* Srishti Yadav – PhD Candidate in Economics at The New School for Social Research
With 900 million people eligible to vote, India will undertake what will in all estimates be the largest exercise in democracy that the world has ever seen1. India is a parliamentary democracy with a first-past-the-post electoral system and has had (with one exception of National Emergency in 1975-77) 16 democratically elected governments in 67 years. The 17th Lok Sabha2 elections will be held in seven phases across the different states of India from April 11th to May 19th, with the vote counting and result declaration scheduled for May 23rd 2019.
The political situation in India is vital internationally for two essential reasons — firstly, just under one in five people in the world live in India, and secondly, by reasonable estimates, one out of those three Indians is poor (earning less than $3.20 per day)3. What makes the situation even more important is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government currently in power under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi reflects some of the most visceral rightward, fascistic shifts in global politics seen in the last few years, keeping firm company with Turkey, Brazil, Hungary and the US. In this regard the outcome of the upcoming elections will have consequences and implications within and beyond India’s domestic borders.
The current BJP led NDA government came to power in 2014 in a landslide victory — the NDA coalition, composed of 23 parties, won 336 seats out of 543 in the election with the BJP on its own winning 282 seats — enough to form a majority government. This was the first time since 19844 that a party had won enough seats to individually form a majority government. The victory was enormous indeed, and was credited largely to the projection of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, popularly dubbed the ‘Modi Wave’ — indeed the 2014 election saw the largest voter participation in the history of elections in India with over 66% of eligible voters participating. Let us briefly look at the government that the Modi wave replaced, and compare the two main political parties at hand — the BJP and the Congress.
The BJP led government came to power in 2014 after two terms, 2004-09 and 2009-14, of the Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The UPA governments were in power through the peak of the economic boom in India in the mid 2000s, one created by the expansion of the services sector in a neoliberalized economy and increased demand for consumer durables (often aided by debt) by a growing middle class. The slowdown of the economy by the early 2010s and price rise were important factors in the 2014 election along with anti-incumbency.
However the most important political issue in the second term of the UPA government was the massive corruption scandals that emerged — the list includes the CoalGate scam, the 2G scam, the Commonwealth Games scam among various others, many of which involved high profile political leaders of the UPA government and through which the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh5, appeared inert in his ineffectiveness. The corruption scandals were numerous and of an unprecedented scale — the 2G scam alone is estimated to have cost the exchequer of the State about $24 billion. The largest of these scams showed the clear and dominant nexus between politicians and capitalists who used their relationships with particular parties/leaders to obtain access to national resources. As a result the popular mood was heavily against the Congress party by the end of the second term.
This created the space for a political discourse which the BJP dominated with ease — Narendra Modi was the Prime Ministerial candidate, chosen over several other, much more senior, BJP leaders. This was a loaded choice that gave a particular direction to the discourse — Narendra Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat for 13 years from 2001 to 2014, and was at the helm of the State leadership when the pogrom of 2002 took place in the state in which Muslim settlements were systematically targeted, burnt, looted by Hindus and over 2000 Muslims were killed and Muslim women raped. Though Modi and his coterie have officially been given a clean chit, journalistic work based on sting operations indicates his unwillingness to prevent the violence with one interviewee describing how Modi ordered ministers and the police to ‘go slow’ in curbing the riots6.
Modi however over the decade of the 2000s became a household name in India not just because of the 2002 pogrom but because of the ‘Gujarat Model of Development’ that he popularized in the media and used as a major plank in his national election strategy. Under the Chief Ministership of Modi, Gujarat was leading over most other states in industrial production, exports and overall growth rate. This ‘model’ of development is nothing more or less than neoliberal state policy at its finest. The chief aim is to attract as much ‘big capital’ as possible — though in Gujarat Modi attracted domestic capital more than FDI7. This is done by minimizing ‘bureaucracy’ and improving the ‘ease of business’ — this ranges from official (and time) requirements for setup of business, the ease of land acquisition for industrial projects, massive subsidies, leeway with respect to environmental laws and significant erosion of labour laws allowing for contractualisation of much of the industrial jobs. This was aided with investment in basic infrastructure such as construction of roads and highways and the extension of electrification. This ‘model’ is one in which the state bends over backwards before capital. The consequences are stark — while Gujarat demonstrates very high shares in national industrial production and exports, and hence has one of the highest state growth rates in the country, the low resource mobilization of the state (as a result of the heavy tax breaks offered to attract capital) results in low expenditure on anything to do with the general population which is not the owner of a large industrial plant.
Gujarat performs poorly on all social indicators such as health, access to education, and socio-economic mobility. The Gujarat ‘model’ is geared towards capital but not just any kind of capital — it is thirsty for big capital which, by its very nature, does not absorb labour sufficiently. Job creation in Gujarat has been poor, and the effects are borne by the educated youth as well as migrant workers moving out of agriculture8. About half the population of the state is under the multidimensional poverty line, and these trends manifest in the various protests that have broken out in Gujarat in the recent years, the largest being the Patidar agitation since 20159.
Modi therefore represented in the 2014 elections the image of the ‘Vikas Purush’ or ‘development dude,’ the strong, large chested (he boasted of having a 56 inch chest) alpha male who will deliver the nation on the path of progress and modernization through his hard work, leadership and ‘clean’ image10. This was the prime reason for the massive success of the BJP in the 2014 elections — it promised economic prosperity, the elimination of corruption and the upliftment of all. This sidelined the other feature of BJP which has traditionally distinguished it from other national parties such as the Congress — the BJP emerged from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a social organization with a large militant base that espouses the idea of a purely Hindu India and famously wanted the creation of a Hindu India at the time of partition in 194711. The RSS and its sister organizations, of which BJP is the political offshoot, advocate Hindu nationalism, the superiority of the Hindu civilization and the rejection of the West, and are known for their adherence to the most regressive casteist and patriarchal elements of Hindu culture. RSS runs over 50,000 shakhas (schools) in India in which volunteers/students are endowed physical training and education about Hindu culture and history — it is a 5-6 million strong paramilitary organization. Modi himself attended such shakhas regularly in his youth and is known to be the favorite of the RSS.
And this is the core difference between the BJP and the other large national parties such as the Congress — while Congress has traditionally presented itself as the party of the ‘minorities’ whether they be religious or regional, the BJP is openly and vehemently pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim. Interestingly, the differences between Congress and BJP collapse sharply when we look at their economic policies. From independence to 1991, India followed broadly an Import-Substitution-Industrialization economic regime in which international trade was heavily regulated to allow space for an industrialization effort based on domestic capital. This policy reached its limits by the late 1980s and it was under a Congress regime that liberalization of the economy was undertaken in 1991. While the BJP initially opposed the entry of foreign capital into India in keeping with the anti-globalization stance of the RSS, it has since internalized neoliberalism and Modi epitomizes this ‘model’ of development.
It may be noted that the only economic difference between Congress and BJP is the Congress’s practice of introducing large social welfare schemes, perhaps as a remnant of its Fabian Socialism days of Nehru12. In the regime of the UPA, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was introduced and the Right to Food was introduced. Only a few days ago, the Congress party announced that if elected in 2019, they will implement a Universal Basic Income type scheme. What the Congress lacks is a clear fiscal policy for the financing of such schemes as they have no alternative to the strict fiscal discipline requirements posed by international capital markets and by IMF-World Bank ‘conditions’ for structural adjustment. This reduces the degree of difference between BJP and Congress considerably13.
The Last 5 Years
The BJP led NDA government thus came to power in 2014 by attracting many traditionally non-BJP voters who overlooked the grimy record of Modi on human rights in the hopes of deliverance on the promise for ‘development for all,’ a result, to a large extent, of the expensive and effective PR campaign run by BJP14. Soon after getting into power, the Modi government set about implementing the ‘Gujarat model’ at the national level, which essentially means neoliberalism full-throttle, along with a steady ‘saffronization’15 of institutions and a sharp rightward shift in the collective consciousness.
The economic policies and practices of this government have revolved entirely around attracting foreign direct investment. Modi has visited more foreign countries in the time he has been in power as compared to any other Indian PM16, presumably in the hopes of attracting FDI. He launched several initiatives such as the ‘Make in India’ campaign and the ‘Start Up India’ campaign which sought to incentivize production in India (though not necessarily for India). These ‘incentives’ took the form of increasing laxity in labour laws, tax breaks and subsidies to corporations, and reducing red tape — in fact in the Modi regime India jumped almost 100 ranks ahead in the global Ease of Business index.
This adherence to the demands of international capital also took the form of the steady retreat of the State from the economic terrain and ceding more and more to the private sector. Within the first few months of being in power, the government dismantled the Planning Commission which had been drafting five year plans for the country since 1950, and replaced it with the Niti Aayog which instead performs cost benefit analysis for short term projects with no long term teleology. The government has been keen to reduce the fiscal deficit and demonstrate its ‘fiscal responsibility’ to international capital. This is done by opening more and more industries to FDI (notably the cap on FDI in military and insurance was raised to 49%) and by reducing expenditure on health, education, food security, employment generation and social welfare such as pensions.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has seen delayed outlay of wages and funds since the Modi government came to power. There has been an emphatic shift towards Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) or cash transfer in place of provision of food grain and ration which historically has proved to be less effective especially in areas with poor banking facilities. The government has also made the clear shift from improving public healthcare to provision of health insurance, a troubling shift if the conditions in the US are any indication of effectiveness of insurance based healthcare. The government has also been pushing public universities to fiscal ‘independence’ (which implies increasing tuition rather than relying on State support) and is encouraging private players in higher education.
The crowning feature of this government’s economic policy however was Demonetization — introduced by Modi in November 2016 with apparently minimal knowledge of his cabinet ministers, this policy made illegal 86% of the currency in circulation by banning Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes. In the span of two days, citizens deposited and exchanged all monetary holdings of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes with banks and new Rs. 2000 notes were introduced. The aim of this policy as stated by the PM in his address was to flush out ‘black money’ from the economy — the idea was that citizens would only be able to deposit currency for which they could legally account. However the results were that over 99% of the currency held in Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes was accounted for.
Instead, demonetization imposed enormous tolls on the economy and its people — citizens spent hours standing in bank lines only to return empty handed as the economy underwent a huge cash crunch; over 100 died standing in lines17. Most who lost their savings were the poorest with little access to banking services. It also brought the economy to a standstill. The quarter after demonetization saw a loss of 15 lakh jobs in the organized sector18; the impact on the unorganized sector can only be extrapolated. Given the absence of tangible positive impact, the government changed its tune as to why demonetization was implemented — after a few months it was said that demonetization was introduced to induce a cashless, digitized economy. And this was painfully true — demonetization forced a shift to credit and cashless transactions but this was disastrous for the informal sector, which was and is primarily run on cash due to its small and unorganized nature, and which employs over 90% of the workforce. Needless to say this policy generated a lot of anger among the public.
Destruction of the Social Fabric
The economic policies of the Modi government therefore have been disastrous — the government has suppressed its employment data but non-government sources state that unemployment stands at a 45 year high in India19. This has been matched by equally dangerous trends in the social consciousness of the country. After coming to power the government began a ‘saffronization’ of institutions — prominent higher education institutions, particularly those which have historically fostered Marxist thought, were revamped and their administration was handed over to RSS sympathetic individuals, who then sought to change the direction of discourse in these universities. It has made various efforts to rewrite textbooks, especially history books, in order to glorify the Hindu past and eliminate material on the institution of caste, the Mughal rule, and even the struggle against colonialism20. It has attempted to make Sanskrit21 mandatory in schools and at the same time has engaged in a ‘renaming’ campaign in which Urdu names in public spaces are being replaced with Hindi names. This is because Urdu is seen to be associated with Islam in India and is considered a foreign language when Urdu originated in the Indian subcontinent and has been a pan-religious language.
The government also introduced a ban on beef over the narrative that the cow is a holy animal for Hindus and must not be consumed22. The consequence was that there emerged mob gangs who called themselves gau rakshak (cow protectors) who took to attacking and lynching those suspected of consuming beef or transporting cattle for the purpose of consumption. There were over 118 cow vigilantism related violent incidents in the tenure of this government, a sharp rise over such incidences in the past, and 88 persons were killed — largely Dalits and Muslims23. Overall, the past five years have seen a sharp tragic hike in hate crimes, especially those perpetrated by groups or mobs. This dangerous trend has not only not been condemned by the government but has on multiple occasions been encouraged by BJP leaders. There have even been some cases of perpetrators of these lynchings having connections with local BJP politicians24. The Prime Minister has maintained a complete silence over these incidences.
Not only is the BJP complicit in its silence, thus encouraging Islamophobia and religious bigotry, it also effectively uses social polarization to divert attention away from the unimproved economic circumstances that it had promised to uplift — a clear drift to fascism. In the last five years the BJP has created a new monster — the communist antinational. This discourse emerged in 2016 when students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU; traditionally a bastion of Marxism) were arrested on sedition charges for organizing a memorial event for militants who fought for an independent Kashmir. With a vitriolic atmosphere created by the media and by politicians (both funded by the same corporate interests), the university and its defenders were declared ‘anti nationals,’ a slur to be used against anyone who critiques any aspect of Indian history, culture, the Hindu religion and ultimately the BJP government and PM Modi. ‘Go to Pakistan’ became the response to any opposition.
Such discourse was used to divert attention away from the economy and from the non performance of the BJP government on its many bold electoral promises. It was also used to crack down on opposition, especially the opposition coming from tribals, Dalits and leftists. The BJP is continuing with impunity the war against tribals in the Red Corridor in Central India25 — the forest belt which has been the historical home of the many tribes of the region and also happens to be extremely mineral rich. The rights to these forests are being sold off to corporate houses for mining but are being met with armed resistance from the Maoists. The BJP has instigated a major crackdown on all activists who represent tribal rights, and recently arrested five such prominent voices on cooked up charges of plotting to overthrow the government and assassinate the Prime Minister26. By branding critical voices as ‘Urban Naxals,’ ‘Maoists,’ and ‘Communists,’ the government has succeeded in polarizing public sentiment and delegitimizing any opposition, particularly progressive leftist opposition27. Though spearheaded by BJP leaders, the media has played a crucial role in such campaigns. Also critical has been the role of online trolls or paid/unpaid supporters of the BJP who bully and intimidate any voice that is not entirely pro-BJP28. The result has been a steady and stark dilution in the spectrum of popular opinion expressed in public and an increasing virulence in discourse.
This was witnessed again most recently when the government was reeling under charges of corruption in the Rafale airplane deal, in which the Prime Minister allegedly changed the terms of the deal with a French company to deliver a favorable contract to Ambani, the richest businessman in India and a close supporter (financial and otherwise) of the BJP and of Modi. When more and more questions were being raised about Rafale, the suicide bomber attack in Pulwama took place on February 14, 2019 in which 40 military personnel were killed. Overnight the media created a war like scenario in which the entire discourse shifted immediately to nationalism and it seemed that India and Pakistan might plunge into possible nuclear war. Over the next few days India and Pakistan engaged in muscle baring (including the capture and release of an Indian pilot and an airstrike by India in Pakistan) as national frenzy was whipped up in both countries. Any person who raised any critique of the government’s handling of the incidents was immediately declared ‘anti national’ and either trolled online or thrashed physically for their opinions on social media. The situation in the country over the last few years and particularly the last few months has been termed an ‘undeclared emergency.’
Resistance to Fascism
The main opposition to this government has emerged not from Congress, the other national and regional parties or even from the Parliamentary Left, but from workers and farmers, from Dalits and tribals, and from students and intellectuals. Students at many central universities have protested against the saffronization of their institutions and against the policies of the government, including students at Film and Television Institute of India, Jawaharlal Nehru University as well as at Aligarh Muslim University, University of Hyderabad, Benaras Hindu University, Jadhavpur University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences etc. Social activists and intellectuals responded to the killings of rationalists29 (Narender Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh) and beef killings, many writers and artists returned their national awards in protest of the government’s silence on such killings. They also organized protests called ‘Not in my Name,’ indicating that the oppression of minorities and mob violence in the name of cow vigilantism is not in the name of the general population but is a politically motivated tool.
However, the biggest opposition has come from Dalits, tribals, farmers and workers. BJP, representing as it does a political fundamentalist Hinduism called Hindutva, has traditionally been the party of the Brahmins (the highest caste) and Baniyas (the business caste). This was proven again through the beef ban as traditionally it has been Dalits and Muslims who have engaged in transporting and cleaning carcasses, in butchery and in selling meat, and so the beef ban and the violence that followed have targeted these groups particularly. One such incident was the Una case (Una is a village in the PM’s home turf Gujarat) where four Dalit boys were thrashed and paraded naked around their village for cleaning the carcass of a cow and the incident was caught on video. The incident clearly demonstrated that Dalits continue to be seen as sub human by upper castes30 and despite numerous laws, upper caste impunity remains strong.
In response, Dalits protested against this violence under the leadership of dynamic youth leader Jignesh Mevnani who demands land rights for Dalits and who went on to win a State Assembly seat in Gujarat. Another popular Dalit leader, Chandrasekhar Azad Ravan, has emerged in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Ravan has created the ‘Bhim Army’ which seeks to educate Dalits for free and was deemed dangerous enough by the UP government that he was and continues to be under arrest. Mevnani and Ravan represent a new kind of Dalit assertion which is dynamic, tenacious, and seeks Dalit empowerment through access to land rights and access to education — two things denied to Dalits historically in order to maintain the servility of the Dalits and the hierarchy of the caste system. They also represent the near complete disenchantment of the Dalits with the BJP.
The other significant section which has demonstrated strong opposition to the government is farmers and workers. Since the adoption of neoliberalism, state support to agriculture has been receding even as farmers are left vulnerable to the vagaries of international agricultural commodity markets. India’s agricultural sector has been in deep agrarian distress for the last two decades and farmer suicides (mostly induced by debt) have been troublingly high. There has been a decline in both state procurement of grain and the proportion of the population eligible to receive subsidized ration. Combined with the falling farm size, increasing mechanization trends and increasing reliance on corporate seed and fertilizer companies, this means that agricultural incomes have been sharply hit. The Modi government, which came into power on the promise of doubling farmers income by 2022, has only strengthened this trend by shifting focus from direct support to market based incentives such as the provision of crop insurance.
This has led to massive and consistent farmers protests — over 35,000 farmers marched over 300 km in March 2018 demanding to be heard by lawmakers; farmers from Tamil Nadu protested in the national capital for over 100 days; farmers protests in Mandsaur (a village in BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh) turned violent and saw the killing of 6 farmers by the police, followed by large scale protests; in November 2018 over 1,00,000 farmers marched to the national capital and protested before the Parliament, demanding a special session on the agrarian crisis. These are only some of the many farmers protests that have taken place in the last five years, and have been organized by various farmers unions, of which the most prominent have been the farmers unions associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other parliamentary left parties. Red flags predominated in these farmers’ protests.
Similarly, workers have faced steadily deteriorating conditions. As agrarian distress grows, more and more workers are migrating to urban areas in search of work (leading also to an increasing feminization of agricultural activity). The Indian economy however has already begun to deindustrialize as the services sector now accounts for over 54% of the Gross Value Added but only employs about 33% of the workforce. Add to this the fact that the organized sector in India only employs 7% of the workforce; the remaining 93% are employed in the unorganized sector with no government regulation to ensure minimum wage or social security, and what emerges is a picture of highly precarious and irregular employment for the majority of the workforce with no job or livelihood security.
In this, the neoliberal policies of the governments so far, but particularly the Modi government for its aggressive pro-FDI stance, has two aspects. The first is that the government is keen to attract foreign capital, especially in the form of large capital intensive industries. These industries have very low rates of labour absorption — Samsung has created the world’s largest mobile factory in the national capital territory of India with an investment of about Rs. 5,000 crore which will create 2,000 jobs — this implies that the project created one job for every $350,000 invested. Therefore the ability of such large industrial projects in the style of the Gujarat model to absorb labour is highly suspect.
This already troubling situation is made much worse by the nature of mobility of capital in neoliberalism which demands flexible labour market conditions. There has been an aggressive attack on unions with various instances of police suppression of unionizing or protesting workers in factories, along with a drastic contractualization of work. Workers have protested consistently against such conditions, like farmers under the organizational aegis of political unions especially those associated with the parliamentary left. In fact in January India saw the largest strike in the world in which over 200 million workers struck work for two days demanding among other things a higher universal minimum wage, assured social security, halting disinvestment in government sectors and halting the flow of FDI, and demonstrated a clear and vocal opposition to neoliberal policies.
We therefore have four core issues facing the BJP government — agrarian distress and farmers’ anger, neoliberal emaciation of the workers and the ensuing anger, the sharp rise in unemployment and underemployment which is affecting the educated youth as much as the migrant casual worker, and the persecution of religious and caste minorities and opposition voices through a capture of the religio-nationalist sentiment. Add to this the lofty promises made by the BJP in its electoral campaign and the painful reality that ensued, including the country wide distressing experiences of demonetization have broken the Modi spell over a large part of the country.
Upcoming Elections — What to Expect
The sad reality however is that while many have now become disenchanted with the BJP government and Modi, and while those who opposed him from the beginning are regaining their voice in public, there is no meaningful alternative in the given electoral dynamics. The Congress Party is not expected to make a huge comeback due to its organizational malaise and disconnect with the public which is ultimately caused by its economic adherence to neoliberalism and shoddy past performance. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) lost its stronghold West Bengal to the Trinamool Congress in 2009 after 34 years of rule, and lost Tripura to the BJP in 2018 after 25 years of rule, and is currently in power only in Kerala where it has a history of alternating with Congress. Other parties such as the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are regional forces and cannot be expected to win a large number of seats across states.
What is to be expected then is that the BJP will lose the incredible gains it made in the Hindi speaking belt (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) to regional parties31. As Yogendra Yadav explains32, the BJP is set to gain some seats in the East and North, and lose in the South33 while retaining its position in the West. The deciding region then becomes the Hindi Center or Heartland mentioned above, in which BJP had a near sweep in the 2014 elections. Regional parties, on the back of coalitions which are under way, may succeed in delivering a significant loss to the BJP. However the possibility of a party attaining majority seats (past the 50% mark nationally) is slim. Given how election dynamics play out, this coalition could be formed by the BJP as well. The situation is one of uncertainty.
In such a precarious situation, the BJP government is expected to leave no stone unturned. The political storm created after the Pulwama attack as tensions with Pakistan rose served to subvert all debate about the performance of the BJP government and reignited the nationalist sentiment off which BJP profits greatly, having usurped the terrain of nationalism in politics. Following this, even as the Model Code of Conduct preceding the elections kicked in, the government undertook Mission Shakti, testing an anti-satellite mission and indicating India’s space and military prowess to its citizens — a clear attempt to indicate the achievements of the government. The BJP has also made merry with the Election Commission, which is supposed to be an independent institution but seems to be providing the Modi government all kinds of leeway — the Modi campaign recently launched its own TV channel (as if all the ‘independent’ corporate owned media channels are not offering enough support), a Bollywood biopic on the life of Modi is being released in the run up to the elections, all in violation of the model code of conduct.
It is therefore likely that the BJP will suffer a dent in the upcoming elections and given the progress of the election campaigns and regional alliances, it may or may not be able to form a coalition. It is needless to say that if back in power, especially with a majority, social tensions are likely to rise sharply34 with a worsening of economic conditions and a steady erosion of institutions such as the judiciary35. A coalition of regional parties in power will curb the fundamentalist turn in collective consciousness but will provide no relief to economic distress. The real opposition to the BJP is emerging not from parliamentary politics but from people’s movements — both the armed insurgency of the Maoists against forced land grabs by the State on behalf of corporate houses, and the organized protests of the farmers, workers and Dalits against worsening economic and social conditions. One hopes to see change emerge from such mass mobilization.
2) Lok Sabha is the lower house of the Parliament for which voters directly elect representatives from 543 constituencies across the country. The upper house is called Rajya Sabha to which members are indirectly elected from State assemblies or are nominated by the President.
4) 1984 is the year of assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in which her son Rajiv Gandhi contested elections as the Prime Ministerial candidate and the Congress Party won the 414 seats — the most for any individual party till date.
5) Incidentally Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister in the PV Narsimha Rao government in power in 1991 and was largely responsible for introducing neoliberal economic reforms to the Indian economy.
9) The Patidars or Patels are a dominant caste group from Gujarat which has traditionally owned land and engaged in merchant trade. Patels have significant business interests in Gujarat and have a large diaspora. The Patel agitation was centered on the lack of good jobs for Patel youth, especially government jobs, which they blamed on the affirmative action policies of the state and demanded either a share in the reserved seats or the dismantling of the entire affirmative action program — a neoliberal response to a neoliberal problem. It must be noted that if the Patidars, a historically influential group which is by no means a poor community, are so distressed about the economic situation, the condition of the poor must be severe.
10) Clean here means as not having been accused of taking bribes from private players, though their contributions to his political party, or the theft-like acquisition of grazing land and farmers land for industrial projects, or even the leadership over a massive pogrom do not count as ‘unclean’.
11) It is interesting to note that Mohandas Gandhi, the ‘Father of India’, was assassinated in 1948 by Nathuram Godse, an RSS man. Godse admitted to killing Gandhi for the secular space Gandhi espoused for Muslims in divided India — he saw Gandhi as betraying the Hindus.
12) Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was a secular socialist who was deeply influenced by the Soviet experience of industrialization and initiated the Planning Commission in India. He was however also adept at suppressing radical Communist movements that emerged after independence such as the militant Telangana Peasant Revolt organized by the Communist Party of India.
13)Listening to the national budget speech of the BJP finance minister in 2017, one commentator remarked that if they closed their eyes, it seemed like it was the Congress finance minister speaking from two years ago.
14) Though what is equally interesting is that the BJP won the majority seats with a mere 31% of the votes, the lowest majority vote share since independence. Congress by contrast, which won a mere 44 seats, got about 19% of the vote share! This indicates a spectacular vote-seat conversion for the BJP in the 2014 election, something which is difficult to reproduce in upcoming elections.
15) The color saffron is strongly associated with hinduism and through its coercive co-opting of Hindu culture, with the RSS and the BJP.
20) Perhaps because the RSS did not entirely participate in the freedom struggle and actually sought to align with the British in order to create a ‘unified’ Hindu India.
21) Sanskrit is an Indo-European language in many if not most texts associated with Hinduism are written and from which many languages such as Hindi emerge. Interestingly, in the past there were strict rules against non Brahmin castes learning Sanskrit.
22) Though traditionally vegetarianism has been confined to Brahmins, attempts by other castes to attain upward caste mobility has led to imitation of vegetarianism. Beef is also consumed differentially in different parts of the country, with East and South India being large consumers and the North Indian belt consuming less. The religious affiliation to the cow and opposition to beef is thus not a pan-Hindu phenomenon.
25) It is important to note that the BJP is merely continuing a war that was started by the UPA government — the previous Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the Maoists the ‘biggest internal security threat to the country.’
27) One of the most frequently used slurs on social media has become ‘sickular commie libtard’ which perhaps says more about the attacker than the opposition.
29) These four ‘rationaists’ who espoused secular views in opposition to religious bigotry were assassinated, allegedly by perpetrators who have links to Hindutva organizations.
30) And it may be added, for performing the very activities that have historically been ‘reserved’ for Dalits in the caste based hereditary division of labour that is broadly found across India.
33) Though it is set to make headway in both Kerala and West Bengal and may become the second largest party in both states.
34) Dinnertable conversation over the past year have veered to the possibility of the BJP instituting a Hindu state and officially dismantling secularism from the Indian Constitution if it returns to power with a majority.
35) In a first, four justices of the Supreme Court of India held a press conference in January 2018 stating that the Supreme Court and indeed the entire judiciary was under severe threat of losing accountability and independence in the face of severe political interference — https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/supreme-court-crisis-all-not-okay-democracy-at-stake-say-four-seniormost-judges/article10028921.ece