Elections in India: Asserting people’s issues above the clamour of `crorepatis', communalists and corporate media
By Kavita Krishnan
April 24, 2009 -- The media’s poll pundits have already declared that there are “no issues” in India’s 2009 parliamentary polls. At the same time, the corporate media houses have launched campaigns seeking to ``awaken’’ middle- and upper-class voters. They have been awash in self-congratulation at their success in mobilising this class of voters – the only class, they imply, which is capable of making Indian politics clean and meaningful, because it is not a ``vote bank’’. ``Slumdogs’’, they rue, are even willing to sell their kids, so their votes are suspect – while sheer wealth places corporates and crorepatis above corruption.
[India’s Lok Sabha (national lower house of parliament) polls, are being held in five phases between April 16 and May 13, 2009.]
The Congress party made the Slumdog Crorepati’s ``Jai Ho’’ tune its election theme song; but the fact is that it is crorepatis who constitute a considerable section of its candidates in this election. (Crorepati is Hindi for ``millionaire’’; the film Slumdog Millionaire was released in Hindi as Slumdog Crorepati. The word comes from the Hindi word crore, which is Rs 10,000,000. ``Jai Ho’’, Slumdog Millionaire’s theme song, means ``Victory’’ or ``Be Victorious’’.)
In the second phase of the election, Congress has fielded the highest number of crorepati candidates (65) followed by Bharatiya Janata Party (46), Bahujan Samaj Party (28) and SP (16).According to declared assets (routinely falsified to appear less vast than they really are), there were 193 crorepati candidates in the first phase and 288 in the second phase. In Karnataka, reportedly, one in every four candidates is a crorepati. In Maharashtra, 12% of candidates are crorepatis. In Orissa, no less than 27 candidates mock the poverty and hunger of its poor with multimillionaire bankbooks. As it is, even in times of economic crisis, it is crorepatis who can sing ``Jai Ho’’ since they continue to feature in lists of the world’s richest people.
We also have the venom of communalists to contend with. Ads for BJP leader Advani show him flexing his muscles and lifting dumbbells in a gym: a crude proclamation of the ``strength’’ and machismo of Advani, Hindutva [Hindu chauvinism] and their promised ``hard state’’. The hard realities of communal pogroms are sought to be forgotten.
The media made much of Maoist violence on the first day of polls – projecting it as an attack on India’s exemplary democracy. The fact, however, is that the Maoist attacks and ``boycott’’ calls, too, were part and parcel of the mainstream of Indian parliamentary democracy: in most places, such attacks only facilitated the booth-capturing efforts of one or the other ruling class formations.
Events have proved, time and again, that India’s parliamentary democracy is a highly biased and unequal playing ground. Maoists have no monopoly on poll violence. The murder of a Dalit candidate in Uttar Pradesh – after he defied threats by the candidate (a notorious upper caste feudal mafia) of the Bahujan Samaj Party, a party that claims to represent the Dalits (stigmatised as ``untouchables’’) and refused to withdraw from the contest -- is one instance (the latest, incidentally, in a series of crimes and killings by Bahujan Samaj Party leaders). While Varun Gandhi gets bail and is allowed to contest and campaign in spite of threatening to chop off heads and hands of Muslims, Dr. Binayak Sen, jailed on zero evidence on the charge of abetting Maoists, continues to be denied bail in spite of his failing health.
In Purnea (Bihar), Pappu Yadav, convicted for the murder of Communist Party of India (Marxist) -- CPI (M) -- MLA Ajit Sarkar, has been barred from contesting. But the Congress has given his wife a ticket from Supaul while supporting his mother’s candidature in Purnea, where he, having been released on bail, poses a direct threat to Comrade Madhavi Sarkar who is the CPI (ML)’s candidate at Purnea. While in Robertsganj, the nomination of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Lenenist) -- CPI (ML) -- candidate (leader of adivasi – Indigenous and tribal peoples’ -- struggles for land and forest rights, Comrade Jitendra Kol) has been cancelled on the spurious and untenable grounds that two of his proposers (illiterate adivasis) used thumb impressions. The CPI (ML)’s subsequent poll-boycott protest in Robertsganj was one that relied on raising the consciousness of the people and on people’s agency rather than intimidation, took the form of parallel polls in which people voted with thumb-impressions.
The challenge in this election is to make the voice of the people heard above the clamour of crorepatis, communalists and the corporate media. It is gratifying that a shoe-missile succeeded in making communal violence a poll issue and forced the Congress to withdraw two candidates accused of leading the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom (that was unleashed by the Congress following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards). Modi, murderer of Muslims in Gujarat, is reportedly worried about shoe-missiles and is addressing rallies from behind net barriers.
Another burning issue which progressive forces are raising in the election is the Indian government’s response to the war on the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. With the Sri Lankan military intensifying the bloodbath of Tamil civilians in that country, there is anger and outrage in India at the cynical manipulation and double-speak of parties and governments on this issue. Congress is virtually justifying the massacre by referring to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination – but why should Sri Lankan Tamil civilians pay with their lives for that assassination?
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party (DMK) -- led by the Tamilnadu state’s Chief Minister Karunanidhi -- and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-- led by J. Jayalalitha, former ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, now partner of the ``Third Front’’ with the CPI (M) -- are both vying to champion the issue. But the DMK’s rhetoric is exposed by the fact that as a partner of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance(UPA) national government, it did nothing decisive to force the Indian government to intervene effectively. The CPI (M) general secretary has rightly said that, had the UPA government spent a fraction of the energy wasted on the nuclear deal with the US in addressing the Tamil question in Sri Lanka, it could have made a big difference. But the question is: what did the CPI (M) do towards forcing the government to intervene in the more than four years in which they supported it? Today, the CPI (M)’s ally Jayalalitha is sharing a dais and shedding crocodile tears for Tamils along with Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam[another Tamilnadu regional party] leader Vaiko (V. Gopalswamy) – the same Vaiko whom, during Jayalalitha’s own tenure as chief minister, was jailed under Prevention of Terrorism Act for his alleged support to the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Media stories declaring that there are “no issues” in this election do concede that “local issues” (which they disparage) are in abundance. The fact is that these so-called “local” issues are usually issues of hunger and unemployment – the twin burning issues that are to be found all over India and are therefore the real national issues. However much ruling class parties try to put a brave face and deny this, the fact remains that most of them have been forced to include subsidised food grains and expanding the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) as part of their manifestos – a tacit admission of the spectres of hunger and joblessness that haunt this election. The CPI (ML) is boldly striving to assert these issues in the election campaign and to ensure that the voice of opposition on the streets reverberates in the parliament too.[This article is the editorial in the forthcoming May issue of Liberation, monthly magazine of the of the CPI (ML) Liberation.]