First published at CPI (ML) Liberation.
1. We are currently passing through a period of intensified assault on the constitutional foundation of parliamentary democracy and on the livelihood and rights of the Indian people, accompanied by unmitigated corporate plunder of India’s natural resources. The twin trajectories unleashed three decades ago in the form of neoliberal economic policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation and aggressive Hindutva – or Hindu supremacist redefining of Indian nationalism – converged to bring Narendra Modi to power at the Centre in 2014 and the government has since been systematically using state power to advance this two-pronged agenda. The campaign acquired considerable speed since Modi’s return in 2019 and now ahead of the 2024 election and the RSS centenary in 2025 we can see an alarming escalation.
2. The assault on the Constitution is total – whether through dubious amendments violating the basic spirit and structure of the constitution or executive orders bypassing any parliamentary or judicial scrutiny. All key descriptors of the Indian Republic mentioned in the Preamble – socialist, secular and democratic – are being systematically undermined. The Citizenship Amendment Act linked up religion with citizenship by making a distinction among immigrants from neighbouring countries on the basis of religion. The EWS amendment has excluded SC/ST/OBCs from the so-called reservation for economically weaker sections of society. The deactivation of Article 370 and abolition of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir have stripped the people of Jammu and Kashmir of much of their unique constitutional rights and have also set an ominous precedent for reducing states to centrally administered entities. The granting of special powers to the BSF over an area of 50 kilometres from the Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-Pak border into the hinterland of the respective states marks another major intrusion into federal rights.
3. Separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary and between the Centre and the states is central to the constitutional foundation of our republic. Under the Modi regime, the executive is continuously encroaching on the powers of the legislature and the judiciary. The government is routinely issuing ordinances and passing bills without parliamentary discussion and scrutiny. The brazenness with which legislators are being purchased, governments toppled and the offices of governors are being used to undermine and destabilise state governments ruled by non-BJP parties is another alarming sign of the subversion of the Constitution. Central agencies are routinely employed to erode the federal space and processes of admission, recruitment and deployment in the spheres of higher education and central services are being increasingly centralised putting states to disadvantage. The revenue centralisation through GST has also affected states adversely. The government has also made it abundantly clear that after packing the Election Commission of India with handpicked bureaucrats, and restructuring the Army through the Agnipath scheme, it now wants to control judicial appointments. The law minister has even openly criticised the Supreme Court on the floor of Parliament for taking up bail petitions and PILs.
4. The unbridled centralisation of power has virtually replaced the parliamentary system of democracy with US style presidential form where the Prime Minister’s Office has emerged as the main centre of power. The triumvirate comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval seems to constitute the strategic centre for most decisions of the Modi government. From demonetisation and GST to lockdown and farm laws, there have been several instances where the PM has taken and announced decisions without any institutional consultation. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, it was Amit Shah who surprised the Parliament with his sudden announcement of the unprecedented decision of stripping the state of all its constitutional powers and even its statehood to bifurcate it into two centrally administered Union Territories. In the case of Agnipath, the former Chief of Defence Staff was known to be opposed to the idea of replacing soldiers with job and social security with temporary soldiers working on short-term contracts without any job or social security, but after his death in an accident, the government took advantage of the lockdown to suddenly announce the Agnipath scheme. To use Modi’s own words, these measures were all part of the government’s strategy of turning crisis into opportunities.
5. The BJP’s contempt for the constitution is often camouflaged as celebration of the constitution. Since 2015, the Modi government began celebrating the anniversary of adoption of the Constitution as Constitution Day, and it takes this opportunity to propagate its constitutional perspective that is totally antithetical to the values and visions of our Constitution. After celebrating the 75th anniversary of India’s independence as Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, the government has designated the next twenty-five years till 2047 as Amrit Kaal and Narendra Modi has defined it as Kartavya Kaal, when duties of citizens should prevail over their constitutional rights. The 2022 Constitution Day was observed with the theme describing India as the Mother of Democracy, and the concept note circulated on the occasion described Indian democracy as an age-old Hindu civilizational entity, completely whitewashing the reality of India’s caste system that has been identified as social slavery by every major social reformer and the toxic impact of religious conservatism and sectarianism that has obstructed the advancement of Indian society, while brazenly portraying the multicultural and multireligious Indian mosaic in Hindu supremacist terms.
6. In the 1990s when the BJP had first formed a national-level coalition, it had agreed to shelve the three most contentious items on its agenda – Ram Mandir, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code. The BJP today is not only busy executing this agenda but also expanding it systematically. Even after terming the demolition of Babri Masjid an egregious constitutional violation, the Supreme Court chose to hand over the disputed land to the demolishers and the temple is now awaiting inauguration before the 2024 elections. The BJP also wants to scrap the 1991 legislation mandating 15 August 1947 as the cut-off date for determining the character of any place of religious worship (Ayodhya was declared an exception to this Act) so it can legitimise the Sangh brigade’s agenda of transforming several mosques or Islamic monuments into temples. BJP-ruled state governments are enacting a series of measures targeting the Muslim community while the goon squads of the Sangh brigade persecute them on the ground in the name of enforcement of those measures. We have seen examples galore such as bans on Muslim students and teachers wearing hijabs in educational institutions, bans on religious conversion and interfaith marriages, on cattle trade, meat sale and beef eating, or on offering prayer in public and the targeted violence by both the state and its Sanghi stormtroopers including mob lynchings, bulldozing of homes, mass arrests and incarcerations, and encounter killings, to which these legal measures and bans lend legitimacy. Such violence has however not been confined to members of the Muslim community, attacks on other minority communities and Dalits, Adivasis and women has also grown considerably.
7. The assault on minorities and marginalised groups is accompanied by a systematic persecution of dissent and targeted attack on people’s movements and a growing attempt to delegitimise the opposition in the parliamentary arena. The regime is using the colonial era pattern of framing citizens in conspiracy cases and subjecting them to prolonged incarceration without trial and bail. The Bhima-Koregaon and Delhi Riots cases reveal the template of repression - planting false electronic ‘evidence’ through dubious means, levelling false charges of sedition and terrorism and invoking draconian laws like the UAPA, NSA and sedition law. We have seen Father Stan Swamy - who was targeted in this way because of his own work on behalf of the thousands of Adivasi youth incarcerated on false charges - become a martyr for the cause of justice and democracy. The suppression of dissent within India extends to the Indian diaspora and diaspora members critical of the Modi government and defending the cause of democracy in India are being stripped of their OCI (overseas citizen of India) status. Powerful protest movements like the Shaheen Bagh mass protests against the discriminatory and divisive amendments to the Citizenship Act or the united farmers’ protest against corporate takeover of agriculture were sought to be portrayed as anti-national conspiracies and derailed by inciting mass violence against the movement. PM Modi himself led this demonisation campaign with terms like Andolanjeevi, urban naxal and ‘kalamdhari naxal’.
8. With little institutional check and abundant money power, the BJP now practises the art of buying non-BJP MLAs on an industrial scale, thereby rendering non-BJP governments easy targets for toppling. Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were three glaring examples where the BJP bought its way to power by toppling governments. Governors’ offices and central agencies like the CBI, ED, NIA are being used in brazenly partisan manners to pressurise and destabilise non-BJP governments. Beginning with the 2014 campaign for ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ the BJP has now moved on to the theme of opposition-free democracy, openly advocating a single-party state where the BJP would rule and dominate over the entire country for the next fifty years.
9. While subjecting citizens to intense surveillance and a reign of all-pervasive fear and control, the Modi regime has been systematically handing over the economy and control over almost all public assets and services to a few chosen corporate houses. Privatisation has now taken the form of outright sale or a near-permanent lease of public assets which is being described as monetisation of idle assets. Like demonetisation, this monetisation pipeline too is a disastrous idea, which converts public assets built with public money and labour into private property. While the apologists of privatisation talk about increased efficiency and growth, reality flies in the face of such wishful talk and misleading propaganda. We can now easily see that increasing privatisation has only accentuated mass unemployment, poverty and mounting inequality. Privatisation is increasingly pricing higher education and quality healthcare out of the reach of the poor and even the middle classes, thereby stopping any kind of upward social mobility and reinforcing the privilege and power of a predominantly Brahminical social elite.
10. The crony capitalism promoted by the Modi regime is drastically deepening the hiatus between the rich and the poor. During the Modi era, the number of dollar billionaires in India has jumped threefold, from 55 in 2013 to 166 in 2022. The pandemic added as many as 64 billionaires to this list in the two years from 2020 to 2022. Instead of using the tax system to bring about economic redistribution and equity, the government effectively uses it as a tool to rob the poor and reward the rich. There is no wealth or inheritance tax in India, corporate tax rate is steadily declining even as the scale of exemption and evasion keeps climbing and GST continues to affect the poor and the middle classes disproportionately. Estimates suggest that nearly two-thirds of total GST collection comes from the bottom half of Indian people, one-third from the next 40 percent and only about three to four percent from the top ten percent of Indian society.
11. If demonetisation had introduced us to the arbitrary, callous and disruptive nature of the Modi regime on a countrywide scale, the Covid19 pandemic gave us a prolonged taste of the same at an unimaginable human cost. In the early days of the pandemic, the government promoted all kinds of obscurantist and irrational ideas about facing the virus. The sudden announcement of lockdown without any planning and preparation landed the country in a massive humanitarian crisis. Migrant workers and their families had to bear the brunt, having to walk hundreds of kilometres and withstand harsh and humiliating conditions on the road and in so-called quarantine centres. Millions of households had to struggle to access food and other items of essential consumption. Lockdown, which is evidently a coercive and disruptive measure, was adopted by many countries as a temporary arrangement so the spread of the virus could be slowed down and time could be secured to step up the healthcare system. But in India lockdown was imposed as an end in itself, to secure regimentation and submission of the people at large, while the health system remained shockingly unprepared and under-equipped to cope with the enormity of the crisis. Instead of dealing with the massive scale of deaths and devastation caused by lack of adequate and timely supply of oxygen during the second wave of Covid, an unprecedented propaganda offensive was unleashed to hide and suppress the reality and project the failed regime as the saviour of the people.
12. The combination of indiscriminate privatisation and absolutely callous, arbitrary and irresponsible governance is pushing the country relentlessly along a downward socio-economic spiral which is reflected in the declining position of India in almost all global comparative indices. While the regime daily keeps blaming the past, the so-called seventy years of non-performance, for the current state of backwardness and deprivation that affects the overwhelming majority of Indian people, it remains mum about its own abject failure in meeting any of the targets it had promised after coming to power. The promise of universal housing with assured electricity, sanitation and drinking water that was to have been achieved by 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, remains as remote as ever. The regime has now shifted the goalpost to 2047 while treating Indians to the fictional rise of India’s stature in global perception, a propaganda campaign that is set to reach a crescendo around the G20 summit scheduled to be held later this year in New Delhi. Ironically even as the government claims to be ushering in a New India commanding the stature of Viswa Guru in global standing, there is a growing exodus of rich and privileged Indians to the US and other advanced capitalist countries in the western world, as well as increasing numbers of working class and middle class Indians braving oppressive and precarious working conditions and discriminatory immigration laws to seek livelihoods as migrant workers in the West and the Middle East. Over one lakh Indians gave up Indian citizenship in the first ten months of 2022 alone. The number of Indians who thus renounced Indian citizenship since Modi’s ascent to power at the Centre has crossed more than 1.25 million.
13. Education and employment, the only means of upward social mobility in a society marked by extreme social inequality, are once again becoming the preserve of the rich. The elitist thrust of governance is becoming increasingly brazen with every passing day. The prime minister who mocks the needs and rights of the poor and the common people as ‘freebie culture’ flags off Vande Bharat trains and Ganga Vilas super-luxury cruise as the epitome of ‘development’. This brazen pro-rich thrust of policies and governance coupled with utter neglect of the needs and aspirations of the poor and ordinary people and the growing uncertainty, deprivation and humiliation in their lives is creating tremendous frustration and vacuum in society. The Sangh brigade is stepping in with its clinical campaign of hate, lies and violence to exploit this frustration. The growing penetration of the Sangh brigade among the youth and women, especially within oppressed and deprived sections of society, is a cause of alarm, and must be countered in all possible ways.
14. The severity of the crisis, the brazenness of the ongoing assault on the constitution and alarming erosion of the secular principles, federal framework and the right to dissent are also giving rise to powerful protests and people’s movements. The massive protests against the CAA, especially the unprecedented participation of Muslim women and the historic farmers’ movement at the Delhi borders have been two high points that have energised and inspired the battle for democracy across India. The government has sought to suppress these movements by unleashing brutal repression on the lines of the colonial rulers and using dubious spyware technology from Israel, but the courage and determination with which the persecuted activists have been facing this repression has bolstered the morale and strengthened the determination to intensify the resistance against this fascist onslaught.
15. The impact of the growing discontent of the people and mounting pressure of people’s movements is beginning to be felt in the political and electoral arena. There are signs of dissension within the ruling NDA with three of the BJP’s oldest allies - Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and JDU - having left the coalition. The Akali Dal left in the backdrop of the farmers’ movement, the Shiv Sena had joined hands with the Congress and the NCP to form a non-BJP coalition and run the government for a period of two-and-a-half years before the BJP succeeded in engineering a split in the Sena and wrest power in the state, while Nitish Kumar once again left NDA in August 2022 and joined the RJD, Congress and the Left to oust the BJP from power. In a way, it was a reversal of what had happened in Bihar five years ago when Nitish Kumar had severed ties with his short lived alliance with the RJD and the Congress to return to the NDA.
16. Among recent Assembly elections, we saw powerful anti-BJP verdicts in Jharkhand in 2019, West Bengal in 2021 and most recently in Himachal Pradesh in December 2022. In Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab, where the BJP never had much electoral presence, the party fared quite poorly. But in West Bengal, the party gained tremendously to emerge as the main opposition party. In fact, with the CPI(M) and Congress failing to win any seat, within the precincts of the Assembly the BJP remains the only opposition apart from the lone Left-backed ISF MLA. In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party swept the polls, fully capitalising on the mood and potential for change created by the farmers’ movement. The AAP’s performance in Punjab followed by its impressive showing in Gujarat where it secured a good vote share and a few seats has now fetched it recognition as a national party. Despite the BJP’s all-out manipulations, the party also lost its power in the municipal corporation of Delhi.
17. In spite of getting defeated in several states, the BJP today has reached a high level of overall domination on the all-India plane. The Congress, the main opposition party on the national level has been reduced to an all-time low in terms of both vote share and seats. Even though some regional parties have distanced themselves from the BJP, only a few of them play a directly oppositional role. Parties like the BJD in Odisha or YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh are typical examples of regional parties that prefer to stay aligned with the BJP on all key issues. Having grown primarily at the cost of the Congress, the AAP now objectively finds itself in a position where it has to contend with the BJP, but it is trying to emerge as a soft-Hindutva rival challenging the BJP on the latter’s own terms. And governments run by parties like TMC in West Bengal and the TRS-turned-BRS in Telangana which are otherwise vocal against the Modi regime are mired in corruption and misrule. Most identity-based parties do not take any ideological position and keep silent even on urgent policy issues and steps that adversely affect the livelihood of the common people, and find themselves utterly vulnerable to the BJP’s aggressive politics of communal polarisation and identity appropriation. The steady erosion of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh is a glaring example of this vulnerability of ideology-free identity politics in the face of fascist aggression.
18. We should understand that the BJP benefits from the rightward policy shift and Hindutva common sense that have developed over the last three decades. Because of this wider consensus and political continuum around neoliberal policies and Hindu supremacist politics, the lines of demarcation often get blurred and the opposition remains muted. If the BJP combines unbridled corporate plunder with aggressive Hindutva and inflicts this convergence on the country with the combination of brutal state repression and brazen extra-judicial violence, the opposition to this fascist offensive has to be driven by a consistent and courageous commitment to the vision of socialist, secular, federal democratic India. This calls upon the communist movement to discharge its historic responsibility at this critical juncture of modern India.
19. Unfortunately, the electoral strength of the Left camp has also suffered a huge erosion at a time when the BJP has reached its peak. The erosion in the electoral strength does not however signify any ideological-political irrelevance or obsolescence of the Left. The dramatic decline in the numbers of Left MPs and MLAs has been triggered almost exclusively by the CPI(M)-led Left’s exit from power in West Bengal and Tripura and has its own specific contexts. In West Bengal the CPI(M) had first got hugely alienated from its own electoral base in the face of accumulated anti-incumbency of thirty-four years of rule compounded by major policy mistakes, especially adoption of pro-corporate economic policies and forcible acquisition of agricultural land, and arrogance of power, and then found itself trapped in a situation where the political scene got increasingly polarised between the ruling TMC and an aggressive and ascendant BJP. The failure to acknowledge and address the changed situation and especially the suicidal indifference to the rise of the BJP in West Bengal even after surprisingly losing power to the BJP in Tripura only made matters worse. But during the same period the CPI(M)-led Left has done well in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu while the emphatic electoral assertion of the CPI(ML) in Bihar has opened up new possibilities of Left resurgence in keeping with the demands of the situation.
20. The CPI(ML) and the Left movement must get their priorities right at this unprecedentedly critical juncture of modern India. Bold, consistent and persuasive ideological resistance to the regressive and disastrous fascist agenda; powerful and prompt mass initiatives to build sustained, determined struggles of the people; and broadest possible ideological-political cooperation and electoral understanding while focusing on the political assertion and advancement of the CPI(ML) and the Left - we must be steadfast in advancing along this direction. Even as the BJP’s fascist expedition threatens to bulldoze India’s three-tier political structure into a flattened political turf where the BJP wields total power, we will have to remain alive to the demands of every situation and every level. In the domain of panchayat and municipal governance, almost everywhere people have to face rampant corruption and denial of benefits and rights while the fight for education and jobs for all and transparency in recruitment has emerged as the most pressing concern of the youth in almost all states. Regardless of whichever party is in power, instances of caste and gender oppression and injustice and administrative apathy are endemic across India. The anti-fascist focus demands that we must uphold the people’s interest and lead the battle for their rights in every context, without losing sight of the centrality of the battle against the Sangh brigade’s fascist offensive.