May 12, 2014
This article is from the May 9th, 2014 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
The Indian legislative elections began on April 7th and will end on May 12th. The upcoming elections will be the largest election in the world in “the world’s largest democracy.” But a great deal more needs to be said about this so-called “democracy.”
India is a country where the extreme concentration of wealth – with more total billionaires than Japan or Great Britain – exists right alongside an ocean of poverty. More than two thirds of its inhabitants survive on less than $2 per day. Hunger affects an enormous part of the population, particularly children, more than 40% of whom are chronically underweight. One third of the population is illiterate, and the majority of dwellings lack electricity or running water. This enormous social misery drives tens of thousands of peasants to suicide every year.
For the poor, violence is a part of daily life. This violence targets the religious minorities who fall victim to bloody pogroms. It strikes the members of the lower castes who are treated like subhumans. It targets women, who are reduced to servitude, sold in arranged marriages, abused by everyone, even raped with impunity by landowners or by the sons of wealthy families. Workers in thousands of workshops scattered throughout the slums and the countryside face ferocious violence, exploited in a manner resembling slavery. Striking workers are roughed up by the police or by the bosses’ private thugs. Union activists are condemned to long prison sentences under frivolous pretexts by a justice system under the thumb of the bosses.
Since the slowdown of economic activity in India in 2008 when the crisis worsened, there has been a brutal degradation of living standards. Inflation has risen, especially for basic foods. The most indispensable support programs for the population have been cut. There have been massive layoffs in the auto and textile industries, while workers’ already miserable wages have fallen farther. Two thirds of all workers lack job security, even in the country’s largest companies, and the immense majority of the poor have no regular source of work. This is what democracy means in the “world’s largest democracy.”
The political rights of the population are worth very little in reality. Bribes are needed to obtain even the most minor official paperwork. Government programs are riddled with massive embezzlement, from the construction of infrastructure to food aid for starving peasants.
In terms of the parliamentary candidates, the spectacle is just as bad. On average, the net worth of an elected deputy triples during their time in the legislature. One third of all members of parliament leave office accused of crimes, ranging from electoral fraud to murder. Among all of the candidates currently running, one tenth have been accused of crimes on the level of rape or murder. The practice of buying votes is standard, systematic, and organized by the parties in more or less broad daylight. For many of the poor, the elections are an occasion to get a hot meal, some whiskey, or a small sum of money in exchange for the desired vote.
The two major parties who are now fighting for votes have both been in power for a long time. One of these, the far-right Hindu party called the BJP, currently governs hundreds of regions, while the Congress Party, which has more or less ruled the country since independence, runs the central government. For the party leaders, the results of the legislative elections will no doubt have an effect on the amount of the riches they can each pocket and on the speed with which they can do so. However, these elections have no chance of improving the lot of the Indian population.