India heads for new clashes

Submitted by AWL on 11 January, 2022 - 3:09 Author: Sacha Ismail
Indian farmers celebrate victory over Modi

In February last year, at the peak of state violence against the Indian farmers’ struggle, I wrote in Solidarity that the “repression… could signal the Hindu-nationalist regime’s panic-stricken weakening and decline, or the onset of an even more consolidated authoritarianism”.

With the farmers’ defeat of the Modi government, one of the most important popular victories against capitalism anywhere in years, chinks of light have opened up. Nonetheless both possibilities remain.

Modi announced withdrawal of the three pro-corporate agricultural reform laws on 19 November. By the end of the month they had been repealed; and on 9 December, with the farmers’ movement continuing its protests, the government conceded most of its other demands, including:

• A committee including representatives of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM, United Farmers’ Front, the coalition of farmers’ organisations) and India’s states to take a final decision on a “Minimum Support Price” for crops — the farmers’ central positive demand.

• Police cases against all participants in the protests to be dropped.

• Compensation for families who have lost members in the protests.

• The privatising-deregulating Electricity (Amendment) Bill will not be introduced unless the SKM agrees.

After these and other concessions were made on 9 December, the protesting farmers, many of whom had been “out” for a year, went home. The SKM is meeting on 15 January to assess the state of play, and says if it is not satisfied it will restart the protests.

Part of the reason Modi conceded when he did is that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has started to suffer electorally. In April it lost the elections in the important state of West Bengal after the farmers’ movement campaigned against it. February will see elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, currently run by a rabid BJP administration headed by a Hindu fundamentalist monk; and in Punjab, the epicentre of the farmers’ movement.

The BJP has long sought to find a way to break through in Punjab, where political power would enable it to assault the country’s strongest farmers’ organisations; if it fails again there and loses Uttar Pradesh it will be in trouble.

Last week Modi attempted to hold an election rally in Punjab but was blocked by farmers. (In a Trumpesque embarrassment for the BJP, the rally he failed to get to attracted only 4,000 people, after the organisers promised hundreds of thousands.)

The farmers’ movement seems divided over how to relate to elections, with a spectrum from standing candidates to remaining neutral.

The wider question for the farmers’ movement, the labour movement and the left in India is how to turn the tide on decades of deepening neo-liberalism and state repression (under the BJP since 2014, but also before that). The militancy with which Indian leftists responded to withdrawal of the farm laws by demanding the overturning of attacks on workers’ rights, anti-Muslim changes to citizenship law and the subjugation of Kashmir was inspiring; but even winning those demands would only mark a beginning.

The degradation of what democracy existed in India is far-advanced, with harsh repression against the left, oppressed minorities, and increasingly anyone critical of the government.

It may be telling that the one demand Modi has not conceded to the farmers is dismissal of Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, whose son was involved in the killing of protesters after his father issued threats.

Meanwhile, faced by setbacks, the Hindu nationalist movement seems to be radicalising further. In the last month large Hindu nationalist gatherings, attending by significant BJP figures, have issued unprecedented calls for violent struggle against India’s Muslims. Modi and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah have remained silent. It now seems imaginable to me that we could soon see the beginnings of anti-Muslim genocide in India. There has also been rising anti-Sikh agitation (many of the protesting farmers are Sikh) and attacks on Christians.

The leaders of the farmers’ movement, though the logic of the struggle carried them towards anti-communal and internationalist politics, seem hesitant in the face of this threat.

Only sustained mass struggle by India’s huge working class can decisively defeat the threat of fascism. The Indian labour movement is weak, but has a recent history of remarkable mobilisations. We must work to support and bolster the internationalist and working-class forces in India.

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