[Beginning this week, ‘Parapolitics’ will be a fortnightly column appearing on the second and fourth Thursday of every month.]
We were never so helpless, never so bereft, never more in need of a platform of struggle. The need for a new political formation is acutely felt today as never before. And by a new formation I do not mean a party of the Left in any traditional sense but a different kind of left-wing formation that can act resolutely in defense of democracy.
Two developments of the past week – the crisis of Yes Bank and the defection of 22 Congress MLAs, led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, to the BJP – signal the deep crisis that we are in today. Reports suggest that each MLA was offered something like Rs 100 crore by the BJP to defect. These developments come close on the heels of a horrendous anti-Muslim carnage in Delhi where we have been witness to the the total collapse of all institutions. From the complete paralysis of the elected AAP government in the state and a Supreme Court that simply pretends not to see what’s going on, to a lapdog ‘media’ actively engaged in promoting violence – this collapse was perhaps never so evident in our history.
One could have easily overlooked the crisis of Yes Bank, had it been a one-off affair brought on by mismanagement on part of the managers. As it happens, it is quite clear that the big defaulters are the usual suspects – most of them also known to have been donating large sums to the ruling BJP. According to reports, the bad loans of Yes Bank have grown from Rs 55, 000 crores in financial year 2014 to Rs 98, 000 crores in FY 2016 to Rs 2, 41, 000 crores in FY 2019 – all under BJP rule.
In the past few years of this regime, we have seen 43 MLAs bought in Arunachal in December 2016, 4 in Manipur in April 2017, 17 MLAs in Karnataka in June 2017 – apart from the failed attempt that even got a government sworn in after buying MLAs and setting up the stage for swearing-in through the night, in Maharashtra in March 2020. There were other instances as well – in Goa and Uttarakhand. Whether the BJP’s insatiable lust for money (very often to buy MLAs and MPs) is linked to the bank crises (Yes Bank is the latest but not the only one), directly or indirectly, is best left to the reader to judge.
What is clear however, is that we have now reached the nadir of parliamentary politics where the election process and the legislative and parliamentary bodies have all been reduced to a joke, having little connect with anything we might want to call ‘democracy’. Policies, issues, matters of serious immediate concern for the well-being of people have all been delinked from the electoral process. But what is worse, none of the opposition parties can any longer be relied upon to intervene meaningfully and effectively on any of the issues that concern everyday lives to people. Chances are that whoever you elect will be bought over by the ruling party and things will go on as before.
From demonetization to the banking crisis, everything now adds up to a situation where the hard earned savings of working people stand the threat of being wiped out. Demonetization started this process where even the small amounts money saved in homes was made useless. Since then every single step undertaken by this government has brought the economy to the verge of a collapse adding further to the precarity in the lives of ordinary folk. Rampant privatization/ disinvestment and indeed sale of profitable public sector undertakings, including the railway, airlines, LIC and so on have created a deep sense of insecurity among ordinary people. Not much of this is allowed to be expressed as the media circus seeks to drown out all voices of legitimate protest under its high-pitched war and riot-mongering. But that is where the role of the opposition and of other mass organizations comes in. ‘Opposition’ parties have of course shown themselves to be utterly useless but what about the other mass organizations?
The unfortunate situation here too is that most mass organizations, be they of kisans or workers, largely linked to Left parties, have also contented themseves with token actions. There was great excitement when the highly successful kisan ‘long march’ was held in Maharashtra in February 2019, followed up later by the All India Kisan March in November 2019. One would have expected these to be the beginning of a sustained movement taking up issues of the agrarian crisis but those marches were pretty much the end of the matter.
A similar situation exists with regard to the trade unions. While trade unions across the spectrum managed to come together to call for an all India strike and Bharat Bandh on 8 January this year, raising issues of disinvestment/ privatization and universal social security for all workers, minimum wages, assured pension for entire working population, that Bandh too seems to have been the end of it rather than the beginning of any new movement.
The reasons for this tokenism may not be very far to seek. Just as with their parent parties, so with most of the class-based mass organizations, this tokenism is tied to a certain ‘exhaustion’ – so evident in the way the demands of the Bandh were framed. This exhaustion is not simply about fatigue, nor just about being forced to work in adverse times and therefore, not being able to expand and develop the movement. The exhaustion really arises from the fact that these organizations and their discourse, like that of their parent parties is predicated upon a mode of understanding politics and organizational forms linked to it, that is totally out of sync with the times. It has been utterly unable to contend with the fact that ‘class’ based politics is itself exhausted in a manner of speaking.
This certainly does not mean that the capitalists have ceased to act in their own interests; on the contrary, their aggression has exponentially increased over the past three decades.
And this is really the key point. The phenomenally heightened aggression of corporate capital in this period has pitted it not just against the small number of workers in the work-place but against the population at large: the peasants whose lands they want to gobble up, where at the point of the gun, gram sabhas are forced to sign on the dotted line to give up their land (mostly to companies listed in the list of bank defaulters), the middle classes whose life’s savings stand the threat of being wiped out any time; the working class of course, which is as always, directly exploited. Not to forget that capital is pitted against humanity itself, having brought the world to the brink of an ecological catastrophe.
In other words, the struggle against capital can no longer be thought of in terms of the worn out 19th and 20th century European ideas of the capital versus labour contradiction, focussing only on the workplace. Today it is capital versus the rest – we could say captial versus the people. The struggle against capital, in other words, is and must become a popular political struggle today, and cannot be thought of in terms of the anachronistic trade union form alone. This is not to say that the trade union organizations should be disbanded. Far from it, who but the bank employees oday can have the credibility to fan out among the population at large, including the middle classes, and explain to them what the banking crisis means? Who but the bank employess can help explain in ordinary language how capitalist destruction of their savings actually takes place? Who but the railway employees and workers can explain to the large mass of poor who depend on the railways for their travel, what privatization will and can do and how it will affect them?
What we need today, more than ever before, is a non-electoral, movement-oriented left-wing formation to begin with – a formation with new faces, fresh energy and dynamism – that can become a rallying point the literally hundreds and thousands of people who are looking for a platform to throw themselves into struggle against the ongoing fascist onslaught.
We need a political formation that will have the patience to listen, to establish connection with the ongoing anti-CAA movements, drawing in other sections as well into them; we need a formation that will be able to patiently work with sections and groups within the Dalit/ Bahujan movement without talking down and without jumping in to ‘lead’ everyone as vanguards who come with a contract with History, as it were; we need a left-wing formation that understands the urgent need to connect with the ecological movements, the sexualities movements and other aspirations towards freedom without reducing everything to naked electoral calculus. Elections and electoral intervention are important if we have to defeat this malignant regime but far more important in the immediate sense, is the capacity to create that powerful movement that will act as the bulwark of the struggle. Ideally, such a platform can only be a multi-coloured one – red, blue, green, pink and all other colours coming together to constitute this rainbow platform.