has been decidedly pro-imperialist and specifically pro-United States. As a junior partner to the United States, the government has turned its back on solidarity with third-world countries, in support of the struggle of the Palestinians, for instance. It is for all these reasons and more that BJP rule is such a disaster for India.
Brinda Karat has been a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) for almost five decades and was elected to the politburo of the CPI(M) in 2005. She began her party work in the trade union movement and then led the All-India Democratic Women’s Association from 1993 to 2004.
Since 2006, Karat has been working with the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch, a platform of indigenous communities. She was a member of India’s Parliament from 2005 to 2011.
This is an edited excerpt from an interview first published by the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.