by Roger Silverman
Introduction: The Bharita Janaya Party (BJP) recently won the national elections in India, putting its candidate, Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party with links to organizers of anti-Muslim riots in the past. Here, Marxist Roger Silverman, who has spent many years in India, gives a little background.
In a society graphically polarised between a narrow plutocracy and the destitute masses, a class so manifestly parasitic as the Indian capitalist class has somehow to whip up an artificial mass base. Like every ruling class in its epoch of decay, ultimately its survival depends upon the magical power of myth.
In the early period of independence, it suited the indigenous capitalist class, which had already begun to take root under the patronage of the British raj, to shelter behind a political elite posing as defender of the minorities, champion of the poor; secular, democratic and even “socialist”. The flimsy pretext for this was its dependence on nationalisation, protection and state subsidies, and its need to secure a home market safe from the risk of communal and national disintegration. It was always a cynical and hollow facade, though, long abandoned in practice even by Congress, as can be seen in its true record: the institutionalising of caste rivalries; the dictatorial Emergency regime; the regular subordination of opposition state governments; suppression of national revolts; tolerance of caste atrocities; periodic fostering of communal riots; brutal military repression in Kashmir; successive wars with Pakistan; explicit endorsement of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, etc…
Today the ruling class resorts more explicitly to such crude devices; and what more effective device than outright Hindu high-caste bigotry? True, riots and massacres are messy affairs that tend to get in the way of business. But such passions have a momentum of their own; they can’t be simply switched on and off. It is unfortunate that random eruptions of communal violence may sometimes destabilise order and discipline, but these are the political price paid by the ruling class to stay afloat.
There is a difference in the rhetoric of the two rival parties; but hardly nowadays a trace of difference in policy. The process of wholesale privatisation gained momentum under the Congress governments of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh and the BJP government of Vajpayee alike. Similarly, the storming of the mosque at Ayodhya, the worst communal riots since 1947, and the horrific pogrom of 3,000+ Muslims in Mumbai, all took place under the Congress government of Narasimha Rao. Under the crude bigot Narendra Modi, the gulf between rich and poor will widen still further (with perhaps a limited further growth of the narrow urban middle class), and there will be more communal riots.