THE outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has completely defied the ground-level build-up of mass disillusionment, anger and desire for change that had manifested itself so clearly only the other day when traditional BJP strongholds like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan went for Assembly elections in late 2018. The whole country was expecting the Modi regime to face a tough electoral test for its utter betrayal of its 2014 promises, its disastrous performance on every aspect of governance, especially on the economic front, its wholesale subversion of democratic institutions and principles and the violence, hate and lies that became the everyday identity of the regime. But with the Pulwama suicide bombing attack on CRPF jawans and the Balakot air strike that followed taking place on the eve of elections, the Modi regime was positioned to launch a jingoistic narrative of teaching a lesson to Pakistan in its own territory and much of the mainstream media, already reduced to a propaganda machine for the regime, went on a hyper-nationalistic overdrive.
Far from being a reality check for a non-performing and disastrous regime, the elections became a demonstration of how much the grammar of India’s electoral politics has already changed under the Modi regime. The Modi dispensation has been widely recognised as a regime of undeclared Emergency. The 2019 elections were thus expected to be akin to the 1977 watershed elections when almost the entire non-Left anti-Congress opposition had united against the autocratic regime of Indira Gandhi and the Congress suffered a spectacular defeat in all but the southern states. But what we often forgot was that the 1977 elections were held after the Emergency had already been lifted while the 2019 elections took place right in the shadow of a growing state of tyranny. The conduct of the Election Commission of India was perhaps the rudest reminder of this basic fact that we got on a daily basis.
The model code of conduct was torn to shreds by none other than Modi himself and other senior leaders of the BJP and the EC kept supplying clean chits for every violation. Several complaints were ignored for days and weeks and show-cause notices were issued to erring leaders only after the elections were over. One of the three Election Commissioners had to publicly recuse himself from attending EC meetings to insist on his basic democratic right of getting his dissent recorded. There are also serious questions about the transparency and integrity of the entire election process, beginning with the dubious system of electoral bonds, to the growing doubts about the EVMs and the stubborn refusal to count the VVPATs and the failure of the Election Commission of India to assure the people convincingly that the elections were being held in a free, fair and impartial manner.
The 2019 Modi campaign stood in stark contrast to the 2014 campaign wherein Modi had marketed himself as a development guru promising to repatriate Indian black money held in foreign banks and usher in ‘achchhe din’ (good days) by reducing prices and creating jobs. All that the government did in the name of curbing black money was to unleash the disastrous step of demonetisation, which turned out to be one of India’s most ill-advised arbitrary economic decisions, wreaking havoc on the economy and destroying jobs and livelihood across the board. Crony capitalism assumed unprecedented proportions and the Ambani brothers and the Adani group pocketed one lucrative contract after another. Agrarian distress spread deep and wide and as BJP governments opened fire on protesting peasants, farmers’ organisations came together to forge a countrywide united platform and build a powerful agitation for debt cancellation and remunerative crop prices. With unemployment reaching the highest level in five decades, the jobless youth as well as insecure and ill-paid workers came out on the streets to fight for decent jobs and living wages. The 2019 Modi campaign remained conspicuously silent about all these issues and revolved almost exclusively around communal hate-mongering and jingoistic hyper-nationalism. The fielding of undertrial terror accused Pragya Singh Thakur as the BJP candidate from Bhopal and her comments insulting Hemant Karkare and glorifying Nathuram Godse epitomised this unashamedly hate-driven campaign.
The return of Narendra Modi with a larger vote share and increased majority poses an unprecedented challenge to the future of India’s democracy. During its first tenure, the Modi regime has already unleashed a systematic assault on the Constitution and the entire range of constitutional institutions and democratic principles underpinning the Indian Republic. From CBI and RBI to the Supreme Court and Election Commission of India, every institution has been subjected to systematic stifling of dissent and subversion of collective and democratic functioning. Checking this fascist reshaping of the state will be a key challenge in this second Modi term. The so-called fringe forces have long been at the centre of the Sangh-BJP scheme of things. A second term for the Modi government is bound to embolden these forces no end. The parliamentary opposition space is now mostly occupied by regional parties most of whom will be under tremendous pressure to fall in line with the regressive policies and tyrannical measures of the Modi government. Several opposition-led state governments are also bound to face immediate threat of destabilisation. As of now, the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh appear relatively free from the pervasive presence of the BJP, and Left representation in Parliament - the lowest ever - now comes only from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but we cannot certainly be oblivious of the growing penetration of the BJP ideology in these states too.
Against this backdrop, the Left and other anti-fascist forces must focus on building opposition at the grassroots. The ominous spread and penetration of fascist ideology calls for a steady simultaneous focus on both uniting the people around their basic issues and rights, promoting progressive rational thinking to take on the regressive influence of fascist ideas and developing people’s resistance to counter fascist violence. The minorities and marginalised communities and citizens championing progressive ideas who have been facing systematic persecution and violence since the advent of the Modi era need all our support and solidarity. In this fiftieth anniversary of the CPI(ML) and the birth centenary of its founder General Secretary Comrade Charu Mazumdar, we must summon all our strength and courage to rejuvenate the communist movement and prove ourselves equal to the tough challenges of India’s current juncture.