New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)


20 June 2014, New Delhi: The general election result of the 16th Lok Sabha has come as a surprise to many of us. This result is an enormous defeat for the centrist, regional and the parliamentary left parties. The result is unexpected because for two [it’s actually three] decades no single party has had the capacity to win an absolute majority in the parliament. The overwhelming victory of the BJP by securing 282 out of 543 seats marks a significant and critical shift in our country’s parliamentary politics.


The victory of BJP is more than an arithmetic coincidence


It would be easy for us to convince ourselves that the victory of the BJP is a mere arithmetical co-incidence. It is indeed correct that the BJP has secured an absolute majority with only 31% of the popular vote and at no time in our electoral history has any party secured an absolute majority  with less than 42% of the popular vote. We would, however, arrive at such a self-satisfying conclusion at our own peril.


The fact remains that the BJP won an overwhelming number of seats in the states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Maharashtra with its partners in the National Democratic Alliance. Added to this, the BJP secured a significant increase in share of votes in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and a phenomenal increase in its share of vote in West Bengal.


This is not a time for us to use numbers to come to conclusion of it being business as usual or a time to question the electoral system, howsoever flawed it may be. Understanding the election result, and the constellation of class forces that have contributed to the formation of a BJP government, with Mr Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, is important for us in the NTUI, as also the working class as a whole.


The failure of the UPA and the Consolidation of the Capitalist Class, Upper Peasantry and Upper Castes


The media and the edit page writers have described the election result for the most part as a vote for ‘stability’, ‘development’ and for ‘good governance’. This is a superficial way of explaining this overwhelming election result. This election verdict is no doubt an expression of anger

against the outgoing Indian National Congress (INC) led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The voting citizenry has undoubtedly voted against inflation, it has voted strongly against what was widely perceived as an inept, non-functioning and corrupt government. Of course, the deep revulsion against the outgoing government, inept as it may have been, was cultivated by the BJP , both within parliament, with direct or indirect support of the regional parties and the parliamentary left, and outside with the unbalanced and one-sided coverage that it received in the media. While the intention may have been to the contrary the Aam Aadmi Party’s high pitched single agenda campaign against corruption also contributed to the revulsion against the UPA and may have also pushed some of the core INC vote the BJPs way.


That said, the outcome of this election also subsumes a strong aspirational vote for the BJP and what it represents. The BJP was strongly supported by all sections of the capitalist class – be it big, indigenous or foreign, medium or small – across the spectrum of accumulation – industrial, trading, services or agrarian. As is well recognised the BJP had access to large sums of money in the election. Apart from money the BJP received direct corporate support and participation hitherto unknown to Indian elections. BJP also received support from large sections of the upper and middle peasantry. The new middle class that is an important opinion maker and measure of aspiration strongly rooted for the BJP. Ironically it is these three sections of society that have benefited enormously from the 10 years of the UPA government.


What perhaps swung the election the BJP’s way was the aspiration of young citizens, the first time voter, a majority of whom voted on their feet for the BJP.


The inability to counter the BJP ideologically


The election data that is now becoming available shows sharp polarisation of votes between Hindus and Muslims and an equally sharp polarisation between upper caste and non-upper caste Hindus. The BJP’s ability to swing a section, howsoever small it may be, of backward caste, dalit and adivasi votes finally tipped the balance in its favour. This critical share of  votes is not just an outcome of the economic despair of a section of the working class or their rejection of the INC or the regional parties but also the outcome of sustained efforts of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in engaging this section of society culturally, socially and politically within the ideology of Hindutva, especially in mid-sized cities, semi-urban areas and rural areas. While the BJP leadership at various levels employed Hindu nationalism, which defines Hindu majoritarianism in direct opposition to Islam and those of the Islamic faith, to polarise the vote along religious lines, the RSS with its sustained efforts on the ground through education and cultural interventions has been influential amongst a section of the working class.


Alongside this very intensive work of the RSS, the expansion of the BJP has also steadily been contributed to by the divisions between regional parties, including those drawn from the Socialist tradition, who have at one time or another aligned with the BJP for immediate electoral gains. In this election a significant vote and a huge chunk of the BJP’s parliamentary seats (10%) came from Bihar, as the BJP with relative ease moved its electoral alliance from the Janata Dal United (JDU) to the Lok Janshakti Party. This was the result of the BJPs patient expansion through its two decade of long alliance with the JDU. The JDU, months before the election, sought to go it alone on the back of the ‘good government’ and ‘development’ it had given to the poorest state of the country, having, after nearly a 20 year alliance with the BJP come to the view that it was a communal party.


With the INC in complete disrepair, the principal responsibility of denying the BJP a clear majority rested with the regional parties. With the exception of those states where the BJP is not one of two largest parties – Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal – the regional parties were swept aside. This reflects the failure of the regional parties especially in UP and Bihar to challenge the BJP ideologically as also their inability to keep up with the aspiration of their supporters, whom they took for granted.


The parliamentary left with its already whittled down strength has faced significant erosion not just in numbers but in its credibility as well. The collapse of the parliamentary left’s vote is the result of long years of courting neo-liberal policies, through its state governments, and simply not offering an alternative economic, social or political vision that it could then carry forward in struggle when in opposition. The significant fall in the vote of the parliamentary left and the corresponding rise in the BJP vote in West Bengal is a clear indication of this. The erosion of its credibility is linked to the inability of the left to offer a coherent ideological alternative, along with electoral opportunism that at least in part helped shoring up the BJP’s credibility, by enjoining with it in parliamentary opposition to stall government during the life of the last parliament.


Trade Unions in the political space and our efforts


The failure to influence the electoral outcome cannot rest with electoral parties alone. The alliance of all Central Trade Union Organisations (CTUO) that adopted the 10 point charter in 2010 and the call to action, including the two-day general strike of 20-21 February 2013 and the march to Parliament of 15 December 2013 which was, in the interest of working class unity, adopted by us in the NTUI and other progressive national trade union centres, was critical for advancing the interest of all working people. However this call for action neither influenced the political actions of the working class nor did it engage or influence political parties in their manifesto decisions or in their promise at the election. The alliance of CTUOs in fact went silent the moment the election process began, signalling their respective affiliation to or proximity with one or another political party. Nothing brings to the fore the importance and primacy of  autonomy of the trade union from parliamentary political parties than. Only autonomy from parliamentary parties will ensure that the united voice of the working class can influence parliamentary politics.


We in the NTUI too must introspect about what we did or did not do to influence the outcome of the election within the capacity and strength we have. It goes without saying that our efforts are not one that makes the difference in the immediate run up to the election.  Yet we too must assess  and analyse our political reach and impact. Our efforts on standing up against the enormous attack on democratic rights – including trade union rights – has at best been sporadic. Our efforts in addressing the divisions within our own membership that persist – be it on gender, caste, religion, region and language – too have been limited. We have also not succeeded – except in very small numbers – in making inroads into bringing into the union fold the new generation of workers in new industrial enclaves and in new sectors most notably, in terms of employment, the vast service sector.  Despite our membership amongst both rural and urban workers we have not been able to bring the rapidly growing migrant workforce to our  membership. It is not enough for us to say that other trade unions have not succeeded either. If we stand for a renewal of the working class movement then the task is ours.


Our inability to deal with the task at hand has largely been the result of the focus of our engagement with local and immediate issues. While this focus is both important and necessary we are yet to find a balance between these urgent tasks and the political and social aspirations of our membership which in turn affects both the growth of membership and our inability to build a countrywide movement for defending working class rights. We were correct in recognising this weakness at our 3rd General Assembly and the enormous challenge of building a progressive understanding within the working class.


The BJP Government


All of this together paved the way for a right wing offensive combining the ideology of  Hindutva, an unbridled commitment to market force and a promise of ‘minimum government’ by the BJP all carefully packaged in the slogan: ‘Good Times to Come’. The victory of the BJP marks a decisive shift of the Indian polity to the right.


The BJP comes to government at a time when the world economy has only shown feeble signs of recovery, and economic policy across the world has shifted  steadily to the right as capital has adjusted itself to deal with the shock of the crisis – by imposing policies of austerity by curtailing social security and social protection – in the absence of an opposition and a robust alternative from the Left. The BJP seeks to ride this trend.


The new Prime Minister acted in the right direction by reaching out to the Heads of Government of the SAARC countries by inviting them to the swearing in of the government. We believe that this country cannot go forward and the aspirations of the working class cannot be met unless we have peace in our sub-continent. Breaching the divisions in our sub-continent is however difficult to achieve with a ‘strong’ India locked into an opportunistic engagement with imperialist forces and would need a foreign policy based on principles of mutual-respect and in opposition to imperialist domination.


Equally we are cautioned by the references to repealing of Article 370 of the Constitution that remains the cornerstone of far from complete measures to address the aspirations of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir and their integration with the rest of the country. This does find reference in the BJP’s manifesto.  We note the complete silence from the non-BJP NDA partners on this issue. We also note the hasty ordinances to force ahead the Pollavaram Dam by altering the border between Seemandhara and Telengana, and the one involving the appointment of the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary. These may be important signals of what lies ahead.


A month after the election result the BJP which projected itself as the ‘government in waiting’ has not said a word on key policy issues that are of immediate and direct concern to working people. The limited utterances of the new Prime Minister are slogans of leading a government ‘for poor people’ while the 10 goals of the new government announced after the cabinet meeting on 28th May are limited to the style of government and bear no reference to the substance of government policy or programme that can make the difference to the lives of working people faced with high inflation and poor employment opportunities.


To the extent that the BJP’s election manifesto commits itself to fiscal tightening especially on subsidies that directly affect both prices of essential goods and its effect on the cost of living amongst the worst of the working population, the working class cannot but expect any improvement in its situation. The Prime Minister and ‘his ministers’ have already committed themselves to fiscal discipline, disinvestment of the public sector and expansion of foreign direct investment, while easing employment legislation to provide employers more ‘flexibility’ and workers fewer rights. Furthermore, while the BJP seeks to revive growth it promises to do

so from the supply side by encouraging investment and not by addressing the structural demand constraint within the economy. Addressing these structural constraints cannot be left to market forces.  In so far as reliance on the market will be the approach to economic policy the attack on the working class will persist, and even be sharpened. Realising profits through the downward pressure on wages will translate into continuing the attack on the very elemental democratic right to join and form unions and on the right to differ and express dissent. Dissent in other quarters too may come under attack.


Our task


Defending democratic space and expanding it must remain the primary objective for the NTUI and the rest of the working class movement. At our 3rd General Assembly in November 2013 and at our Pre-Election Workers’ Convention in March 2014 we set ourselves the goal of taking our accumulated experience of wage struggle – at the plant level, in a village, in a sector, in state – in all forms of employment – regular, contract, casual, temporary, ‘honorarium’ workers, trainees and apprentices – forward by building a countrywide struggle for an increased share of wages in national income. We cannot achieve this if we do not cement the social divisions within the working class. We cannot achieve this unless we intensify the political engagement of our membership. We cannot achieve this without growing our unions. We cannot achieve this without addressing the consciousness of our membership. We cannot achieve this without building a united front of trade unions and people’s organizations. We cannot achieve this unless we can advance an alternative to imperialist globalisation. These challenges have never been more important ever before as they are today.


We must build a renewed working class resistance to defeat the consolidation of the capitalist class and the upper peasantry, to defeat the forces of economic, social and political discrimination – be it by gender, caste, region, religion or language – to defeat the forces of sectarianism, sectionalism and communalism.


We must build a united front of trade unions and people’s organisations to win economic justice, social equality and a democratic polity.


(Gautam Mody, General Secretary, NTUI: secretariat@ntui.org.in; Website: http://ntui.org.in)

Top - Home