People can resist and fight back divisive forces through the ballot box
Faced with COVID travails, people began to resist and fight back. BJP suffered setbacks in assembly polls held in April in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This trend may continue in the New Year
The year gone by 2021 was a year full of travails but ended with a triumph for the people.
The second Covid wave fuelled by the Delta variant ravaged the country between March and May. The country was unprepared for this onslaught since Modi and his government had proclaimed victory over the virus in January itself. As a result of this false optimism, tens of thousands died, many of them unrecorded.
The terrible sight of patients gasping for lack of oxygen and bodies floating down the Ganga were beamed all over the world. There was, however, not a word of remorse or regret from the Prime Minister for letting down the country so badly.
The same bungling was seen regarding vaccines – procuring adequate number of vaccines in time, scaling up production within the country and its speedy and equitable distribution. For the first time, vaccines on payment, instead of free vaccination for all, was introduced.
The government told the Supreme Court in June that all adults (above 18 years) would be fully vaccinated by December 31 with two doses of vaccines. That this was impossible was known to all. By the end of December, less than 65 per cent of adults have been fully vaccinated – a shortfall of over 35 per cent. This is at a time when the Omicron variant threatens to engulf the country.
Not only did the Modi government fail to plan, prepare and equip the health system to cope with the second wave and work out a comprehensive vaccination drive, it used this fraught period to push ahead with its divisive and pro-corporate agenda.
The Union budget saw the announcement of a disinvestment target of PSU’s of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. This was followed by the monetisation of the public sector assets plan amounting to Rs 6 lakh crore, which is nothing but a sell-off of State-owned ports, airports, railway tracks, land and other assets in the name of leasing them out to private parties.
The write off of loans of corporates to public sector banks continued; in the financial sector, two public sector banks are to be privatised and LIC shares disinvested.
The blatant favouritism extended to Ambani and Adani led them to make obscene profits in pandemic times. Ambani’s net worth increased to USD 92.7 billion in 2021, while Adani’s net worth rose to USD 78.7 billion.
As far as the people are concerned, more burdens were heaped on them. On top of the second lethal Covid wave, rampant unemployment and price rise caused immense suffering. Inflation fuelled by the relentless increase in the prices of petrol and diesel eroded the meagre earnings and pushed millions into poverty.
Another factor that added to poverty was the loss of incomes due to shrinking employment. It is estimated that around 7 to 8 crore additional people have slipped into poverty during the pandemic period in 2020-21.
The Centre pursued vigorously the Hindutva agenda of the RSS. In Jammu and Kashmir, after dismantling the state and divesting it off its special status, the identity of the region and its demographic and political composition is sought to be changed. Delimitation of assembly seats is being done in a manner to degrade the status of Kashmir valley and its political representation.
Amit Shah has set out the sequence – delimitation, then elections and only after that statehood. The plan is to have a truncated statehood destroying the integrity of J&K. In the meanwhile, there has been no let up in the repression and curtailment of civil rights.
If the security forces ruled the roost in Kashmir, the same applied to parts of the North-East. The gunning down of 13 civilians in Nagaland by the Army is a grim reminder that the national security State has come to stay.
For the Hindutva rulers, the building of a strong security State is necessary to fight external and internal enemies. Internally, the ‘enemy’ is clearly the Muslims. There has been a steady drumbeat of hate speeches, social media campaigns and dog whistles by BJP leaders targeting the minorities. These have resulted in a series of laws passed in BJP ruled states against minorities.
Anti-conversion laws have been passed in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and recently in Karnataka. If the UP and MP laws target ‘love jihad’ and young Muslims have been arrested for inter-faith marriages, the Karnataka one is focused on Christians.
If the attacks on Muslims and their livelihoods have been relentless, the year saw a sharp increase of attacks on Christians and their places of worship. Such attacks took place on Christmas Day too, along with the FCRA clearance of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity being rejected.
All in all, the year witnessed the mishandling of the Covid pandemic, the crushing burdens on the people due to unemployment and price-rise and an all-sided attack on minorities.
It is faced with these travails that the people began to resist and fight back. The BJP suffered setbacks in the five assembly elections held in April – in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It was only in Assam that it could hold on to power, that too narrowly.
In the last election this year, for the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, a Centrally administered territory, the BJP was defeated despite deploying all its resources and running a Hindutva-oriented campaign. The BJP lost the corporation with AAP emerging as the single largest party.
These electoral setbacks came in the background of a rising tempo of struggles and mass protests. The year 2021 was dominated by the heroic kisan struggle which has added a new chapter in the history of mass struggles in India. After a year of sustained protests in sites around Delhi in which tens of thousands of farmers participated, the Modi government had to give in and repeal the three farm laws. Faced with the implacable and united will of the peasantry, the government had to capitulate.
This victory has sent out a clear message to the working people – if you unite and fight, you will prevail.
The kisan movement also saw the growing unity of workers and peasants in joint actions. This will lay the basis of future struggles and battles against the Hindutva-corporate regime.
The New Year begins on this good augury.
Views are personal