AS India celebrates the completion of 74 years of independence and enters the period leading up to the 75th anniversary of independence in 2022, the country is truly at a critical juncture.
The ideals of the freedom struggle, which suffused the making of a Republican Constitution and anchored our parliamentary democracy, have got eroded over the decades. But a qualitative change occurred after the BJP-RSS combine acquired the levers of State power. Since 2014, there has been the toxic fusion of Hindutva and neoliberal capitalism, which poses the most potent threat to all the ideals of the freedom struggle – democracy, secularism and national sovereignty.
The BJP-RSS began the long march to capture all the State institutions and subvert them from within to achieve the goal of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. If one goes through the Independence Day speeches of Narendra Modi in the past three years, one can get glimpses of the contours of the “New India” that they envisage.
Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2018 spoke about making a “New India” by 2022, on the 75th anniversary of independence. What this “New India” means began to unfold subsequently. In 2019, ten days after the state of Jammu & Kashmir was abolished after stripping it off its special status on August 5, Modi announced proudly in his Independence Day speech that he had accomplished the idea of “One Nation, One Constitution” and the dream of Sardar Patel of “Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat”. This sounded more like the RSS’s Akhand Bharat.
The same year in December, the Citizenship Amendment Act was enacted in parliament whereby for the first time citizenship was linked to a religious criteria. This went against the basic concept of citizenship in a secular State.
The following year, in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, on August 5, the foundation ceremony of Ram temple at Ayodhya was conducted by the prime minister in the presence of the RSS chief. Modi declared this as a day of freedom. In the Independence Day speech, ten days later, he announced that, “A peaceful culmination has been achieved to the age-old issue of Ram Janmabhoomi”. Behind the “peaceful” culmination lay the trail of violence and bloodshed in which thousands of people lost their lives after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. But for Modi, the temple signified something else also: “Each Indian must sacrifice something or the other in the magnanimous yajna for development”. The temple thus becomes a symbol of national development and every Indian must sacrifice for it.
The symbols of “New India” thus emerged in the last two years – the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Central Vista with a new parliament building and the dismantling of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. These perversely signify the assault on secularism, democracy and federalism – in that order.
The “New India” is a toxic mixture of Hindutva authoritarianism and corporate neoliberalism. The three years since Modi announced the goal of a “New India” have seen steep cuts in corporate taxes, the writing off of loans worth lakhs of crores of rupees of big corporates and plans for dismantling the public sector through large-scale privatisation. The three farm laws were railroaded through parliament to enable corporate entry into agricultural trade and marketing. An India is being created with obscene levels of inequality. According to the Credit Suisse Wealth Report of 2021, the share of wealth of the top one per cent went upto 40.5 per cent by end 2020. Another report, the Forbes Report, estimated that the number of billionaires went up from 102 in 2020 to 140 in 2021. This at a time when there is an unprecedented increase in absolute poverty, in both rural and urban areas, in the times of the pandemic.
In his Independence Day speech last year in 2020, Modi gave the slogan of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ implying that the “New India’ will be self-reliant. He said, “As we are one step away from the 75th anniversary of independence, it is essential for the country like India to stand on its own and to become self-reliant”.
The scale of hypocrisy is breath-taking. After Modi’s declaration of self-reliance, the government announced as part of the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ package that except in the strategic sectors, all State-owned firms in other sectors would be privatised. Even in the strategic sectors, only a maximum of four public sector enterprises would remain in each sector. The government had earlier announced 100 per cent FDI in defence production. These steps are designed to allow the Indian big corporates and foreign companies to takeover the public sector which was built up using people’s resources. These steps will undermine economic sovereignty.
The aggressive pursuit of neoliberal policies, of which privatisation of public sector enterprises is a part, has had its pernicious effects on the political system and the attenuation of democracy. The nexus between politics and big business has become more pronounced. The system of electoral bonds exemplifies this nexus. Parliament stands devalued and large-scale defections are engineered to thwart the electoral mandate and form state governments. New India and half-democracy have become synonymous.
The remaking of India is thus proceeding apace, though the appeal of the project has got rather frayed after the callous manner in which the Modi government tackled the pandemic. This “New India” has nothing to do with the creation of a modern, secular society with a scientific temper. It is based on the blueprint of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. It is being fashioned by those forces who had kept away from the freedom struggle and had no affinity whatsoever with its secular anti-imperialism.
It is no longer possible to hark back to the bourgeois liberal “Idea of India”. The alternative to Hindutva’s “New India” will emerge through a new social compact – a compact which will be forged by the people’s resistance and struggles.
The challenge to the “New India” is already taking shape in the form of class and mass struggles. The historic nine month-old farmers’ struggle has challenged the basis of the corporate Hindutva regime. Earlier, the mass protests against the CAA-NRC showed there is an enlightened citizenry who will not allow majoritarian communalism to prevail. The working class struggles against privatisation such as the popular struggle against the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant are setting new benchmarks; the struggles of the defence production workers, insurance employees and other sectors are all contributing towards a widening resistance to neoliberal policies.
It is out of this resistance and popular movements that an alternative will emerge. It has to be an alternative based on a Left and democratic programme. Such a programme will carry forward the goals of the freedom struggle – political, economic and social emancipation of the people. What needs to be done is to organise, mobilise and rally the widest sections of the working people and all democratic and secular forces around such an alternative.