The Modi government undermines democracy

"Everything goes backwards here"

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said when he took office in May 2014 that he will turn India upside down in sixty months more than previous governments did in sixty years. Soon half of the five-year term will be over - and Modi is gradually being opposed.

By Joseph Keve, Ahmedabad, Bombay and Ernakulam

"The government is dividing communities, pursuing an aggressively neoliberal economic policy, undermining democratic institutions and curtailing civil rights." Rajeev Punnadath gets angry when asked about India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “Instead of the development he promised, he only brought destruction to the people. Where are the millions of jobs he wanted to create each year? Where is the economic growth that should benefit everyone? "

47-year-old Punnadath, once a member of the Indian Parliament, is District Secretary of the Communist Party of India / Marxists (CPIM) in Ernakulam, Kerala state, and works at the Lenin Center, a complex of buildings on the outskirts of Cochin. From here he helped organize the big strike that brought India to a standstill in early September 2015. The strike, in which the CPIM-affiliated trade union federation CITU played a decisive role, was the biggest strike in India's history: In practically all industries, workers went out of work, the authorities remained closed, nothing moved on the streets and rails The rural population - who otherwise observed traditional labor disputes rather passively - actively participated.

This was also due to the fact that the strike was directed not only against the government's planned labor reforms (such as the softening of the statutory minimum wage, reduction in social benefits, and the abolition of current labor rights), but also against many other measures. Large companies should be able to seize the land from smallholders even more easily, the subsidies for food for the poor should be reduced, investments in public institutions should be cut and the meager pension entitlements should be restricted.

"Over 150 million people took part in the national strike," remembers the bearded official in his red cotton shirt. "Of course the unionized workforce was there, but also countless workers from the informal sector." Seamstresses, for example, rag pickers, rickshaw drivers, farm workers. And did the strike achieve anything? "The government withdrew its bills and instead launched a huge public relations campaign to reassure the working class." What if she attacks the employees again? "Then there is an even bigger strike on the anniversary," says Rajeev Punnadath.

Only 31 percent of the vote

In fact, there should now be another national day of protest on September 2nd. A large part of the Indian population is in an uproar - an extra-parliamentary opposition to Modi's regime is forming in almost all areas of society. The intellectuals protest, the Dalits at the lower end of the caste system (cf. “Anger has been simmering for a long time”) repeatedly organize marches, students mobilize for lecture boycotts, veterans of the Indian army demand equal pensions for all with sit-ins and hunger strikes, women's associations demonstrate - and the industrial workers don't rest either.

For example, in February 3,000 workers at the Honda motorcycle plant in Gurgaon, Haryana state, protested the dismissal of four colleagues who tried to set up a union at the plant with a work stoppage - and were beaten by the police. In the same month a police operation also broke out at a Tata car plant in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state, because the workforce went on strike to demand the reinstatement of 28 workers; the factory management had relied on Modi's promise to "free" the company from any worker opposition.

What's going on in India, the country that the government of the Hindu nationalist people's party BJP wanted to make big and strong? In May 2014, Narendra Modi was elected Indian Prime Minister with a massive increase in parliamentary seats. The BJP received only 31.3 percent of the vote in the whole country, but the previously ruling Congress party fared significantly worse, and so the BJP came to power thanks to the majority suffrage in India.

Nonetheless, Modi started with the slogan “With all for all”, a sentence that he has repeated in almost every speech since then. And many cheered him. The young in particular believed his promise to create millions of new jobs in industry, to fight inflation, to double income from agricultural work by 2022, to expand the infrastructure, to rely more on solar energy and to attract foreign investors to the country. As shining as the state of Gujarat, which Modi ruled from 2001 to May 2014, the whole of India will soon be there too, assured the Prime Minister. Reason enough to take a look around there.

Gujarat as a model?

"Modi is a master of rhetoric," says Achyut Yagnik, whom we meet in his simple, book-filled office on the outskirts of the city of Ahmedabad. The simply dressed honorary president of the non-governmental organization Seta (Center for Social Knowledge and Action) smiles when he speaks; but his analysis is cool. “Modi,” he says, “can rely on the urban middle class and the Indian diaspora in the west. They are mostly well-educated, well-paid Hindus who have influence. " And they have been looking for a new identity, a new image for a long time - away from the image of poor, starving India and towards a modern country that has a leading place in the world. And such an identity, says Yagnik, is offered by fundamentalist groups such as the radical Hindu national volunteer organization RSS: "It offers a new identity in the form of a one-dimensional Hindu nation with Modi and its super-ego at the top." The promised prosperity for everyone, however, is a long time coming.

A bit of prosperity is certainly visible in Gujarat. But it is limited to the centers of the big cities with their skyscrapers, shopping malls, fine restaurants and wide access roads. And the fenced-in ghettos of the rich. "Only there was a kind of development under Modi," says Kanjibhai Rabbari, whom we meet a hundred kilometers north of Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat. "Here, however, everything goes backwards."

Rabbari walks on a stick, wears the traditional shepherd's outfit - tight cotton trousers and a loose shirt over them - and is a farmer: he owns fifteen hectares of land in the Mahsana district. Up until ten years ago he was able to make a living from it, says the 55-year-old: "I had four bulls plowing the land." But then state agricultural advisors came "and talked me into high-grown seeds, chemical fertilizers and a tractor". Today his survival depends on the two sons who work in the city. But why is the Gujarat government talking about double-digit growth rates in agriculture? "That is a mystery to me," replies Rabbari. "I don't know a single farmer in this region who has been doing better since then."

Number massage

But maybe somewhere else? However, along the coast of the westernmost part of India, we only ever come across people who complain about a deterioration in soil and water quality and their living conditions. Mukabhai Rabbari (55), for example, thinks sadly back to the time when there was still an intact farm and a small jewelry industry here: "Now the boys have to emigrate to the cities," he says as he sells the milk from his village in Gatda transported to the municipal dairy.

How do these impressions fit in with the government statements? Is Modis Gujarat really a model that Modis India should emulate? Maybe Rajiv Shah knows more. After all, he was the Gujarat correspondent for the prestigious English-language Times of India for twenty years. His judgment is devastating. "During his twelve and a half years as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi systematically falsified the figures," says the 65-year-old in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat. «From 2002 his government claimed that the regional economy had grown by almost fifteen percent annually - until the official facts were secretly shown to me. It was never more than six percent. " The growth of agriculture has also been hopelessly exaggerated. “It has always been said: double-digit growth. Agricultural production fell by thirteen percent in one of these years and did not increase in the following year either. " The Gujarat industry has never produced and sold as much as it claims.

Modi, says the now graying Rajiv Shah, was able to say anything because the Gujarat government does not officially publish any statistics. Incidentally, he kept this trick: In his solemn speech on the second anniversary of his inauguration as prime minister, he emphasized that his government had saved 2.5 billion US dollars by repairing leaky gas pipes (later ministerial officials had to admit that only from "Potential savings" was mentioned) that 30 million new gas connections had been installed (in fact only 6 million) and that he had withdrawn 16.5 million counterfeit grocery cards (6.6 million in effect). Shortly afterwards, he had his transport minister announce that the government was planning new ports in 2000 - India's coast is only 7000 kilometers long.

In Gujarat, such slogans have not gotten caught for a long time. Here activists like Nafiza Barot never believed in it - and their skepticism is now reinforced by new studies. When it comes to child protection, education, school meals, water supply: everywhere - including income from agricultural activities - Gujarat is below the national average. “Just look at slums like Juhapura in Ahmedabad,” says Barot, the 65-year-old founder of the NGO Uthan (Aufbruch), which cares for the poorest communities in Gujarat. «While the city center is being supplied with energy, the electricity fails here regularly, and water is only available irregularly. All fees pay. "

And anyway, Juhapura only grew after the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002. Over 2,000 people were massacred in the pogrom; at that time it was instrumentalized by Modi, possibly even orchestrated. "Many Muslims in Gujarat have since fled to Juhapura," says Barot. “Before 2002, 50,000 people lived here. Now there are 400,000. "

Moments of resistance

Narendra Modi was never able to shake off the accusation that she was partly responsible for the pogrom of 2002. The secular sections of Indian civil society react accordingly sensitively to attempts to impose a Hindu order on the country:

  • In spring 2015, the government forced the Indian film and television institute FTII, the country's most important film academy, to have a new director from the ranks of the BJP. A boycott of lectures by students and actions by teaching staff were supported nationwide.
  • In May 2015, the leadership of the renowned Indian Institute of Technology banned a Dalit student association. Students and opposition parties protested - with success: the ban was lifted in June 2016.
  • After a series of similar attacks on so-called rationalists - the scientist and activist Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013, the communist politician Govind Pansare in February 2015 and the academic MM Kalburgi in August 2015 - over forty writers and artists gave their - many of them high-ranking - awards back. Everything indicates that the murders were committed by an RSS commando. “India's culture of diversity and debate” has never been so threatened, the writer Nayantara Sahgal justified her return. And writer Salman Rushdie criticized the government's stance: Modi's silence favored a previously unknown "level of aggressive violence".

A food item that Muslims, Christians, Hindus in the Indian northeast, the lower castes and the registered ethnic groups value (if they can afford it) are currently particularly bitter: beef. Most states prohibit slaughtering cows, but not all. Immediately after Modi took office, several Hindu organizations called for a nationwide ban on killing; the militant youth organization Bajrang Dal, which belongs to the volunteer organization RSS, has since recruited and trained 100,000 “cow protectors” across the country. Their vigilante groups beat up anyone suspected of transporting cows or trading beef. Or they'll kill them right away: In September 2015, a mob lynched a Muslim who is said to have had beef in the fridge.

Since then, a holy battle has raged for the cow: While the cow protectors patrol the streets, students from various universities organize so-called beef festivals and receive applause from the left. At the same time, the government has decided to legislate more stringently on foreign funding for NGOs - to an extent that alarmed the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva that the law could “increasingly silence all those organizations, whose civil society priorities do not match those of the government, ”said a statement published in June.

The Hinduization of society as a whole, promoted by the BJP, is now also worrying the economy. The government must act "against increasing intolerance" if Modi does not want to lose credibility with global investors, judged the risk management company Moody’s Analytics, for example. The governor of the Indian central bank also warned of the economic consequences of the “warlike approach” (according to the daily newspaper “The Hindu”).

There is even criticism from the BJP environment. “We had hoped that Modi would keep his promises,” says Uttam Pimpale, for example, who we meet in the north of Bombay. "My party supported him, we are forming the government of Maharashtra with the BJP, but now common ground is being destroyed." The plump 66-year-old is district secretary of the Hindu nationalist regional party Shiv Sena in the state of Maharashtra. Modi, he suspects, only has the interests of the better-off Gujaratis in mind. Others also sound disappointed. "I expected my income to double after the BJP victory," says real estate agent Deepak Shinde (30) in the city of Palghar north of Bombay, "but nothing is moving in the market at the moment."

Will the government get away with it in the long run? That cannot be ruled out. Although regional elections are due to take place in three important federal states (Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat) in the first half of 2017, the highest court of the country's government keeps going on parade (most recently it canceled the arbitrary dismissal of two regional governments) - but the Left is weak. Despite the CPIM's election victory in Kerala (see WOZ No. 19/2016), it hardly plays a role. And the resistance - apart from the trade unions - is hardly coordinated and mostly regionally limited. Not a good sign for a country whose secularity, diversity and spirit of contradiction were once considered exemplary in the Global South.

Translated from the English by Pit Wuhrer.

This article was made possible by the research fund of the ProWOZ association. This fund supports research and reports that exceed the financial possibilities of the WOZ. It is fed by donations from WOZ readers.

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