January 03, 2016

New Year Heralds Fresh Struggles

THE year 2015 saw the sharpening of various contradictions under the BJP rule. The right wing offensive under the auspices of the Modi government unfolded throughout the year, both in terms of the neo-liberal policies and aggressive communalism. The year saw growing resistance and opposition to this offensive. The economic slowdown continues. Unlike the government’s estimate that GDP growth would be 8 to 8.5 percent in the current fiscal year, the mid-term review places GDP growth in the first half of 2015-16 at 7.2 percent. More seriously, nominal GDP growth which indicates income growth rate has nearly halved in the first half of 2015-16 compared to the same period in 2014-15. Agricultural incomes will register negative growth this year. As a result, unemployment has grown significantly in 2015. There is no let-up in the rising prices of food articles with the prices of onions, dal and vegetables making life difficult for the ordinary people. The union budget for 2015-16 confirmed the pro-big business, pro-rich character of the government. Reduction in corporate taxes and more concessions for foreign capital were accompanied by slashing of public expenditure on ICDS, health and educational outlays. The country is witnessing a severe agrarian crisis. 18 out of the 29 states were affected by drought. Farmers’ suicides rose sharply. In Maharashtra alone, between January and October, 2580 farmers committed suicide, the highest number since 2001. Yet the Modi government did nothing to alleviate the distress of farmers. It did not raise the MSP of crops substantially. It has frozen the allocations under the MGNREGA, at a time when rural employment programme is most needed due to rural distress. It is in such a dire situation that the Modi government, in order to serve the interests of the corporate and real estate developers, launched a serious attack on the farmers and agricultural workers. It sought to dilute the Land Acquisition Act which was passed by parliament in 2013. The government went to extraordinary lengths by promulgating an ordinance not once, but three times, to amend the law. So, the first contradiction which sharpened was between the BJP government and the mass of the peasantry. There was a countrywide protest movement against the land ordinance and the opposition parties also opposed it in parliament. This resulted in the Modi government having to reverse its stand and allow the ordinance to lapse. This was the first major defeat for the government since it came to power. The second contradiction which has aggravated is that between the government and the working class. The government has embarked on diluting the labour laws in the country. Some of the BJP state governments like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have already amended the labour laws by which workers’ rights have been curtailed and the employers given an upper hand. It is against these attacks on workers and trade union rights that a prolonged struggle has begun. The September 2 general strike called by the Central trade unions saw 15 crore workers and employees go on strike. This has been the biggest protest action by the working class against the neo-liberal policies in recent times. The other aspect of the rightwing offensive in the year 2015 has been the aggressive activities of the communal forces. The RSS-led outfits utilised the issue of cow slaughter and ban on beef to create tensions and to target the minorities. The vicious campaign against the minorities on this issue led to the gruesome killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri on September 30. The BJP government continued with its efforts to communalise the education system and cultural policies. The Hindutva outfits carried out their vicious campaign against intellectuals, writers and artists who stood for secular and progressive values and oppose the communal ideology. 2015 will stand out for the dastardly killings of two such intellectuals – Govind Pansare in February and Prof. Kalburgi in August. These attacks on freedom of expression and cultural diversity met with a magnificent response from writers and artists. Writers across the board, belonging to various languages, voiced their protests and returned their awards which were given to them for their writings. This was followed by historians and social scientists signing statements of protest against the intolerant attacks. Significantly, 600 scientists, including some of the top scientific figures in the country, came out in defence of scientific thinking and rationality. The struggle between the secular-democratic forces and the Hindutva communal forces is getting intensified. The year 2015 also saw the Modi government strengthening the alliance with the United States. The Obama visit in January set the tone. India signed a joint statement with the US aligning its strategy in the Asia-Pacific with that of the United States. The Obama visit also saw the announcement that the India-US defence framework agreement would be renewed for another ten years. Following the US direction, India has joined a trilateral security alliance between Japan, India and the United States. The Modi government is going full steam ahead to become a full-fledged military and strategic ally of America which will have serious consequences for India’s foreign policy and domestic policies. The tame surrender in the WTO ministerial conference in Nairobi and the vacillating stand in the Paris Climate Summit were the result of this subordinate alliance. After adopting a confrontationist stand towards Pakistan throughout the year, there was a sudden turn around with the government agreeing to a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan at the end of the year. This change was brought about by the stark realities and due to the pressure from the United States. The economic hardships and the communal agenda of the BJP-RSS combine are leading to a growing gulf between the ruling party and the people. The year 2015 will go down as the year in which the “Modi wave” started receding. Narendra Modi and the BJP had got widespread support during the Lok Sabha election by projecting an agenda of “development” and promising jobs, particularly for the youth. By the time of the completion of one year of the Modi government in May 2015, the expectations of the people were getting belied. This was reflected in the two state assembly elections – the Delhi election in February and the Bihar election in November. In both, the BJP suffered a stinging defeat. Within a few months in the new year, there will be assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Assam. For the CPI(M) and the Left, the elections in West Bengal and Kerala, their traditional strongholds, are important. The CPI(M) will be gearing up for these crucial electoral battles. The new year will see fresh struggles of the working people and popular movements in defence of their livelihood and against the attacks on secularism and democratic rights. The sharpening of the class and social contradictions, will make the year 2016 more turbulent for the BJP government and its Hindutva patrons. (January 2, 2016)