July 17, 2022

40 Years of Independence

Below we reproduce the People’s Democracy editorial published on the 40th anniversary of India’s Independence.

ON August 15, forty years ago, India attained political independence after 190 years of colonial rule. This momentous development came as a result of the heroic sacrifices that the people of this country had made during their long drawn-out liberation struggle. This was a significant achievement of the defeat of fascism, when world imperialism proved utterly incapable of contending with the rising upsurge of people of the colonial countries. India witnessed an unprecedented sweep of peasant revolts, a general strike of workers, student strikes, States' peoples mass struggles, as also the revolt of the armed forces and the naval forces.

Still desperately trying to cling on to the economically "brightest jewel in the crown", imperialism capitulated only when faced with the revolt in the army and navy. But true to its character, it divided the country on communal lines. Power was handed over to the Indian National Congress in India, and to the Muslim communal organisation, the Muslim League, led by Jinnah in Pakistan. The communal partition of the country has proved a running sore for the countries and the peoples concerned, distorting the entire social fabric in the sub-continent.

The bourgeois-landlord government and State in Independent India embarked on a path of development in alliance with feudalism and increasingly collaborating with foreign finance capital. The Communist Party of India characterised this as a bankrupt path of capitalist development without smashing feudalism, without eliminating the fetters of imperialist interests in the country and moreover, at a time when capitalism on the world scale had entered an acute phase of general crisis. Despite the crisis-ridden nature of this chosen path, a certain limited growth of industry and development in agriculture was not ruled out.

However the developments of the last forty years have totally belied the hope and aspirations of the people. Today, 50 per cent of the people still live below the poverty line, 40 per cent still remain illiterate, the outstanding public debt stands at Rs 88,770 crore of which the outstanding foreign debt stands at Rs 18,342 crore; the wholesale price index with 1970-71 base stands at 357.9, while the consumer price index with 1960-61 as the base year stand at 620; total employment in the country is currently at 303 lakhs.

The peasantry is being squeezed by a drastic reduction in the prices of agricultural commodities. There is an ever increasing attack on the democratic and civil rights of the people. Trade Union rights are sought to be curtailed further by amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act. The autonomy of the states is further eroded and imposition of President's rule has become a recurring phenomenon.

The fruits of the compromise with feudalism on the one hand and imperialism on the other, can also be seen in the rise of fundamentalist, disruptive and secessionist forces all over the country, threatening its very integrity and the unity. The result of the policies pursued by the ruling Congress party over the last forty years has been that imperialism has been provided grounds to meddle in the affairs of the country in order to destabilise it.

Feudal ideas and practices remain deeply entrenched in the body politic of India. Secularism is paid only lip-service and a large number of political functionaries of the ruling party and its government can be seen to mix up religion with the affairs of the State. While feudal forces, backward ideas and practices remain deeply entrenched in the Congress-ruled states, only the Left-led states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura have brought about significant changes in modernising the outlook of the polity and the people.

Though the country adopted a democratic Constitution in 1950, all the democratic features of it are being eroded by the ruling Congress party over the years.

The federal features of the Constitution are being systematically emasculated, and centre-state relations have further worsened. The Sarkaria Commission which was appointed to review the burning question of centre-state relations after a determined demand by the opposition parties, has not been able to submit its report even after three years.

Huge mass movements had been required to force the ruling party to undertake the reorganisation of states on a scientific linguistic basis. The ruling Congress Party and its government so undertook this task as to leave many problems unresolved to fester till today, and provide a basis for many a divisive disruptionist movement.

Governor's Rule has been imposed umpteen times against the Opposition-ruled States, negating the democratic verdict of the people. The ruling Congress has displayed a singular intolerance towards the non-Congress Governments over these years and has used the Constitution so as not to allow a democratic opposition to emerge.

Today forty years after independence, the stock of the ruling party and its government is at its lowest. The government has lost all credibility among the people, leading the entire opposition to demand a mid-term poll. Corruption charges from its own ranks haunt the government today as never before.

The ruling party itself is disintegrating and has long since ceased to be a party in the real meaning of the term. It has not practised democracy in its internal functioning for over a decade. It has degenerated into a motley crowd of self-seekers who are lashed together by the whip of the anti-defection law, fearful of being thrown out and losing access to the loaves and fishes of office and money power.

Characteristically, imperialism has used this situation to good advantage. As in the rest of the Third World, it has used it predominance in the international economic bodies and relations, to browbeat India into accepting more and more onerous terms. And in all these years, the ruling Congress governments have been oblivious to the dangers from imperialism and allowed its agencies, like the CIA, free play in the country.

No amount of rhetoric can hide the ugly reality that the country is faced with. Any number of poverty alleviation schemes like IRDP, NREP etc, have not even made a dent on the colossal problem of poverty in the country. Even the surveys by Government agencies like the RBI, IFMR, NABARD and PFO of the Planning Commission are deeply skeptical of the efficacy of these schemes.

The response of the Rajiv Gandhi government to the magnitude of the present crisis has been typical. It has sought to emasculate the public sector, and throw open the doors to imperialist penetration, 'liberalising' the economy for them-all in the name of marching to the 21st century-and making a mockery of self-reliance.

The ruling Congress party has made the only response possible in these circumstances from a bourgeois-landlord government following a bankrupt path. This is to resort to unscrupulous alliances on the hand and to increasing repression against the mounting discontent on the other. The developments of the last forty years clearly demonstrate this.

Over the years, the ruling Congress party has ganged up with casteist, communal and other anti-social forces and forged alliances with splintered reactionary groups to meet the challenge of popular and democratic discontent. It faced its first challenge in the first general elections of 1952 when it prevented a non-Congress government from being formed in the old Madras Presidency, through opportunist manoeuvring and alliances. It could ward off the second challenge it faced in Andhra Pradesh in 1955, only by again resorting to such an alliance of all and sundry against the Communists.

However, two years later, it could not avert the logic of history. When faced with a stunning defeat in 1957 in Kerala by the Left and democratic forces, led by the Communist Party, it again openly and unabashedly ganged up with religious fundamentalist forces in the so-called 'liberation struggle' to topple the popular government.

During the sixties, the economic policy of the country came under greater pressure from imperialism. The rupee was forced to be devalued, at their bidding, in 1966. But all this did not help the ruling party in overcoming the crisis which was inherent in the very path of development being pursued by it.

By 1967, the popular discontent against the ruling party led to the emergence of as many as ten non-Congress State Governments in the country. In two of these, Kerala and West Bengal, the Left forces played a significant role. The CPI(M) was a major partner in these Governments.

To meet the challenge of the rising mass upsurge against the government, the ruling party resorted to unscrupulous manoeuvres, began to undermine democratic norms and forms and resorted to increased repression. During this period India witnessed the most unsavoury spectacle of Governor's Rule being used as an instrument for the ruling party, undermining the very democratic basis of the Constitution. Semi-fascist terror was unleashed in West Bengal and unprecedented repression in Kerala where the Left forces, particularly the CPI(M), were in the forefront of the struggle.

The crisis of the ruling party resulted in its split in 1969.

The early seventies was a time of a very short-lived reprieve for the ruling party when Indira Gandhi with the spurious Left manoeuvre of the populist slogans like the Garibi Hatao, and abolition of Privy Purses, and riding the crest of the popularity in the wake of India's role in the liberation of Bangladesh and the military defeat of Pakistan, received a massive mandate in Parliament.

However, so deep rooted was the nature of the crisis by now, that within a couple of years, mass discontent burst out against all over the country. The peak was reached in the strike waves of 1974, but the high-water mark of this period was the railway strike which met with ferocious repression-the effects of which persist till today. There were several successful 'Bharat Bandh' calls which signified the increasing alienation of the ruling party from the mass of the people.

The typical response of the ruling Congress party to this was a frontal attack on the very democratic system, a trampling under of civil liberties and total gagging of the opposition by the imposition of the Emergency regime in June 1975. Simmering discontent, sporadic mass struggles and the discontent generated by the deteriorating economic conditions led to the overthrow of the hated Emergency regime two years later.

During the brief interlude of the Janata rule the crisis burst out again. There was a rise of Hindu fundamentalist forces, greater attacks on minorities and scheduled castes and tribes all over. The increasing reliance of section of the Janata party on the Hindu Communal organisation, the RSS, led to a split of the Janata Party and the final fall of its government. The CPI(M), which had supported the Janata Party against the monopoly of power of the Congress and its authoritarian drive appropriately decided to oppose the reliance of Janata on communal forces.

The re-emergence of the Congress(I) in 1980, provided no respite from the symptoms of the crisis, as was assessed by the CPI(M). Secessionist disruptive and communal movement against burst out throughout the length and breadth of the country, barring only those areas where the Left movement led by the CPI(M), held sway-in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. The secessionist agitation in Punjab backed by imperialism, the rise of Bindranwale and the opportunist response of the ruling party, led to Operation Blue Star.

The secessionist agitation in Assam, the communal frenzy that has gripped Gujarat and other parts of North India, bespeak the serious crisis that the nation faces today. The very unity and integrity of the country is at stake in the face of these agitations.

The Rajiv government which was installed after the assassination of Mrs Gandhi, has so handled the affairs of the government and the ruling party as to further deepen the crisis. The Accords that he has signed have actually led to increasing discord. The country's economy has been made to rely on multinationals as never before. The foreign policy of non-alignment and world peace comes under greater pressure from the imperialists.

The unsettled border dispute with China is yet another manifestation of the crisis faced by the ruling classes in India.

The high-ups in the ruling party and the government are deeply suspect in the eyes of the public, of corruption. The ruling Congress party has no hesitation in compromising with fundamentalists, reactionary and communal forces to advance its own interests.

The increasing alienation of the ruling Congress party has been reflected, beyond a shadow of doubt, in the West Bengal and Kerala Assembly elections earlier this year, where the Left and the Left and Democratic Fronts gave a crushing defeat to the Congress, and in the stunning defeat of the ruling party in the Haryana Assembly elections.

The responsibility of channelising this democratic mass upsurge against the ruling party to a successful conclusion falls on the shoulders of the Left and democratic movement, the CPI(M) and CPI in particular.

In sharp contrast to the record of the ruling Congress Party, is the bright performance of the Left-led government of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

Despite severe restrictions imposed on the state governments by the Constitution, these governments have demonstrated that by following alternative police,s communal harmony can be preserved, democratic rights of the common people defended, and law and order maintained. These governments have been able to implement agrarian reforms within the restriction of the bourgeois Constitution. They have championed the cause of national unity and are in the vanguard of the democratic movement in the country.

The CPI(M) Programme had noted as far back as 1964:

"Experience...demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that in the period of the general crisis of capitalism, particularly when it has entered a new acute stage, it is futile for underdeveloped countries to seek to develop along the capitalist path. The possibilities of such development are extremely limited. It cannot solve our basic problems of economic dependence and backwardness, of poverty and unemployment. It is incapable of ensuring the fullest utilisation of the human and material resources of the country. It gives rise to ever growing contradictions and is beset with imbalance and crisis."   

The history of the last forty years more than testifies to the correctness of this assertion, and its characterisation of this capitalist path as bankrupt.

The current convulsions in the ruling party, the crisis in the polity and socio-economic structure, are not accidental, but the logical culmination of the path of development chosen and pursued since independence.

It is because the people's discontent is bursting out in the form of spontaneous and organised struggle, and the nadir reached in the credibility of the government, that the opposition's call for a mid-term poll has received such wide support and is gaining momentum, throughout the country.

In order to safeguard the unity and integrity of the country, unleash the creative energies of the people and fulfil their aspirations, the path traversed over the last forty years has to be reversed. The Left, democratic and secular forces have to take the lead in replacing the bourgeois-landlord ruling Congress party, without which this bankrupt path of capitalist development cannot be reversed.

(August 9, 1987)