Beware the class conflict

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem
Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

In less than three weeks, Indians will go to the polls for the 16th time to choose a new Parliament. In no previous General Election has the outcome been as fraught with consequences as this one. The reason is that with the eruption of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, and the helter-skelter run by the middle class into the seemingly safe arms of Narendra Modi and the BJP, overt class conflict has entered our electoral politics for the first time since Independence. Indian democracy will not merely survive but prosper if it is able to respond constructively to these twin challenges. But it will weaken and may even be destroyed if it fails to do so and allows class conflict to fester and grow. Class conflict is a natural outcome of capitalist growth but the suddenness of its eruption into electoral politics has caught the nation unawares. A part of the reason is the ubiquity of caste, religion and kinship in Indian politics. This has made Indian politicians insensitive to the new social tensions that industrialisation and rapid economic growth are creating.

But the more immediate reason is the sudden collapse of industry in the past three years and the evaporation of the Indian dream. In human terms, this has been a catastrophe. Companies that borrowed heavily, or sold convertible debentures, abroad are facing bankruptcy; malls are up for sale because no one is buying; wholesalers and retailers are drowning in unsold stocks, and small- and medium-sized companies are closing by the thousands. The construction industry is comatose. Like Bangkok and Manila during East Asia’s financial meltdown in 1997- 98, the skyline of Gurgaon and Noida is littered with incomplete skyscrapers. In desperation, corporate India and the country’s newly minted and insecure middle class have turned to Modi just when its tribals have turned to the Maoists and its hard-pressed working class has turned to AAP. India is, therefore, on the threshold of a dangerous polarisation. In the following articles, we present noted economist Arvind Panagariya’s assessment of Narendra Modi’s success in Gujarat, the mind and the aspirations of AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal and Prem Shankar Jha’s assessment of the struggle that is beginning.

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