Everyone agrees that India today seems to be at the crossroads. Nearly 73 years after the formal end of colonialism, the people of India find themselves to be some of the poorest in the world, with large sections of the population denied basic human needs and unable to lead what may be called a human existence. India is a country where there is rampant hunger, malnutrition and infant mortality. It is a country that has some of the largest number of blind persons, partly because of the lack of availability of essential minerals and vitamins in early childhood. Large sections of the country face drought in parts of the year, and floods in other parts of the year. In many parts of even our towns and cities there is no basic sanitation and health care. Universal education for children is still a far cry. There are still instances of bonded labour, and even starvation deaths are not unknown. In many parts of the country farmers are regularly driven to suicide because of burden of debt which they cannot repay due to failure or crops or due to the collapse of the prices due to overproduction.
The forest cover in the country is depleted and vast tracts have been reduced virtually to desert. In other areas, large numbers of persons have been displaced because of various projects and not given adequate compensation or a good enough alternative source of livelihood. In some areas villages have been submerged by dam projects and in others by canal projects. Elsewhere people have been kicked out because of the need for highway projects or factories, or because of the arrival of big mining companies, or the establishing of SEZs – all done without the consent of the affected people.
In addition to all the above, India today boasts of a large number of dollar billionaires and also boasts of a presence in international capitalism. Indian billionaires are today players in steel, automobile, mining and other enterprises in many parts of the world, including former colonial powers such as the UK and other former colonies such as Australia.
The above has been considered a remarkable turnaround by many who gloat that a former colony has `finally arrived’. After the British colonialist rulers brutally crushed the First War of Independence in 1857, India became the ‘jewel in the crown’, i.e. it was brought under direct administration of the British crown. Other parts of India which were the Princely States were vassals of the Empire. In 1947 India formally declared independence.
The British Empire created the Institutions that even today form the basis of administration in the country. During the British era, the people of India were reduced to slaves, unfit to rule themselves and mere chattel. The nationalist struggle challenged this state of affairs, and spoke of liberation of the people. Led by the Congress Party and the Muslim League, what was achieved in 1947 was a formal independence, with the supreme power passing from the British Crown to the Cabinet in India and Pakistan respectively. These ruled and continue to rule on behalf of and in favour of a minuscule minority of the super-rich. The Constitution that came into being in India was based on the Government of India Act and drafted by a Constituent Assembly that was not representative of the people of India. To date, the people of India have not been consulted on how they would like to be ruled and what kind of system will address their needs!
The big industrial houses led by the Tatas and the Birlas authored the plan for India’s development in the aftermath of independence. A bloody partition with the largest exchange of populations in human history paved the path to modern India. What came into being was a capitalist country, with a socialist veneer. In particular, since at the end of the World War II and in the aftermath of the liberation struggles across the world, the peoples of the world were energised by the slogan of socialism, in India too the model of “socialistic pattern of society” was adopted, which also aided in the construction of state-monopoly capitalism.
Yet, the shots were always called by the richest of the rich even in the period before the end of Cold War, and it continues to this day. The state machinery of the Legislative and Executive branches is a top-down mechanism for the rule of this elite. Some sops are offered from time to time to the poor and unfortunate which are hardly sufficient to guarantee the most basic of human necessities. Nothing has substantively changed for the bulk of the population in the last 7 decades, despite elections taking place every so often. Every single party, or every single coalition that forms the Government or the Opposition remains committed to the same policies of protection of the interests of the rich. The masses have no role in decision making.
It is also important to note that India has been and continues to be a place where violence is rampant. Violence is a tool that is unleashed from time to time to disempower the people completely. In may even be kept in mind that the partition of India was accompanied by horrific violence, unparalleled in the history of the country. No one was ever held to account for this, and no one was brought to book.
Another notable feature of the entire period since independence, besides the unleashing of violence has been the use of draconian laws again anyone questioning the existing state of affairs. While labour asserted its rights, capitalists did their best to use both the State machinery as well as goon squads and riots to settle scores with workers and to terrorise the population from time to time. Inter-bourgeois squabbles and contradictions with other powers always played out with great violence, as well as the contradiction between the big capitalists and workers, and the masses in general. An important landmark in this era was the Emergency Period which was meant to show the people of India where real power lies.
During the cold war period, India claimed, along with some other countries like Yugoslavia and Egypt to be one of the leaders of the non-aligned movement. In reality, what this meant was that these countries would not lie in the orbit of either of the superpowers during the bi-polar division of the world. Each of them would strike strategic alliances with one superpower or the other. The period of “socialistic pattern of society” also coincided with the period of the bi-polar division. As it became apparent that this would end, the Indian bourgeoisie decided to switch tracks and began the change in narrative and a reorientation of the economy.
Starting with the period towards the middle and end of the 1980’s, today we are told that all the problems arose due to the policies of Nehruvian socialism, and that the solution to all our problems is privatisation and liberalization. This latter ferocious assault on the `socialism’ of the Nehruvian era, began with the first reforms towards the end of the 1980s when the Indian economy had stalled and massive changes began on the world scale, with the dissolution of the East Bloc, the unification of Germany in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This signified the end of the Cold War and ushered in the new period.
It must also not be forgotten that any significant shift in the direction of the orientation of the economy has always been accompanied by a paroxysm of violence. The genocide of Sikhs of 1984 that brought Mr. Rajiv Gandhi to power remains one of the highly egregious instances of the use of violence to terrorise the population, bring a regime into power and to carry out significant changes such as the first wave of reforms. Be it the Rath Yatra, or the Ram Janam Bhoomi and the post Babri-Masjid `riots’ of 1992 and 1993, or the Gujarat Riots of 2002, terror and violence became the vehicle for change. In order to replace Nehrvian socialism by the new agenda spearheaded by rapacious capitalists, such a plank of terror had to be created. Against the backdrop of these events the BJP was launched as an alternative to the Congress as the other trusted party of the bourgeoisie.
Under the aegis of the super-rich and their policies, India transformed from what was primarily an agricultural country into what is today an industrial and service oriented society. Despite the transition, it is only the large cities created by the British Empire, the three ports of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, as well a host of smaller cities such as Hyderabad, Bangalore that continued to grow as power-houses of the economy. The Delhi area joined this collection and to date these remain the magnet for the population from the hinterland for immigration into, as the peasantry and villages get decimated and the cities grow. The industrial activities in these cities grew and along with them came vast sub-standard housing (so-called slums), as well as huge palaces for the rich. The seeds of the most grotesque society were sown by the economy. The Covid-19 crisis of 2020 brought out the ugliness in the resulting society which is there for everyone to see.
In light of the discussion above, a concrete connection between the economy and the resulting society, when established beyond reasonable doubt will point to the solution. The existing system is one that disempowers the masses of any decision making and has been made possible by all the mechanisms of the State and Constitution. This system exists only to enable the hegemony of the rich and the powerful, namely the capitalist class. By using violence and terror as their instruments and their top-down control of all the organs of the State, and of media and control of information, and as purveyors of mis-information, this minuscule minority rules the country, leaving it’s 1.3 billion citizens as helpless and mute spectators. And in this ghastly spectacle of Indian politics, the people remain completely marginalised from any kind of decision making and become unwilling puppets in the hands of the ruling dispensation chosen and run by the bourgeoisie.
India today is divided into mutually irreconcilable camps. One is that of the parasitic exploiters, who are of no use to anyone except to themselves. The other is yet to find its place under the sun and this one holds the key to India’s future. The contest between these two camps is unfolding and is in its embryonic stage. As the events unfold, this reality now is becoming more and more apparent. The people of India are no longer fooled by various parties that divide them on this or that pretext. They are very much aware of their problems. They are searching for solutions. A clear vision is emerging as to what is the problem and what is the solution. Building a popular movement around this vision, to solve the problems of society is the key challenge of the day.
Thus, today we today stand at the cross-roads. We have to choose whether we will continue on the same path of this bogus democracy that has disempowered everybody except the very rich, or whether we must work today to replace this system by something new. The entire State of the capitalists and their methods including that of inciting violence and setting one section of the population against another must be rejected. All those who have committed crimes against the people must be brought to book. The political problems that are crying for a solution must be solved. The needs of every member of society must have priority over the greed of a handful of exploiters. This can be enabled only if the working masses that have been marginalized in the present set-up, can put their own interests in the centre-stage. The working people must articulate what kind of system must be established to guarantee such a state of affairs, and in doing so ensure that the people of the country may truly lead a human life, bereft of poverty, hunger and degradation.
It was against the backdrop of the Babri-Masjid events that the Committee for People’s Empowerment, the precursor to the Lok Raj Sangathan was born. It was precisely what was needed at that hour. To create a platform for the discussion to free India from its shackles. Today Lok Raj Sangathan has put forward the need for a fresh start as the centre-piece for taking India forward. This requires a major change: and that is to give up all the hangups of the past. Let us seize this opportunity and build a tomorrow.
by B.A., May 7, 2020