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India: Modi 'promised the moon' but his real agenda will emerge -- Kavita Krishnan
Peter Boyle interviews Kavita Krishnan
May 21, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- Kavita Krishnan has become a well-known international spokesperson for the movement against sexual violence in India that grew after an horrific gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012. She is also a national leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, which won more than a million votes but failed to win any seats in the general election in India, which the right-wing Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, won by a landslide.
Krishnan will soon embark on a speaking tour of Australia. Details of her public meetings around Australia can be found here. She will also be one of several international guest speakers at the Socialist Alliance 10th national conference in Sydney, June 7-9 where she will present a keynote speech on “Capitalism, Misogyny and Sexual Violence”. You can find out more about this conference, and how to register, here.
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly interviewed Krishnan on May 21, less than a week after the Indian elections were concluded.
* * *
You have spent a lot of time criss-crossing India during the election campaign. How would you explain the Modi landslide, and what would you say about its possible impact and implications?
Modi's campaign drew upon people's sense of anger against the corruption, price rises and unemployment which had been the hallmarks of a decade of rule by the Congress-led coalition, promising to bring in “good times” and “development”. His campaign also involved deliberate “dog-whistle” signals intended to sow hatred against the Muslim minorities, in order to craft a Hindu consolidation of votes in his favour, over and above caste.
Modi's model of governance in the state of Gujarat – where he has been chief minister since 2001 – is marked by his personality cult, authoritarianism, stifling of and even the physical elimination of dissent through custodial killings disguised as “encounter” killings of “terrorists intending to kill Modi”. It has also included the abuse of the state machinery to conduct illegal surveillance on a woman and the state-sponsored massacre of thousands of Muslims.
Immediately after the latest elections, there have been reports of BJP supporters “celebrating” the victory by vandalising mosques and terrorising Muslims.
The corporate houses that lavishly funded the Modi campaign will now look for quick paybacks and even greater control over the country’s natural and financial resources, as they have enjoyed in Modi’s Gujarat.
But it is important to resist the attempts by communal and corporate forces to interpret Modi's victory as an endorsement and legitimisation of their agenda. Most of those who have voted for Modi have done so expecting a solution to their dire economic problems and transparent, accountable governance: hopes and aspirations that are at odds with the communal and corporate agenda.
Most of the international media is going on about what a great democracy India is, but to what extent are the poor and oppressed effectively excluded from participation in elections? Can you give us a few examples?
Eighty-two per cent of the winners in the current parliament have assets of over 10 million rupees. 131 out of 542 of those elected listed assets over 100 million rupees. The huge amount of money spent in campaigning and advertising is an effective deterrent to poor candidates. There is a direct correlation between money spent and coverage in the print and electronic media. Apart from this, there are also many attempts to intimidate poor voters, especially those from the oppressed caste, to prevent them exercising their franchise. In Koderma constituency for example – where my party's candidate Raj Kumar Yadav came second to the BJP's state unit president Ravindra Kumar Rai – dalit [the so-called “untouchables” caste] voters were attacked to prevent them voting for the CPI (ML) Liberation.
What discussion has been prompted in the Indian left about its perspectives following the election? Are we likely to see significant re-alignments or change in directions in the left?
The CPI(M) and CPI attempts at winning seats and intervening in national politics through the “third front” route have reached a dead end. Many of the parties they sought to include in the “secular third front” have chosen instead to keep the doors open for possible alignment with the Modi government.
The CPI-CPI(M)'s chosen script of a left revival in West Bengal, banking on the Congress-Trinamool Congress (TMC) split and the assumption that a rising BJP would eat into the TMC vote, has not come good and the Left Front lost sizable chunks of the vote to both TMC and even the BJP. Whether this will prompt a course correction in the CPI and CPI M), admitting that their decline has to do with their embrace of neoliberal policies like corporate land grabs, and their cosying up to the Congress pRTY, remains to be seen.
We in THE CPI(ML) are also faced with the challenge of raising our level of electoral assertion by expanding our pockets of work and influence and backing them up with more vigorous intervention in the wider democratic arena.
Is there an "age" factor in the election results? Is there any particular pattern with the younger voters? And were youth active in campaigning?
Youth have, in many instances, voted independently of their traditional caste loyalties, and Modi has been a significant beneficiary of the youth segment of voters. This is because youth were most exposed to his aggressive campaign through the corporate media.
But another reason for this could be the fact that young voters have probably never seen a majority government in India, only minority governments dependent on whims of regional coalition partners. So Modi's appeal for a stable majority government struck a chord with them, wanting to elect a government strong enough to have no excuse not to act.
But youth have also been a significant segment in the active support base of other parties, including the CPI(ML) and the new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – “Common Man Party” – formed in 2012 by ant-corruption movement activists.
So what happens now?
There was such a lot of anger against the Congress regime – even among the very poor and young – and Modi promised them the moon. Expectations from this government will be very high, and given the fact that the election outcome has left the parliamentary opposition extremely weak, the role of people's opposition on the streets will be extremely crucial.
Revolutionary left and democratic forces must hold the government to each of its promises, demanding the reversal of policies that are creating price rises, unemployment and corruption. There must be effective measures to tackle the agricultural crisis and farmers' distress, the return of "black money" stashed in offshore accounts, as well as winning the rights to education, health care, rape crisis centres and safe shelters for women, and a range of other rights and entitlements.
We must also be alert, to put up an effective and timely resistance to every attempt to curtail the rights of minorities, women and other oppressed sections; attempts to muzzle dissent; or to foster sectarian hatred or violence.
Right from the start we must assert that dissent, questioning and people's protests are essential to any democracy - and the Government must in every way be made accountable to its Constitutional obligations and the rights of workers, peasants and common people.