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Why Has India Embraced the Far-Right?

Last month Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP were returned in a landslide victory. Their rise to hegemony in Indian politics has been decades in the making.

The Indian parliamentary elections of 2019 ended with a huge victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats with about 31% of the votes, and the NDA as a whole received 38.5% votes and 336 seats. In 2019, the BJP obtained 303 seats and the NDA as a whole 353. This involved the BJP getting 37.4% votes and the NDA as a whole claiming about 48% votes, which means practically one in two Indian voters supported the BJP and its allies. 

The main opposition bloc, the former ruling bloc for a decade from 2004 to 2014, was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Indian National Congress. In 2014 the UPA had sixty seats, while in 2019 it has ninety-one. But the Congress seats have gone up from its worst ever performance of fourty-four seats to only fifty-two. In terms of vote share it has actually lost 0.8% compared to 2014. The main gain for the UPA has come from the Dravidian Progressive Conference (DMK) in Tamil Nadu. It had no seats in 2014, and has secured twenty-three this time, making it the third largest party in parliament. 

Parties outside the two blocs have fared worse than in 2014. In 2009, such parties had 122 seats, in 2014, 147, while in 2019 this came down to ninety-eight. Among those most badly hit were, on the extreme right, the Trinamool Congress, which is the ruling party in West Bengal (thirty-four in 2014, twenty-two in 2019), and on the left, the CPI and the CPI(M), the two major parliamentary fragments of the original Communist Party of India. The CPI and the CPI(M) together had ten seats in 2014 but won just five in 2019. The other left seat was won by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, which held its seat where it is allied to the Congress in Kerala.

What Led to the Rise of the BJP

We need to make a distinction between the longer term narrative and the immediate background. The BJP, and its previous incarnation, the Jana Sangh, were electoral arms of an aggressive Hindutva nationalist political outfit, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It was founded in 1925 to assert Hindu dominant caste (primarily Brahmin) supremacy. By the 1930s, its leaders were in touch with Mussolini and then with Hitler, and were among the most fervent supporters of the Nazis from the time of Kristallnacht. At the same time, they were loyalists in Indian politics, refusing to take part in the freedom struggle, while explaining to their cadres that the real fight would be the one between Hindus and Muslims, not between the British colonial rulers and the Indian people. 

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group closely linked with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The murder of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse resulted in a ban on the RSS. It finally came out of the ban by promising not to take part in politics, a promise it interpreted simply to mean that the RSS would not contest elections. Hence the emergence of electoral arms, like Jan Sangh. A strategy of long-term penetration of civil society by building a wide range of institutions followed. This included schools where, through philosophy, history, and literature, Hindutva (political Hindu nationalism) was glorified and specific organisations targeting different segments of the population, including Dalits and other subordinate castes. 

The 1970s saw a change in the fortunes of the Hindutva right, as mainstream bourgeois parties and the socialist left displayed some degree of willingness to collaborate with them in order to defeat the Congress led by Indira Gandhi. In the 1977 elections Gandhi was defeated, with much of the cadre base of her opponents provided by the RSS. As a result, the united opposition that fought the Congress during the elections of 1977 enabled the RSS to get a considerable number of their members elected to parliament, and for the new government to carry out portions of the RSS agenda. 

By the late 1980s, the Congress, the traditional party of the Indian capitalist class, was facing a crisis. 1984 was the last time the Congress won a majority in parliament on its own, and it did so with a shift towards Hindu communalism and targeting Sikhs. Again, there was an attempt by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to create a balance of communalisms, including opening up a dormant communal tension over a mosque in Ayodhya, supposedly built by destroying a temple in the 1520s. 

The elections of 1989 and 1991 saw new issues come to the fore. The BJP, founded in 1980, initially attempted to present a more moderate face than the RSS’ forerunner front in the Jan Sangh, talking about ‘Gandhian Socialism.’ But it won only two seats in the parliament of 1984, and decided to shift towards a more aggressive Hindutva thereafter.

Meanwhile, a dissident Congress minister, Viswanath Pratap Singh, pushed for the recognition of oppressed castes and social groups (collectively Other Backward Classes) who had never been ‘untouchables’ but who were part of the socially marginalised. Aware that this posed a threat to its strategy of Hindu consolidation, the BJP, which had supported Singh during the 1989 elections and had propped him up in his coalition government, pivoted to a campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid and build a so-called Ram temple there. 

The BJP was far from being the first choice of the ruling class during the 1990s and the shift from a welfare model to the neoliberal economy took place initially under the Congress. However, the weakening of the Congress led to a change. Since 2004, the BJP has increasingly become the preferred party of the bourgeoisie, with solutions to the specific problems faced by Indian capitalism. 

Globalisation, Capitalism and the BJP

The Global Wealth Report 2018, published by Credit Suisse, claims that India now has 343,000 peoplee owning over one million US dollars. According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of the Indian population was just under US$ 4,000 per month. Mukesh Ambani’s wealth is currently put at 53,200 million US$, Ratan Tata’s wealth is seemingly much less, but that is because much of it is concealed as company property which he fully controls. The Tata group has under his stewardship taken over Tetley (Tata Tea), Jaguar Land Rover (Tata Motors) and Corus (Tata Steel). 

Ratan Tata’s purchase of major international brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, Tetley’s Tea and Corus has been a symbol of the rising power of India’s capitalist class.

However, Indian capitalism has been forced to compete with much more powerful US, European and Japanese capitalism, and recently with Chinese capitalism as well. As a result, and lacking any historic colony, Indian capitalism has needed to impose super-exploitation on the Indian working class. This is where Congress was unable to deliver the goods. The existence of some of the older labour laws, however much they are flouted, created benchmarks against which workers could raise their demands. And this was something that became clear in 2004-2009, during the UPA-I government, when the left had 61 MPs and Congress had to rely on their support. Some reforms which from above appear insignificant actually provided bargaining power to the rural poor. These included the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), which provided that one person per poor family would get 199 days guaranteed work per year. 

The Gujarat Model of Narendra Modi sharply contrasted. It consisted of circumventing labour laws, ignoring environmental protection, and promoting big capital. In 2002, after the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, which saw more than 1,000 mostly Muslim people die, members of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) criticised the then-Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. A group led by diamond merchant and businessman Gautam Adani formed an alternative body, Resurgent Group of Gujarat. Adani pledged a sum of US$ 2 billion for the first Vibrant Gujarat summit (held in September-October 2003). Thereafter, Adani was one of the principal lobbyists for Modi. Other capitalists began to see the value of the Gujarat model. Unlike in the case of previous BJP leaders, the Modi for Prime Minister campaign was launched at Vibrant Gujarat summits, with prominent Indian capitalists sounding the tocsin. 

The Modi government started repaying their friends. When Modi won power at the national level, this repayment was even more fulsome. The BJP had a few campaign planks in 2014, one of which was its opposition to corruption. But from Anna Hazare down, all the ‘anti-corruption’ crusaders who had targeted the Congress remained silent as India’s big capital, and to a certain extent, some major international capitalist concerns, made huge inroads.

The 2002 Gujarat Riots occurred while current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the region’s Chief Minister and left more than 1,000 people dead.

However, there were roadblocks. The Indian working class is much weaker now than it has been in decades. Nevertheless, the call to change the labour laws and speed up the privatisation of public sector undertakings met labour resistance. General strikes across India, and regular struggles in the financial sectors, meant that the plans could not always proceed.

In 2004, the last BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had stumbled here. He too had sought to serve big capital. But his ‘India Shining’ campaign had resulted in huge popular rejection. That was the last occasion when the left vote had gone up, along with seats. This was an indication that people were willing to vote for alternatives if these were posed before them. In 2009 too, the UPA had trounced the NDA. But this was followed by the old guard of the BJP being pushed aside, and a firm, aggressive new leadership taking over.

The BJP, Nationalism and Security

During this transition Hindu nationalist rhetoric was modified, because it was clear that merely pushing for Hindu unity was not paying adequate dividend. After 2014, the BJP shifted from merely Hindu nationalism to a full-fledged appropriation of Indian nationalism in its ugliest form. The RSS does not, as we saw, have the freedom struggle in its genes. But more recently nationalist buzzwords like Kashmir and Pakistan have become part of their arsenal. 

In place of previous governments with their attempts at some degree of carrot and stick in Kashmir, under Modi there has simply been a big stick. From an early stage, Modi projected himself as a strong man. Kashmir was a key component of this chest-thumping nationalism. Violence in Kashmir is not new, of course. Between 1990 and 2017 about 41,000 people have died due to the conflict. They include 14,000 civilians and 22,000 real or alleged militants. However, there was clearly an upward graph from 2014 onwards as the Modi government firmly justified violence.

The message has been straightforward: national security trumps civil liberties. While this was a consistent line since 2014, the aggressive nationalism and fake propaganda heightened after of the RSS’ student wing, the ABVP, failed to win the JNU students’ union election. The JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar (a member of the CPI-dominated AISF), along with students belonging to other left organisations, were accused of having raised anti-India slogans at a meeting which was held to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru. Guru was a Kashmiri who was hanged in a case of legal violence, with ample evidence that he was framed by the police. Many lawyers and civil rights activists have protested his conviction and hanging. But this didn’t matter; Kumar and others were charged with raising anti-India slogans and arrested. While no legal case could stand, the bulk of the electronic and print media were used to whip up nationalist fervour. 

The disputed territory of Kashmir is divided into India, Pakistani and Chinese administration.

The aim was clear. First, Kashmir was made into a seat of evil. Modi was shown as the first muscular leader tackling Kashmir the way it should be, by massive and unrelenting violence. Second, leftists of all shades were depicted as ‘anti-national’ for talking about civil rights in Kashmir. Of course their utterances were distorted so that they, including someone like Kanhaiya Kumar, belonging to the CPI (all moderate left parties take the position that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and differ only over how to conduct control there), was supposed to have advocated Kashmir’s right to self-determination to the point of secession. Third, as these were JNU students, and much of the left and liberal intellectuals of Delhi stood by them, it was argued that liberal intellectuals by definition were suspect, with a tendency to become anti-nationals. 

The focus on national security and nationalism was successful. The elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014 were all fought on primarily economic issues. In 2004 the BJP went into the polls claiming India was shining. It had a fully articulated aggressive neoliberal policy, while the Congress, the original party that had ushered in neoliberalism in India, was talking about social security. The left won its highest ever number of seats. In 2009, the UPA-II government was formed because UPA successfully defended its economic record, including the MNREGA. In 2014, Modi and the BJP focused on corruption and economic failures. Hindutva was worked in, but with a distinct economic tinge in areas like West Bengal and Assam, where ‘infiltration’ by Muslims was linked to outsiders (real or alleged immigrants) taking away jobs from locals. 

In 2019, by contrast, the economy was a mess. So much so, that the government of India stopped data from being published. As we write this the Government, now securely in place for five years, has acknowledged that the growth rate has plummeted to 5.8% and that India’s unemployment rate hit a 45-year high from 2017-18. But the success of the BJP lay in its ability to move the entire campaign away from the economy. The Congress did try to raise issues relating to the economy as well as corruption, but the BJP stayed firmly on message: national security, a strong leadership, and anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

The BJP and Caste Politics

The BJP, and RSS, has succeeded in becoming the hegemonic voice across much of India, spreading beyond the North and the West to Eastern India and to parts of the south. It has, of course, utilised local issues, but always woven these to its core ideological approach. 

Three decades of neoliberalism has led to an immense concentration of wealth. As a result, there is a tremendous sense of anger, insecurity and frustration among the youth, many of whom were first time voters in the elections of 2019. The BJP government’s policies over the last five years certainly contributed strongly to their economic crisis. Yet, a disproportionately high fraction of them appear to have voted for the BJP. No mechanical understanding can explain this. Instead, it is necessary to look at how their imagination has been captured, and how their anger has been shifted in certain directions by astute politicking. 

There have been increasing protests in recent years over discrimination against Dalits and other so-called lower castes, who die on average 15 years earlier than higher caste equivalents.

Crucial to this has been the defeat of the left and emancipatory politics. And central to this, from the 1980s onwards, was the attempt to create political identities around Dalit and ‘Other Backward Classes’ politics. Caste oppression is a social reality in India, and specific groups or jatis are linked to particular occupations. The change from pre-capitalism to capitalism has partially transformed that. It has also provided an opportunity to cobble together a discursive alternative based on shared experiences of oppression, humiliation and the desire to fight back. B.R. Ambedkar started the process but it was in independent India, with adult suffrage, that a serious attempt was made to build stable, cohesive political projects around this. 

The Dalit demand for greater dignity, and recognition as equals, as well as the struggle for material benefits, came up against the recognition that without political power these would not be possible. The Dalits, and their aspiring political leaders and intellectuals, saw the left as ambivalent about their cause because of a refusal to recognise the special oppression they faced. So, there was an attempt to build Dalit parties within bourgeois politics, the most successful of which was the Bahujan Samaj Party of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Historically Dalits were the ‘outcastes’. The ‘shudras’ were people who came to occupy places a little above Dalits but were also oppressed. This essay cannot trace fully the class-caste interfaces and linkages. However, a large part of them were the ones who came to be identified as the Other Backward Classes. Here too, social engineering and a political project went together. But that political project fragmented into state level entities, such as the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. 

The BJP has taken note of these developing politics, and has encouraged the formation of small parties based on one or two smaller, but significant, castes, or forged alliances when such parties existed, in order to ensure that the project of a Dalit unity or OBC unity does not materialise. Hindutva was pushed as the key to how these different castes could all be accommodated. But the BJP has even shown greater flexibility here in recent times. It has absorbed gods and goddesses traditionally worshipped by people outside the elite brahminical hierarchy, while ultimately ensuring that the co-option is on the terms of the Sangh. And through sustained scapegoating of Muslims, it has actually managed to make Dalits in many parts of India hostile to the Muslims, so that even real brahminical oppression has not led to Dalits siding with Muslims. This could be seen in the successful mobilisation of oppressed castes against the Muslims during the 2002 pogroms in Gujarat. 

The scapegoating of Muslims has been done systematically, and taking into account local issues. Thus, in Bengal, it is ‘infiltration’. In Assam it is linked to an older anti-Bengali sentiment. While leftists have often pointed out rationally that the Sachar Committee Report and other documents show that the majority of Muslims are actually socially and economically in a worse position than for example Dalits, the BJP-RSS way of handling popular religiosity and promoting hatred against Muslims rides over such rational arguments. 

Pragya Singh Thakur, accused of participation in an anti-Muslim terrorist attack in 2008 which killed ten and wounded more than 100, won a seat for the BJP in the Bhopal constituency in the latest election.

During the most recent election, a vast number of Muslims found their names simply deleted from electoral rolls and therefore could not vote. Muslims in many UP seats were subjected to threats of various kinds, like Maneka Gandhi, the BJP candidate from Sultanpur, openly threatening Muslim voters that if they did not vote for her, after the elections she would refuse to help them. This is not an empty threat, because the Electoral Commission reveals data after the election which allows people to see how each booth voted. This breakdown practically nullifies the secrecy of the vote.

BJP Victory, Opposition Failure

But, of course, there were broader factors than simply voter suppression at play. There has been a massive institutional shift in Indian politics. In the recent election, the BJP had sustained support from most newspapers and TV channels. Social media was also dominated by the BJP. There were large numbers of paid social media operators sending out messages, cartoons, memes and fake news to vast numbers of citizens. From the point of view of funding for the elections, this time there was simply no comparison with previous elections. The BJP had about fifty times the funds all others had.

The possibility of defeating the BJP rested on forming a wide bloc of parties. In the first half of 2018, the Indian National Congress was keen on moving to an alliance of that type, but the victories it got in a few state assemblies changed its outlook.

In UP, the major alliance was between the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, which tried accommodating others. But Congress made huge demands. For the SP-BSP alliance to accommodate a very weak Congress any further than they did (they did not put up candidates in the seats contested by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi), the Congress had to respond in places it was stronger (like Madhya Pradesh and Punjab). It simply did not. The Aam Aadmi Party, which controls the Delhi government, tried negotiations about the Delhi seats but the negotiations fell through. The Left front in West Bengal all but begged the Congress for at least a seat adjustment if not an alliance, but there too it was Congress that refused.

The Indian National Congress has been led by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, of the dynastic Gandhi-Nehru family, in recent years.

In this election, Congress decided on a strategy of putting itself forward as the only legitimate alternative to the BJP. Its pitch was successful among liberal and soft left intellectuals of certain types, who argued that all other parties had at certain times allied with the BJP and given it legitimacy (including the Left front), while the Congress had not. This shouldn’t come as a surprise — the dominance of Congress meant that it was usually the force against which these alliances were built. 

But the Congress too made its own concessions, taking a soft Hindutva policy over a series of issues. In Kerala, where the contest was primarily between the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic front, there was a Supreme Court verdict that stopped the regressive practice of refusing women who were of roughly the age when women would menstruate into a temple known as the Sabarimala. In order to win the Hindu conservative vote, Congress demanded that the provincial government should refuse help to any woman trying to enter the temple. In Kerala, in the end, the UDF won 19 out of 20 seats — though not only for that reason.

Ultimately, the Congress pursued this seemingly suicidal policy of going alone because alliances, whether with the Left in 2004-2009 or with regional parties  in 2004-2014, compel the party to give too much ground on issues of interest to capital. So, the Congress strategy since late 2018 was to appear as the left-of-centre alternative to the BJP and swallow up the votes of regional and left parties. 

In a recent example of how this played out, the left was primarily responsible for the big kisan marches in Mumbai and Delhi. The Congress picked up their rhetoric. But after the November victories, the Congress did not hike the crop procurement prices in the provinces where it won, contrary to its pre-election promises. As a result, when the Congress made an electoral promise to give Rs.72,000 annually to 20% of families in poorest of the poor category, benefiting around 25,000 people (the NYAY scheme) in  Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh. It made zero impact. The BJP swept those provinces, bouncing back from its defeat just six months prior. 

The Shortcomings of the Left

The mainstream left, as it is often called, consists of four parties: the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc. The CPI and the CPI(M) belong to the same current, and the historic reasons for the split are long over. The CPI has repeatedly called or a unification of the two parties. The CPI(M) has rejected the appeal with a certain arrogance arguing that, as it is a bigger party, the CPI should enter it instead. In reality, these debates boil down to who is the legitimate legatee of an undivided Communist Party in India.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India, CPI(M) and CPI, have together governed the southern Kerala province in recent years under the Left Democratic Front.

The CPI and the CPI(M) have not been revolutionary parties since Indian independence. But they did have militancy, and a degree of focus on extra-parliamentary mass action. But between 1977 and 2011, the Left front was continuously ruling West Bengal at the provincial level, and it also had a long stint in Kerala, alternating with the Congress-led alliance. In the small state of Tripura it ruled for a quarter century. These experiences, and above all the West Bengal experience, transformed the CPI(M). Party cadres took less part in real mass movements, only engaging when those movements were not hostile to the interests, or were directly sanctioned by, the CPI(M) government.

While the left parties and their mass fronts continue to be important (for example, the CITU and the AITUC among trade unions, the AIDWA and the NFIW among women’s organisations, the two Kisan Sabhas), mass movements have become unusual. This is most clear when we look at the working class. There have been unremitting assaults in the name of globalisation since 1991. The left trade unions have responded with periodic general strikes, 17 in total during that period. But the work of rebuilding unions, organising contract workers, and launching new struggles has been seldom done, either in the provinces where the Left ruled in the past or elsewhere. 

Instead, the central thrust became the popular front—an attempt to form alliances with bourgeois ‘democratic’ or anti-imperialist forces. Its Indian version continues to be the dominant ideological guide for the CPI and the CPI(M). The fact that the Left front in power was capable of distributing patronage, and that its high votes represented that, not just its ideological strength, was ignored. So, the decline in its vote shares from 2009 was not properly understood by its own cadres or even leaders in West Bengal. Once it was out of power, and unable to provide patronage, that mode of securing votes was gone. The Trinamool Congress saw to it that even when left leaders were MPs, or when the left won municipalities, their funds could not be spent or in some cases they would not even get funds. A major example was the case of Siliguri. A Left Front-Congress bloc managed to get the majority and Ashok Bhattacharya of the CPI(M) became Mayor of the municipal corporation. The corporation has not been allocated funds, and all road development and other work, along with patronage, has been done through a bureaucratic agency created by the state government.  

To top it all off, there was the massive violence on the left, unleashed during the last panchayat (rural local self-government bodies) elections in West Bengal. Conducted by the state election commission with the state police ‘ensuring’ law and order, it saw total mayhem. Large numbers of left local supporters, candidates or would-be candidates, were beaten up, and forced to leave their villages for months. The leaders abdicated their responsibilities to fight back, instead confining themselves to statements or dharnas (sit down protests) in front of the state election commission office. This made a large part of the electorate feel that the left was not serious about resisting. Meanwhile, the BJP and its cadre did resist the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) party’s violence. As the BJP has never ruled in West Bengal, this developed illusions about BJP as a genuine alternative.

In West Bengal, the TMC and the BJP succeeded in achieving a communal polarisation. It has been argued that Left votes were transferred to the BJP (which seemed plausible because the decline of Left votes and the rise of BJP votes between 2016 and 2019 seem to match). In fact, the case is more nuanced. Muslim Left voters often switched to the TMC, as have Muslims voting Congress. Many Hindus who had previously voted Left voted the BJP this time. The left lost its deposits in 39 out of the 40 seats it contested in West Bengal. (Some have argued that there was a conscious attempt by some on the Left to transfer their votes to the BJP, but this is ridiculous. A covert alliance, or a tacit understanding, between the BJP and the Left, would have had to involve the Left also getting BJP votes switched in a couple of cases at the least.)

The Communist-led Left Front broke with Manmohan Singh’s Indian National Congress government in 2008 over a nuclear deal with the United States.

One of the charges that have been levelled against the Left, from post-modern intellectuals as well as people claiming to be on the radical left, is that the left parties were bhadralok parties, or parties of the upper caste elites, while it was the TMC led by Mamata Banerjee that represented the subaltern. We cannot discuss this at length here. But even if we look at the elections of 2019, something emerges clearly. In Kolkata, the seat that above all represents the bastion of the bhadralok is Kolkata South. From 1971 to the present, the CPI(M) has won this seat only twice (1980, 1989), while from  1991 to 2011 it was represented by Mamata Banerjee. It was not a subaltern (defined in caste terms) backlash that resulted in the collapse of the left, but its failure to construct even a strong reformist project, which delivered success in government and emboldened extra-parliamentary movements.

The Coming Years

The BJP government has already given clear indication of what we should expect: it will seek to retain its position as the preferred party of Indian big business interests. This will mean an aggressive attempt to reform labour laws. We can expect a new draft labour code soon.

In foreign policy, the pro-US thrust will be retained, along with something that is distinct to the BJP, namely its extreme proximity to Israel. The anti-Muslim internal politics will be supplemented by anti-Pakistan rhetoric. One especially significant aspect of this is to remember that the recent Balakot incident was the first case of two nuclear armed states coming into direct military confrontation of the order where one country sends in its air force into another. Much has been written in the Indian media and social media about how many actually died. Much more significant is the fact that this happened, and may embolden the BJP to try it again, with aggressive retaliation by Pakistan a possibility at some point. 

Between 2014 and 2019, the Modi government started a process of controlling the state apparatus. Institutions that previously had some autonomy have been gradually brought under control of the Prime Minister’s Office. This, too, will deepen, and lead to a steady erosion of democratic content. These institutional subversions will be backed by a strengthening of communalism so that non-Hindus are relegated to the status of second class citizens. Within a couple of years, it is likely that the BJP’s National Democratic Alliance will also have a clear majority in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha). The constitutional changes that the RSS wants can then be pushed through, making India formally a Hindu Rashtra or nation. All of the above will be attempted, and only mass resistance can stop them.

We can expect greater state violence in Kashmir and the attempts to scrap Articles 370 and 35A. There will also be efforts to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill making it an Act, so that Muslims coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan are denied asylum or residency while non-Muslim migrants will find it easier to get naturalisation and the right to stay. Muslims across India may be forced to show their officially-prescribed documentation or lose citizenship status. This will not only mean they lose their votes, but that they are likely to lose a whole series of basic rights as humans. Muslims are being warned that if they want to live in the new India they must accept ghettoisation, they must not object to the RSS, they must not raise their heads and protest. Here too, what has happened to Muslims in Gujarat since the 2002 pogroms is a template for what will be attempted elsewhere.

The RSS has always had a deep interest in ideological control. This will evolve to greater control over education and the media. Curriculum changes are already in the offing. Funding is being linked to loyalty, as well as to a competitive strategy that means that only a handful of institutions will be really high grade. The rest will be far more easily amenable to control. The appointment of loyalists to key positions will be another way in which this control will be deepened.

The last five years have shown that there will be state sponsored use of force against the movements that seek to oppose all of this. Responses within left organisations and parties to the BJP’s victories have so far been flawed. For the Maoists, the elections do not matter much. Certain Maoist-inclined activists have even displayed greater happiness at the collapse of the reformist left than alarm at the growth of the BJP. But their strategy of a protracted Peoples’ War will meet a bloody next stage. The focus on extraction from the forests, along with the appointment of Amit Shah as Home Minister, presages a brutal campaign in the core areas of Maoist influence. Unless there is a radical transformation of their outlook and tactics, there seems little prospect for serious widening of resistance on that front.

For the mainstream left, it is business as usual. Where even Rahul Gandhi of the Congress tendered his resignation after his party’s failure to gain many more seats, the left leaders have yet to acknowledge responsibility for their own electoral failings. Rebuilding the old left, with one or two face lift operations, will not take things forward. For many activists, the desire will be to say we must focus on social movements. But unless all such fragments are brought into a coherent and focused politics, these efforts will all be subsumed by the Congress and its liberal intellectual supporters each election in the name of a rainbow coalition. 

Unlike in many other countries where there has been a rise of radical right in India the opposition, including the popular opposition, is divided. The struggle against Hindutva—with the RSS having some 36 organisations and over 800 NGOs working within all sectors of civil society, and having existed for nearly a century is different—to a struggle against say, Bolsonaro in Brazil. To damage the hegemony of the BJP and RSS calls for struggles beyond the electoral sphere. 

This can only be done by the building of a new left. This will have to emerge from sections of the mainstream left willing to challenge their leaderships and the drift to the right, from sections of the radical left, and from the social movement-oriented left activists, in particular caste activists. In this struggle, all working class and socialist forces must play their role, reaching out to organisations and activists for collaboration and unity. If we are to overcome the BJP, we must first overcome our own fragmentation.