From International Socialism (1st series), No.97, April 1977, p.6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
THE INDIAN elections have proved one thing. Mrs Gandhi has failed. She has not broken the workers and peasants and she has not overcome the divisions in the Indian ruling class. These two pincers have crushed her instead, and so inaugurated a new phase of Indian politics.
When she called the election in January, under pressure from the West to restore a democratic facade, Mrs Ghandi must have felt secure. For two years the Congress had been united as never before, and her dominance was undisputed. The repression after the emergency had beaten down the resistance of workers and peasants, tottering after the defeat of the railway strike in May 1974. The widespread and bitter opposition that surfaced after the election was called, especially directed against the forced sterilisation campaign, surprised her. Like almost everyone else, she had been deceived by the silence imposed by the emergency.
More surprising was the way in which the opposition Janata Party managed to take advantage of the situation. Janata, a recent amalgam of three right and one ‘left’ wing party, is a rag-bag of careerists, Hindu fascists, rich farmers and renegade social-democrats. But its leaders have been to jail for opposing Congress and are for once united. Moreover, large sections of the Indian masses want Congress out. Given the derelict condition of the Indian left, especially the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party (Marxist), Janata is the beneficiary of the anti-Congress wave.
Mrs Gandhi could have withstood even this with a united party. What has really put her and the whole Congress party onto the defensive is the return of factionalism within the Party. This is a reflection of the divisions within the ruling class as a whole. The precarious unity of industrialists and rich farmers splintered first in 1965 when the first, post-war crisis put an end to economic expansion. The rich farmers who are the Congress in most states fight among themselves so much that between 1967 and 1970 Congress was reduced to a shambles in several states. Only when the resistance of workers and peasants to attacks on their living standards began to threaten the survival of the ruling class itself could Mrs Gandhi dragoon the factions back into line. From the Bangladesh war of 1971 to the emergency of 1975 the Congress and the Indian ruling class were on the offensive. It was Mrs Gandhi’s initiative and she reaped the rewards.
Having suppressed working-class opposition, she decided to use the favourable situation to bring the local party bosses to heel. The chosen instrument was the Youth Congress and her eldest son, Sanjay Gandhi. By means of a personality-cult campaign, the Youth Congress was built in every state independently of the local machine. If this went ahead unchecked then Mrs Gandhi in Delhi would be able to control the local leadership. The bosses were understandably hostile. Then Mrs Gandhi made a fatal mistake. She called the elections before she had broken the bosses.
The biggest boss of all, the Agriculture Minister Jagjivan Ram, saw his own chance of power vanishing as his power base in Bihar was eroded by the Youth Congress. He broke away to form the Congress for Democracy, now aligned with Janata and thus enabled every local party boss to blackmail Mrs Gandhi. The result is that there are only 15 Youth Congress candidates instead of the expected 300.
The monolith that Mrs Gandhi created between 1970 and 1975 is now seen to have been built on shifting sands. Because she has not solved the problems of the Indian ruling class (industrial production is still appalling and food prices are rising again), factionalism was bound to reappear.
The tragedy is that the Indian left hardly exists to take advantage of the situation. The Communist Party of India might as well be in the Congress, while the Communist Party (Marxist), which retains a solid layer of trade union militants, has gone so far down the parliamentary road that it has an electoral alignment with Janata. The defeats suffered by Congress show that the grip of the ruling clique has slipped. The repression has eased. How long this breathing space will last is another matter.
Last updated on 1.3.2008