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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 1 New Delhi December 22, 2018 [Annual Number]

Indian Communists and the Challenges for their Revival

Sunday 23 December 2018

by Arun Srivastava

Indian Marxist-Leninists must counter the emerging threat of fascism. India has witnessed a massive political shift in the last four years with the BJP decisively replacing the Congress as the dominant political representative of the ruling classes. This has shaken the Congress. That is evident from the defensive posture of the grand old party. During the last four years of BJP rule, though the Congress has launched many struggles, the basic character of the protest movements has been defensive.

The Congress has not even attempted to build any movement basing on the paradigm of the ideological-political contours of the party. Its resurrection drive was half-hearted and primarily non-inclusive. It was more guided by electoral compulsions than the ideological commitment of the party.

The rise of the BJP as the predominant ruling party of India at both the Central and provincial levels has enabled the entire Sangh Parivar to unleash its fascist agenda with unprecedented speed and aggression. The fascist offensive in India is being unleashed by the state as well as non-state actors, both working in collusion with each other. The state has become increasingly authoritarian and intrusive, even as it overtly or covertly patronises the Sangh brigade. The Modi Government is trying to subvert the very foundation of constitutional democracy in India. Soon after coming to power, Modi tried to undo the safeguards and improved terms of compensation and rehabilitation won by land- and livelihood-losers in the 2013 Land Acquisition Act.

Modi had come to power attacking the UPA Government for the multiple scams amidst growing mass anger against corruption and crony capitalism. But no government in the past has been so closely identified with corporate interests—and that too just a handful of big houses—as the Modi Government. From spearheading an all-out corporate grab of natural resources, public sector assets and bank finance within the country to promoting the interests of Adani-Ambani abroad, this government has emerged in such a short span of time as the epitome of crony capitalism. The government’s complicity in allowing mega economic offenders like Vijay Mallya and now Nirav Modi flee the country, the threats issued to the media whenever it exposed cases like the stunning rise in the fortunes of Jay Amit Shah and the refusal to disclose the prices paid in the Rafale fighter jet deal to Parliament in the name of commercial secrecy and national security reveal its utter hypocrisy on the question of corruption. Every major economic decision of the government has inflicted tremendous hardship on the common people while yielding massive benefits to a handful of capitalists.

The electoral prospect of the Indian Left is not so bad as is being projected. In 2014 the Left, especially the CPI-M, met with its waterloo, but 2019 may witness a resurgence of the Left. This is not presumptuous; in fact the optimism is based on the prevailing ground realities. Nevertheless the dialectics makes it clear that the initiative should be taken by the CPI-M leadership which, ironically, is not happening.

There is no denying the fact that the Left, especially the CPI-M, has been suffering due to its own incorrect implementation of the political line than any machination of the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The fact cannot be denied that Prakash Karat has inflicted serious damage to the party. The situation is such that still an element of distrust and fear grips the psyche of the rank-and-file. The party is yet to come out of the inertia of dejection and relapse.

Though Sitaram Yechury has been operating and projecting the democratic face of the party, he is scared to assert his authority fully and in a convincing manner and style. No doubt the rank-and-file don’t defy him, but again it is a fact that he is finding it tough to command complete ideological adherence of the rank-and-file. The Kerala lobby, of which the leader is Karat, does not listen him. It takes the orders from Karat.

The CPI-M is still nursing the injury caused by Karat. Look at the way the BJP has been pushing the Kerala CPI-M leadership into a corner. The Sabarimala incident has exposed the ugly side of the caste system in Kerala. One wonders what has happened to the legacy of E.M.S. Namboodiripad and other Left giants and stalwarts.

Though the CPI-M presents the façade of fighting orthodox views, it is a fact the Leftists are not evolving any concrete action plan and in the process have left the ground open to the BJP. Some Leftists nurse the view that the Marxists are practicing soft Hindutva. They are posing the façade of challenging even Lord Ayyappa for a few atheists. Both the ruling CPI-M and Congress wanted a dialogue with the people concerned before implementing the Supreme Court verdict on entry of women of all ages into the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala. This obviously implies that the CPI-M leadership has miserably failed to come to grips with this problem and is fumbling.

The confusion on the issue of the BJP being a fascist organisation still haunts the Marxists. In sharp contrast to this approach of the CPI-M, the CPI-ML’s 10th Congress, held this March, made it abundantly clear fascism was on rise. Addressing the open session of the 10th Congress, CPI-ML GS Comrade Dipankar said: “We are holding this Tenth Congress in the face of an unmistakable rise of fascism in India. The BJP today is spearheading a neo-liberal policy offensive in every sphere. Revolutionary Communists must devise a strategy of effective intervention in the electoral arena to challenge and defeat the fascist forces wherever possible. Beyond the scope of where the Left forces can and must contest directly, the Left should make a distinction between the fascists and non-fascist forces within the non-Left camp and work for the defeat of the fascist forces.... The challenge of defeating fascism cannot and must not however be reduced to an electoral challenge, and within the electoral arena, it must not be reduced to the task of joining or supporting any so-called grand alliance to keep the BJP out. The experience of Bihar shows the inherent fragility and hollowness of one such grand alliance which had managed to hand over a decisive defeat to the BJP only to subsequently crumble and let the BJP in through the backdoor... Even while having to extend critical support to available electoral options against the fascists, we must never lose sight of the real task of building a powerful ideological-political counterpoint against fascism.”

It is quite interesting to watch that the entire milieu of the Left shares one common view that the BJP is fascist barring, of course, Prakash Karat. Binoy Viswam of the CPI said that the Modi Government was controlled by the fascist ideology of the RSS, the Indian Constitution was being questioned in tune with Hindutva which is nothing but the Indian version of the Hitlerite ideology. Comrade Mohammad Salim of the CPI-M said with the fascist forces of the RSS in power the Left and Right were confronting each other face to face in India. The Congress also passed resolutions condemning the communali-sation of festivals and the communal violence unleashed in West Bengal and Bihar by the Sangh Parivar during Ram Navami.

It is really tough to comprehend how a fascist organisation could be equated with a nationalist bougeois party. It was this state of mind that made the Marxists give space to the BJP in 2014. The same thing would have been repeated in 2019, but for the people turning hostile to Modi. This provides some succour to the Left.

One thing is absolutely clear—that the Opposition is faced with the worst catastrophe of ideological bankruptcy. While the BJP is working in tandem with the RSS to provide a strong base to the Hindutva ideology, the Opposition is scared to even raise the issue of secularism and socialist ideology. The Left in particular has been on the defensive. It may cite its participation in the farmers’ movement, but the fact remains that it has been a participant in an otherwise spontaneous movement. To be fair enough, the Left should have snatched the initiative and launched a sustained agitation.

The other day in a brief chat CPI-ML GS Dipankar revealed that he has been in close and constant touch with the Left parties and striving to provide ideological wherewithal to the democratic and secular forces. This has become quite imperative and essential in the existing situation. Without this it would be a difficult proposition to fight the saffron brigade. True enough, this initiative should have come from CPI-M GS Sitaram Yechury. He had opposed Karat on the issue of fighting the BJP along with other forces. This would have provided him with the opportunity to experiment with his theory and idea.

The global economic crisis and the remedies (bail-outs for corporates and austerity measures for the commoners) have fostered unemployment, deteriorating and precarious working and living conditions, and ever-sharpening inequality for the past decade. The Constitution and the elections clearly remain two potent weapons in the hands of the people to resist and defeat the fascist forces. The Leftists, committed to the revolutionary line, must devise a strategy of effective intervention in the electoral arena to challenge and defeat the fascist forces wherever possible. The Left should make a distinction between the fascists and non-fascist forces. The challenge of defeating fascism cannot and must not, however, be reduced to an electoral challenge.

The CPI-ML also narrated the experience of Bihar which shows the inherent fragility and hollowness of one such grand alliance which had managed to hand over a decisive defeat to the BJP only to subsequently crumble and let the BJP in through the backdoor. Even while having to extend critical support to available electoral options against the fascists, it pointed out that one “must never lose sight of the real task of building a powerful ideological-political counterpoint against fascism”.

So far the issue of floating an alliance was the exclusive domain of the big parties. It is quite encouraging that this time the CPI-ML has taken the initiative. Dipankar said that he already had a preliminary round of discussion with the RJD leader, Tejashwi. He has also been in discussion with the CPI, CPI-M, RSP and other Left parties. They will try to bring in other secular forces as well on their broad platform.

The document of the party emphasised: “The vacuum that has enabled the fascist forces to present themselves as the ‘saviour’ in a chaotic and crisis-ridden present needs to be filled with the vision and struggle for a better tomorrow, a vision of a prosperous, pluralist and egalitarian India that can guarantee a better life and broader rights to the Indian people. Fascism shall not be allowed to pass and crush the people. The people united will overcome the fascist offensive and secure a stronger and deeper democracy for themselves.”

The agrarian crisis and increasingly adverse conditions for small enterprises, both manufacturing and trading, have slowed down the overall economic growth and most alarmingly the growth of employment. Indian economy is actually making an ominous transition from jobless growth to job-loss growth with a net decline in absolute employment figures. Apart from the continuing downsizing of the organised sector, including the government and the public sector, employment in sectors like IT and other export-oriented industries which had been generating sizable employment opportunities in the last couple of decades has taken a serious beating in the face of the global economic crisis and the arbitrary and adverse measures of the Modi Government, especially in the wake of demonetisation and GST. Having come to power with the promise of adding two crore jobs every year, the Modi Government is now asking job-seekers to become job-givers and projecting the MUDRA scheme of small loans (the average loan size being less than Rs 50,000) as the biggest job-generation measure of all times.

Accompanying this aggressive pursuit of pro-corporate economic agenda is a shrill rhetoric of hyper-nationalism. Every dissenting voice, every inconvenient question is sought to be silenced by dubbing it anti-national and pitting it against the sacrifices made by the soldiers guarding the borders of the country. And this hyper-nationalism is just a thin veil for virulent anti-Muslim hate and violence. From consumption of beef and cattle-trade to inter-community marriage termed ‘love-jihad’ by the Sangh Parivar, any rumour or wild allegation can trigger lynching of Muslims anywhere anytime. We have seen Mohammad Akhlaq being dragged out of his home and killed in the middle of the night, Imtiyaz and Majlum being killed and strung on a tree in Jharkhand, Pehlu Khan pulled out of his truck and killed in broad daylight on a Rajasthan road, young Junaid stabbed to death right inside a crowded train compartment, Comrade Zafar Hussein Khan killed for resisting humiliation and violence against women in the name of the Swachh Bharat campaign, and Mohammad Afrazul hacked to death, the hacking videographed and posted on social media with a sermon against ‘love-jihad’. Even the Supreme Court judgement invalidating the arbitrary practice of instant triple talaaq, which came about in the wake of a protracted social and legal battle waged by Muslim women’s organisations themselves, is now being sought to be transformed into a tool of vilification and persecution of Muslim men.

The CPI-ML document reads: “While Muslims are being targeted as a community, the aggression of the Sangh brigade is equally directed against Dalits. The rise of the Sangh brigade to various positions and institutions of power has quite characteristically resulted in a widespread intensification of oppression on Dalits. The intimate links of the Sangh Parivar with the private armies of the landed gentry in Bihar, especially with the most notorious Ranveer Sena which perpetrated serial massacres during the late 1990s and early 2000s, have been well known; and now we see a generalised campaign of violence against Dalits in various spheres from remote rural areas to university campuses in metropolitan cities. From the institutional murder of the young Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula, in Hyderabad Central University to the videographed flogging of Dalit youth in Una, Gujarat to attacks on Dalits in Saharanpur and the persecution of the Bhim Army leader, Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, jailed with draconian NSA charges against him, and the thuggery of aggressive upper-caste youth under the banner of Hindu Yuva Vahini in Yogi Adityanath’s UP and now also in Bihar, and increasing attacks on Dalits in BJP-ruled Maharashtra, the pattern is quite clear. The communal and the casteist are indeed two sides of the same coin in the RSS ideology even as the Sangh brigade is desperate to recruit Dalits as foot soldiers in the campaign of communal aggression against religious minorities, whether Muslims or Christians.”

The hate and violence directed against Muslims, Dalits (and sections of Adivasis targeted as alleged Maoists or as Christians) and women, also extends in the Sangh ideological framework to the Communists and the entire range of Left/liberal intelligentsia or activists. Examples of cases of brutal suppression of dissent through systematic propagation of hateful lies and a combination of state repression and state-sanctioned privatised violence are galore in every corner of Modi’s India.

The methods of governance of BJP govern-ments today also bear the hallmarks of fascism. Elected representatives of the BJP speak openly of amending the Constitution. What distin-guishes fascism from authoritarianism is its ability to legitimise state repression and mobilise a section of society in violence against minorities. Mohan Bhagwat’s by now infamous comparison of the RSS with the Indian Army reveals the RSS agenda of militarising Hindu society and communalising/politicising the Indian Army.

In many ways, the Modi regime lends itself to an unmistakable comparison with the example of Nazi Germany under Hitler. It is also instructive to note that since its inception in the 1920s, the RSS has historically sought to model itself on the ideology of militarist masculinist hypernationalism epitomised by Mussolini and Hitler. The centrality of hate and violence against the internal enemy (Jews and other minorities and Communists in Nazi Germany, Muslims, Dalits and all shades of ideological opponents in Modi’s India), cynical exploitation of mass sentiment to promote a personality cult around a supreme leader, constant propaganda of falsehood and rumour—the similarities between Nazi Germany and today’s BJP-ruled India are all too striking and real.

It will be absolutely short-sighted and suicidal to ignore this lesson of history by seeking false comfort from the fact that Indian capital has not yet reached the level of development of German capital in the 1930s and 1940s and that the Sangh brigade has not yet managed to run down the framework of parliamentary demo-cracy or that a country and society as vast and diverse as India has many built-in safeguards against the homogenising bulldozer of fascism. Fascism in 21st century India will obviously have its own distinct characteristics as compared to early 20th century Europe, but that does not make the threat of fascism any less real and its devastating potential any less lethal. India’s growing integration with this crisis-ridden global capitalist order, and especially the increa-singly close strategic ties with US imperialism and Israel, only reinforce the fascist trend in India.

The fascist ideology of the RSS had few takers during the first fifty years of its existence. It remained isolated from the freedom struggle and even advocated a general policy of collaboration with British colonialism in various spheres, especially to weaken the stature of Muslims as a major community in modern India.

The vacillation of the Congress on the question of communalism and its betrayal on the promises and aspirations of the freedom movement however enabled the RSS to regroup and accumulate strength and legitimacy. Most notably, the RSS was rehabilitated in the early 1960s as jingoistic nationalism gained currency during India’s decade of successive wars, first with China in 1962 and then with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. The proclamation of the Emergency gave it the opportunity to further expand its network and influence through the popular movement for restoration of democracy. With the adoption of the policies of economic liberalisation and the shift towards a pro-US foreign policy, as the Congress decisively moved away from the legacy of the freedom movement, the ideological and policy differences between the BJP and Congress started getting blurred and the BJP did not find it difficult to expand its reach by making little pragmatic adjustments here and there to find new allies from various regions and social groups.

While the BJP is aggressively seeking to capture this political vacuum, the RSS is seeking to use this juncture to replace India’s historic and political imagination with its own. At the time of India’s independence, the RSS tried but failed to push the Manusmriti as the basis for India’s Constitution: in spite of the fact of caste, patriarchy, and communal prejudices being a part of the widespread social ‘common sense’ in India, the dominant political consensus did not endorse these prejudices and instead embraced —at least nominally—the goal of political and social equality. Leaders like Nehru and Patel too did not endorse Golwalkar’s vision of India. Now, with the Modi Government in power, the RSS is in a hurry to try and establish its own hitherto defeated vision of nationalism, history, and society as the only acceptable ‘Indian’ view. In the process, they try to vilify Nehru, cleanse Gandhi, distort Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh, and demonise all Muslim figures and monuments in history including Akbar and the Taj Mahal as ‘anti-national’, and project caste and gender hierarchies, obscurantist and abhorrent social practices, and communal prejudices as the ‘essence of Indian culture’!

An important aspect of the anti-fascist resistance must be to resist this process of appro-priation and rewriting of history. While being historically isolated from, and even opposed to, the anti-colonial awakening of the Indian people and the actual struggles for freedom from British rule, the RSS has always created its own fictional narrative of what it calls civilisational or cultural nationalism.

The expectation that a nationalist RSS would make the BJP confront the policy of indiscri-minate globalisation with a programme of economic nationalism has proved as unfounded as the fond hope that a BJP in power would rein in the so-called ‘fringe elements’ of the Sangh brigade. From the somewhat restrained days of the early Vajpayee period to the rise of the Gujarat model on the back of the 2002 genocide, a ruthlessly repressive and intrusive state and the loud corporate endorsement of a vibrant Gujarat we have entered the Modi era in 2014 with the promised replication of the Gujarat model on a countrywide scale. What we are witnessing is a maturing of the RSS-BJP combination where the so-called fringe enjoys complete impunity to go berserk as the RSS dictates the terms of social discourse and defines the contours of individual liberty while the government packages the most brazen wooing of foreign investment and promotion of Indian as well as foreign corporate interests as economic development, and India’s role as a most loyal junior partner of US imperialism is certified by the Trump Administration as that of a ‘leading global power’.

The direction of the economic and foreign policies of the Modi Government is more or less the same as the policy paradigm introduced by the Congress in the early 1990s. But the accelerated speed and the aggressive and arbitrary manner in which the present regime is proceeding in this direction sets it apart from the previous governments, including the NDA governments headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee. The focus on foreign investment, financial integration and digitisation, privatisation and regimentation of labour laws has never been as sharp and strong under the previous govern-ments. The abdication of the welfare responsi-bilities of the government has never been as complete and unabashed what with the abolition of the Planning Commission, systematic violation of food security and rural employment guarantee legislations, the shift from the public health system to insurance-based private healthcare and trivialisation of the agenda of employment by shifting the focus to self-employment and now the projection of pakoda-selling, a symbol of precarious livelihood, as an example of gainful employment.

The Modi Government is also seeking to amend the definition of Indian citizenship with its Citizenship Amendment Bill, which proposes that Hindus from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan can be granted Indian citizenship. This proposal, by discriminating between persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries on religious grounds and privileging non-Muslim citizenship-seekers, tacitly tries to project India as a Hindu nation much on the model of Israel as a “Jewish Homeland”. This move has also created unrest and protest in Assam, which anticipates an attempt by the BJP to use this amendment to negate the Assam Accord which would render the cutoff date of March 24, 1971 superfluous.

What has enabled the Sangh-BJP establishment to grab power and systematically unleash its total agenda? Four factors that have clearly worked in its favour in the present juncture merit close attention. In 2014 the BJP did not just win an election, it exploited a genuine political vacuum. While the Congress was clearly reeling under its worst crisis of credibility and leadership, almost all non-BJP political currents—the regional parties, the so-called ‘social justice’ camp and the Left—also appeared to have simultaneously hit their lowest points in terms of electoral strength.

Secondly, over the last three decades we have seen a veritable consensus emerge among almost all the ruling class parties on issues of economic policy and domestic governance as well as foreign policy. In the face of lack of policy differences, the BJP manages to present itself as the most aggressive and determined champion of these policies.

Third, around this policy consensus we can also see the manufacturing of a common sense reinforced daily by the mainstream corporate media that sees mass eviction as a necessary price for development, human rights as eminently dispensable and draconian laws as urgently necessary for national unity, privatisation as the panacea for economic efficiency and so on and so forth.

Finally, along with this armoury of policy consensus and manufactured common sense, the BJP has the secretive organisation of the RSS with its own ammunition of hate, lies and rumour and network of privatised terror.

Fascism always grows in periods of acute economic crisis and insecurity. The Modi Government is now desperately trying to present the economy as a progressive march by manipulating the GDP and financial figures. This manifests the worst economic crisis India is faced with. The politics of “jugad” is being resorted to for polishing and refurbishing the public image of the Modi Government and also check it from being described as the failed economy which is the forerunner of fascism.

It was true during the classical era of the rise of fascism in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, it is equally true today in Europe and America where fascist trends are rearing their heads by redirecting the anger and anxiety caused by growing unemployment and austerity and stoking the fires of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia. In India too, we can clearly see how the fascist forces are recruiting their foot soldiers from the ranks of the unemployed and those who have been hit hard by the economic disaster unleashed by the Modi Government. The anti-fascist resistance must address this root cause of mass anger and anxiety and unite the people around their common class demands and shared issues of livelihood and economic security.

Indeed, even as the fascist forces have gone on the offensive in the wake of the 2014 Modi victory, the people of India have continued to fight back undeterred. We have seen farmers and adivasis foil the Modi Government’s attempt to amend the provisions of the 2013 Land Acquisition Act or amend the Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts of Jharkhand. More recently, peasant organisations across the country have forged a militant unity to fight for freedom from debt and for fair support prices for their agricultural produce. The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula triggered a country-wide awakening among students which has held its ground in the face of arbitrary administrative attacks, false cases and repressive measures of the state, malicious media trial and repeated assaults by the Sanghi thugs. It is the RSS-affiliated ABVP which has actually been forced to bite the dust in successive campus elections across the country. We have seen powerful mobilisation of the working class leading to a 48-hour-long countrywide strike in 2016 and three-day-long workers’ sit-in near Parliament in November 2017.

Fascism has so far encountered little resistance from most of India’s institutions, least of all from the bureaucracy which, with its pronounced feudal and colonial trappings, has always had an anti-people orientation, and the dominant media, which has emerged as more of an extension and manager-cum-organiser and propagandist of the ongoing neoliberal policies and even the fascist communal offensive than a democratic institution speaking truth to power and holding it accountable. Communists must forge close links of cooperation and coordination with all these modes of activism to foil the fascist design and defend every quarter of democratic space in the country.

The challenge of defeating fascism cannot and must not, however, be reduced to an electoral challenge. The experience of Bihar shows the inherent fragility and hollowness of the so-called grand alliance which had managed to hand over a decisive defeat to the BJP only to subsequently crumble and let the BJP in through the backdoor. In Gujarat, a weak Congress came so close to defeating the BJP by attracting broader social and political support from various movements, but we already see the Congress trying to compete with the BJP on religio-cultural terms dictated by the latter. Recent history in India is replete with instances where the Congress’ attempt to take the wind out of the BJP’s Hindutva sail through competitive invocation of the BJP’s slogans and icons has only played into the BJP’s hand, strengthening and legitimising its aggressive majoritarianism. To take another example, the TMC in West Bengal may appear to be offering a powerful opposition to the BJP but its reign of terror, corruption, and outright assault on democracy is actually helping the BJP to grow in the State. We must therefore never lose sight of the basic task of building a powerful ideological-political counterpoint against fascism.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com

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