Vol. XLII No. 52 December 30, 2018

2019: Big Battle Ahead

AS we reach the end of 2018, it will go down as the year in which the all-round failure of the Modi government on the economic front and the consequent burdens on the people became glaringly evident; the year also sharply brought out the cronyism and corruption of the regime; it also exposed the disruptive agenda of the Hindutva forces in seeking to subvert the constitution and the fundamental rights of citizens. 

The greatest failure of the Modi government was in dealing with the economy.  The agrarian crisis deepened causing widespread distress for the farmers and the rural poor. The Modi government’s announcement of providing a minimum support price for crops as per the Swaminathan Commission formula proved to be hollow. The talk of doubling the farmers’ incomes by 2022 seems to be a cruel joke for the peasants who are steeped in debt. 

As part of the achhe din promised in 2014 was the commitment to provide ten crore jobs in five years time.  By the time of the completion of the four years of the Modi government in May 2018, it became evident to the youth of the country that this was another fairy tale. One study has found that unemployment among young and highly educated Indians is the highest in 20 years. Despite the government’s stopping the release of the annual Labour Bureau Unemployment Survey to conceal the extent of unemployment, the stark fact remains that growing joblessness became a glaring phenomenon all through 2018. 

The other crisis that has become acute is in the banking sector. The Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) of banks have reached nearly 12 per cent of the total loans disbursed. The financial year 2017-18 saw Rs 1.44 lakh crore worth of bad loans being written off with no real worthwhile effort made to recover the bad loans from the big defaulters.

If letting big business off the hook for defaulting on huge loans is one aspect of crony capitalism, the worst example of cronyism was seen in the Rafale deal wherein Anil Ambani’s company got a bonanza through an offset contract.  Though the fresh Rafale deal was signed in 2016, the scam involved came to the fore in 2018 when the former French president, Francois Hollande,  revealed how the Modi government decided the choice of the offset partner for the Dassault company.  With the Rafale deal, whatever image that Narendra Modi had as an anti-corruption fighter, went up in smoke. 

The year also saw the death blow to all the false claims made previously about demonetisation. Modi had touted the withdrawal of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes as a masterstroke to unearth black money. It was claimed that three to four lakh crore rupees worth of black money would be destroyed by this measure. The RBI, after much delay, finally announced in August that 99.3 per cent of the notes had been deposited in the banks.  So, one can only presume that all the black money has become “white”, thanks to Modi’s operation.

2018 was the year in which the Modi government’s assault on the institutions under the constitution and constitutional values reached its zenith.  In the beginning of the year, four senior most judges of the Supreme Court, next to the chief justice, held an unprecedented press conference to express their grave concern at how the integrity of the judiciary is being affected by external influence. 

The year ended with the summary removal of the director of the CBI and efforts to place pliant officers in charge; the Reserve Bank of India was put under relentless pressure to hand over its reserves to the government leading to the resignation of its governor, Urjit Patel.

Pro-RSS personnel were appointed in key positions.  The interim director of the CBI, Nageswara Rao, is known for expounding rabid Hindutva views; even a judge of the Meghalaya High Court, Sudip Ranjan Sen, went on record in a judgement that India should have been a Hindu state.

The year also saw the relentless onslaughts on minorities and dalits. After a spate of mob lynchings of Muslim cattle traders, the next victim was a police inspector in Bulandshahr district in Uttar Pradesh.  The chief minister Adityanath has made it clear that the killing of a cow is more heinous than that of a police official.  The repression unleashed against dalit protestors during the April 2 bandh against the dilution of the SC/ST Act revealed the vicious anti-dalit face of the BJP. The year saw no let up in the attacks on women and girl children in an atmosphere deeply vitiated by the patriarchal-communal forces.

As the Lok Sabha elections drew nearer, the RSS-BJP combine stepped up its demand for building a Ram temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya.  This campaign and other divisive issues will surface more and more in the coming days in order to create tensions and communal polarisation. 

These efforts can be checkmated and foiled. The past year was significant in another sense. It saw the rise of sustained struggles and movements by the peasantry, working class and other sections of the working people.  These protests continued the string of struggles which began in the second half of 2017.  Beginning with the long march of kisans in Maharashtra from Nashik to Mumbai; the sustained struggles of the peasantry in Rajasthan; the August 9 Jail Bharo andolan of the kisan sabha and trade unions; the historic Kisan-Mazdoor Sangharsh Rally of September 5 in Delhi, which exemplified the growing worker-peasant unity; and the Kisan Mukti March of November 29-30 – all these were a reflection of the growing discontent and protests by the working people of the country.  These struggles and movements if widened and intensified will become an effective counter to the communal agenda.

These campaigns and struggles helped to channelise the popular discontent against the BJP. The assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh saw the defeat of the BJP in its traditional strongholds – a sign of things to come if the secular and democratic forces put up a united opposition.

As we enter the new year, all efforts must be directed towards building a strong unity of the people to fight the BJP and to defeat the Modi government.  The two-day general strike call by the Central Trade Unions on January 8-9, 2019 will be an important step in this direction. 

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which is just three and a half months away, is going to be the most significant election for the country after the 1977 parliament election.  This election is not just about defeating a government, it is about saving and defending the constitution, secularism and parliamentary democracy itself.  

We should greet the new year by taking a pledge to undertake this big task.

(December 27, 2018)