AS India observes the 70th anniversary of independence, every pillar of the independent Republican State is under threat.
When the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of independence in 1997, one of the achievements that stood out was the existence of a democratic political system in the form of parliamentary democracy. It could be legitimately said that the parliamentary democratic system, with all its imperfections, had been able to give some scope for people’s participation in politics – one of the democratic goals of the independence struggle.
However, 20 years later, this sadly is not the case. Of course, elections are held regularly without fail and the participation of people in the electoral arena is in no way reduced. But while the form remains, the content of democracy is steadily being eroded.
The potential of democracy under a Republican Constitution began foundering in the face of the class realities of developing capitalism without a democratic social transformation. The compromise with landlordism and the failure to implement land reforms were glaring instances. It crippled the possibility of creating a socially just economic order. The early decades of independence set a pattern of social and economic inequalities. The growth of monopoly capital distorted the social and economic vision set out in the freedom struggle and encapsulated in the constitution.
All these factors constrained and attenuated democracy and the democratic rights of citizens. But in the last two decades, with the advent of neo-liberal capitalism, there has been a further steep erosion and hollowing out of democracy. The neo-liberal phase of capitalism has escalated the concentration of wealth to startling proportions. According to the Credit Suisse Wealth Report 2016, the top one per cent of the population in India own 58.4 per cent of its wealth, while the top ten per cent of the population own 80.7 per cent of its wealth.
Neo-liberal capitalism has invaded politics and transformed the character of the political system. The nexus of politics and business underpins electoral politics which is pervaded by big money. More and more businessmen and capitalists are being elected as legislators and becoming ministers. The intertwining of politics and business has corroded democratic institutions. All bourgeois parties have been suborned by big money and have embraced neo-liberal policies. Whichever party is elected to office, there will be no change in the basic economic policies.
All this has led to the corrosion of parliamentary institutions. The grip of big money over the electoral system leads to the marginalisation of any party which has an alternative programme or policies.
It is this perversion of the electoral-political system which is now being exploited by the BJP as the ruling party at the centre. There is the shameless purchase of legislators, inducing them to defect and the use of the central investigative agencies to browbeat opponents.
The Modi government has facilitated the growing grip of corporate-big money over the political system by introducing the system of electoral bonds. Unlimited amounts of money can be legitimately given by corporates to a political party anonymously with no questions asked.
The struggle for electoral reforms designed to curb the use of money power in elections has become imperative. One of the basic reforms needed is to introduce proportional representation in the electoral system.
The subversion of the institutions of the State is proceeding systematically within the formal confines of the constitution. One is reminded of Dr Ambedkar’s caution, “However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad.”
The country’s independence and sovereignty is being subverted, paradoxically, by a type of ultra-nationalism. This is not a nationalism which includes all those who are born and live in India and are to be treated as citizens but a Hindu nationalism. Such a nationalism is nothing but majoritarian communalism.
The BJP-RSS concept of nationalism excludes Muslims, Christians and those who do not share the Hindutva concept. This weakens national unity and opens up the modern secular nation State to reactionary assaults.
Hindu nationalism is, in no sense, anti-imperialist. That is why the RSS did not participate in the freedom struggle. With the Hindutva forces in power, the Modi government is pushing ahead with an alliance with US imperialism, whom they consider as “natural allies”. In a short span of time, the Modi government has deepened the strategic alliance forged with the United States in the days of the UPA government. Today, the US considers India a “major defense partner”, an euphemism for military ally. The nationalist BJP government has no hesitation in signing a logistics treaty which allows US naval ships and air force planes to use Indian ports and air bases for re-fuelling, servicing and maintenance. There are no qualms about how this impinges on the sovereignty of Bharat Mata.
The concerted moves to privatise the nationalised banking sector, the railways and other key public sector enterprises are aimed at eroding the economic sovereignty of the country. Nowhere is this erosion of sovereignty more glaring than in the defence production sector. The Modi government has approved 100 per cent FDI and 100 per cent private participation in defence production. It has sanctioned the setting up of joint ventures between Indian corporates and foreign arms manufacturers. Recently, the US giant arms company Lockheed Martin signed an agreement with Tata Sons for production of fighter planes; the Kalyani group has set up a factory with the Israeli arms company, Rafael, to produce short range missiles and the list is growing.
The dismantling of India’s public sector defence enterprises and the ordinance factories and takeover of those vital sectors by foreign and Indian corporates will snatch away a vital part of sovereignty.
Independence had held the promise of ushering in a modern, secular society with a scientific temper. The bourgeois-landlord classes failed in taking this project forward. Now seven decades later, we are faced with the prospect of a reversal on all fronts. What is sought to be imposed is backward looking, irrational, anti-science and a society reared on religious chauvinism. Under siege are the educational system and cultural institutions. The Modi government is seeking to make Hindutva, the official ideology.
The axis between neo-liberal capitalism and Hindutva communalism is the most potent threat to democracy, secularism and national sovereignty. The onset of authoritarianism fuelled by the twin forces of Hindutva and the neo-liberal regime has to be fought back if the basis of an independent India has to be protected. Given the hollowing out of parliamentary democracy and the perversion of the electoral system by big capital, the fight for democracy cannot be confined to the parliamentary forums. The main emphasis has to be on developing the multi-faceted struggles – against the neo-liberal onslaught on the working people; the building of the united resistance against the fascistic communal attacks and bringing about the broadest mobilisation against authoritarianism and in defence of national sovereignty.
Overarching these struggles and movements must be an alternative programme – the Left and democratic programme. It is only the forging of a Left and democratic alternative that can challenge the bourgeois-landlord order which has preyed upon independent India and produced the neo-liberal-Hindutva nexus which is exemplified by the BJP-RSS combine.