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   Newsletter of the Indian Progressive Study Group, Los Angeles

                             August 1996

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India After the 11th Lok Sabha Elections
by B. Pain

The 11th Lok Sabha elections are now over and for the third time in a 
row, no single party has emerged with a majority.  As is now well known, 
a BJP government was formed in Delhi, and replaced soon after by a United 
Front government, backed by various splinters of the Indian National 
Congress.  It is now being freely admitted that crores of rupees were put 
on the table to influence the outcomes of the "votes of confidence" 
during those fateful days.  What do these phenomena reveal? Why did the 
crores of rupees not secure a majority for one party in the first place? 
What made the BJP government unacceptable to the ruling circles of India? 
Why did they need the United Front to administer the Indian state at this 
time?  What should the electorate, which has been a spectator from the 
sidelines, do?

Five years ago, when the Rao government took over the reins of power, 
there was a lot of euphoria generated about the miracle of liberalization 
and privatization.  Earlier this year, even Narasimha Rao had to admit in 
his Red Fort address to the country that the beneficiaries of the 
economic reforms have been the rich, and nothing has trickled down to 
people.  Far from elevating people from the quagmire they were in, far 
from creating conditions where people can secure means of livelihood, 
those "reforms" have increased their insecurity and have made life more 
difficult for many more.  Consider, for instance, according to an 
Economic Times survey, the 500 top industrial houses posted profits in 
excess of 300%, while the real incomes of both urban and village dwellers 
had fallen since 1990!

What needs to be underscored is that "liberalization and privatization" 
provided a cover for, as well as facilitated, what was already going on 
in India, both before and during these reforms.  Whether we speak of the 
period of building the "socialistic pattern of society" or that of 
"Garibi Hatao" or "modernization", what has remained constant is that 
under the existing economic and political system there has been continued 
accumulation of wealth for the rich and accumulation of misery for 
everybody else; an unmitigated denial of rights; the use of state 
terrorism to settle disputes involving the Indian state; and a striving 
of the Indian ruling circles to become a major regional and world power. 
In fact, "liberalization and privatization" was and is considered by the 
Indian big business best suited to achieve their goals within the changed 
domestic and international situation. 

However, the more openly these programs of "structural adjustments", 
"privatization" and "cutbacks" are pursued, the more the discontent of 
people has grown, not only in India, but all over the world.  In the face 
of such discontent, the "market reformers" have been replaced by 
"socialists" in many countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet 
Union.  In France, the workers paralyzed the capital city for weeks last 
winter in protest against lowering of their living standards.  In Canada, 
city after city has witnessed strikes by workers, students and women. 
Some 350,000 workers are out in the streets in Germany, in protest 
against the cutbacks.  In Sri Lanka, the workers of the Electricity Board 
went on a three day strike to oppose privatization of the electric 
utility companies, causing a massive dislocation of life.  One analyst 
estimated that the striking workers have done more loss to the Sri Lankan 
economy in these three days than the entire civil war of the last decade! 

When the working class engages in such struggle, its power is there for 
everybody to see.  It is to contain this resistance of the working 
people, to deflect and manipulate this struggle, to ensure that these 
spontaneous skirmishes do not emerge into an organized, pro-active 
movement of people - that the financial oligarchy all over the world are 
making adjustments to their "market reform" policies.  An illusion is 
being created that people do not need to activise themselves, that a good 
government with "pro-people" politicians and with well-meaning policy 
objectives will take care of their problems.

With the mood of the working class, peasantry and large section of youth 
being very critical of the "market reforms", the Indian ruling circles 
have decided that they need "reforms with a human face", something which 
the Rao government failed to deliver. Who will provide this "human face"? 
It could not be done by a BJP government at this time. The Indian big 
business is calculating that the United Front with it socialistic 
credentials will do the trick.  Just see how quickly the new Prime 
Minister elaborated a "common minimum program" with promises such as 
"assistance for every shelterless person", "efficient public health 
services", "provision of basic minimum services to villages" and so on - 
reminiscent of ""Garibi Hatao" slogans of the seventies.  In those years 
of "Garibi Hatao" campaign also, nothing changed in terms of main 
direction of the society.  Between 1972-1983 the assets of the biggest 
industrial houses rose by 212% while the real wages of the industrial 
workers fell by 150%. 

Whether they are successful in fooling people remains to be seen, but 
there is no doubt that the "left" in the Indian parliament will implement 
programs that are consistent with the interests of the big industrial 
houses.  All the parties of the "left" have already declared that they 
are "pro-reform"; the Prime Minister himself has amply demonstrated his 
trustworthiness from his record as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, and 
from the way he has sternly put down the KRRS agitation.  It is indeed 
laughable that this "leftist" government is now pretending to chart out 
something different from what the previous Congress(I) government had 
done, while its main prop is the same old Congress(I) party.

What all this is telling us is that the developments in the coming months 
and years are going to educate people about the grand deception being 
perpetrated under the "left" banner.  Within those conditions, the BJP is 
gearing up to present itself as the "true" alternative.  The regrouping 
of parties inside India may take the direction of having two broad 
political formations, in the style of the US or Britain.  But let there 
be no illusion that these developments will bring any relief for people 
in their quest for livelihood and rights or bring any social advance. 
These developments will be to stop any movement of the people for real 
transformations of Indian politics and economy in their favour.

At this time, people have a breathing space, an opportunity to prepare, 
so that they can turn things in their favour when the times change.  
There is a need to draw a balance sheet of what has happened to the 
country and the world in the last 50 years and set an agenda on the basis 
of those conclusions. For instance, the value system behind the Indian 
state and society is one that the European capitalism gave birth to. One 
of its cornerstones is to uphold the institutions of "civil society". 
What problem was this institution supposed to solve? According to Adam 
Smith, one of the forefathers of this capitalism, 

"Wherever there is property there is in inequality.... It is only under 
the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of the valuable 
property ... can sleep a single night in security. The acquisition of 
valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily, requires the 
establishment of civil government". 

Should this be basis of Indian society, whereby the raison d'Ítre of the 
government is to uphold the primacy of private property?  Or consider 
another case: the rule of law.  The rule of law was imposed on India in 
the most vicious way to maintain the colonial system. The same tenets of 
the rule of law exists in India at this time, whereby the Parliament and 
the executive branch legalize violation of rights through numerous Black 
Laws and use various forms of state terrorism or outright plunder of the 
state treasury. Can the Indian people expect to overcome the problems 
they face by using these notions, which have become quite anachronistic 
all over the world? 

It is a time to stop reacting to whatever happens in the "West" or in 
India and set a pro-active program and a vision. There is a need to 
organize and unite people and create mechanisms so that they can be 
effective in implementing that agenda. It is a time to organize people 
engaged in defensive economic and political struggles and other protest 
movements so that they acquire a vision and gain confidence in their 
strength. People continue to be under pressure to be passive and mere 
bystanders and this has to be changed.

We must seriously think about rejecting the notion that Indian society is 
divided between two-warring groups of "left" and the "right" and people 
should choose sides between these two warring groups.  Both the "left" 
and the "right" in the Indian Parliament represent the Indian monopolies 
and oligarchies, as is the case in Italy, the US, Canada or elsewhere in 
the world.  The existing political process has a role for the "left" and 
the "right", but it allows no role for people to change their conditions.  
To line up behind this "left" and "right" divide is to accept the status 
quo and to give up the struggle to create an alternative.  The 
alternative is a vision of a society organized to fulfill the needs of 
people. The well-being of people and not the wealth of a minority is the 
motive of society in this alternative vision. In place of divides and 
demarcations, we need unity of people for this alternative vision.

The alternative is a vision of a society organized to fulfill the needs 
of people.  Well-being of people and not the wealth of a minority is the 
motive of society in this alternative vision. .... No problems big or 
small can be sorted out without organization and participation of people 
themselves.

The twentieth century is a living history of liberation of peoples. As it 
is coming to a close, the monopolies and oligopolies of the world have 
caused a temporary defeat for people by imposing the Paris Charter of 
"structural adjustment" and "multiparty democracy". With a renewed vision 
and sound organization, people will be able to turn the tide. Building 
those organizations of people is another urgent task at this time. No 
problems big or small can be sorted out without organization and 
participation of people themselves. I was recently present at the 
regional meeting of the Standing Conference of South Asians(SCSA) in New 
York city, where I saw first hand how such endeavors are taking place. 
There are other organizations, and there is a need for all of them to 
come together and pool their resources for the common cause. Lastly, we 
have to build living links with fighting organizations in India.

The Mazdoor Ekta Committee in Delhi, for example, is trying to unite all 
the segments of workers to have their own vision for an India led by the 
working class and have carried out a number of important actions to 
oppose privatization policies, state terrorism and individual acts of 
terrorism, in defense of rights etc. A number of left parties and groups 
in India are at this time carrying out serious assessment of what the 
division of the communist party in 1964 has accomplished or not 
accomplished and want to restore the unity of the Indian communist 
forces. These developments will be very important in future, and this is 
the time to consolidate all these fronts of work. The eleventh Lok Sabha 
elections will not mark a shift in the direction of Indian society. That 
shift will come when we are able to awaken India's Kumbhakarna - the 
people of India.