As a tumultuous year for India ends, it would appear that the country and her people have entered a dark tunnel, a period of dark foreboding, of anguish at freedoms lost, of bonds severed, of distrust and animosity, all tethered to economic hardship that is destroying lives and futures. Most of this is a direct consequence of the nature of the present ruling dispensation, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which secured yet another electoral mandate this year. By nature and legacy, it is an instrument for putting into place the vision of what India should be as defined by the Hindu fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). But simultaneously, it is also an instrument of fostering the interests of big businesses, big traders, big landlords—the super-rich, in short. Not to forget global corporations and capital that Modi is so enamoured of, despite all the ‘nationalist’ chest thumping.
But this perception, while true and chillingly so, is but only one part of India’s story. As history tells us, no people ever meekly surrender. They fight back, in small groups or in big breath-taking movements, in villages and towns, and in metropolises, in universities and schools, in factories and fields, in blindingly hot summers and in icy winters. That is what has also been happening in India this year. And, this was not just the outburst of anti-CAA/NRC protests in December. These were without doubt unprecedented in scale and sweep. But the resistance to Modi and all that he represents carried on—unsung and unreported perhaps—for all of 2019, continuing from the previous years but gathering pace and strength.
Farmers and Landless Labourers Fight Back
From Tamil Nadu to Punjab and from Gujarat to the North-East, farmers and agricultural workers came out in large numbers to fight for land rights, freedom from debt, better prices for their produce, better wages and implementation of laws like the Forest Rights Act or against changes in laws like those done in the Forests Act. In all of these struggles, they also spoke out against the communal hatred and division being sowed by the Modi government, and its supporters in the Sangh Parivar.
Also watch: Kisan Long March 2.0 : Farmers Are Marching Against BJP's Betrayal
In February 2019, thousands of adivasi farmers and labourers gathered at Nashik for a second Long March to Mumbai demanding implementation of the agreement reached in the previous year over land rights and debt waivers. Such was their strength and intensity that within two days of the march heading towards Mumbai, the state government of Maharashtra (then led by the BJP) rushed to assure them that the demands would be fulfilled.
In July, a countrywide protest was held at the call of the farmers and adivasi organisations to oppose the draconian amendments to the Indian Forests Act (IFA) of 1927 and the Supreme Court order in the Forest Rights Act case, which would have dispossessed lakhs of adivasis and dalits of their lands. Analysis has shown that BJP lost most of the adivasi-dominated seats in the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Jharkhand after this issue.
In August, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a joint platform of over 100 farmers’ organisations, held countrywide demonstrations demanding that two Bills moved in Parliament by Opposition MPs be passed. These Bills relate to full debt waiver and remunerative prices (full cost+50%) for their produce. These Bills were first ‘passed’ by Kisan Parliament in Delhi in November 2017.
In September, over 50,000 farmers and agricultural workers from across West Bengal held a huge rally in Kolkata, condemning the politics of the caste, creed and religion and calling for all agricultural sector stakeholders to unitedly fight for their rights.
In November, AIKSCC-led farmers demonstrated at over 500 locations across the country against India becoming a party to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The government later withdrew from the anti-people pact.
Workers and Employees Fight Back
Year 2019 started off with one of the biggest industrial actions India has ever seen with over 1.8 crore workers and employees across all sectors and industries striking work for two consecutive days, on January 8-9. This historic strike was mainly against the hostile anti-worker policies of the Modi government which was bringing in destructive changes to existing labour laws, refusing to increase minimum wages, trying to gobble up social security funds, selling off public sector enterprises, and encouraging foreign direct investment. Workers led by 10 central trade unions and several federations had been fighting a relentless battle over these issues throughout Modi’s first tenure, with two all India strikes already observed, in September 2015 and again in September 2016.
Also read: #WorkersStrikeBack: Workers’ Strike Successful, More Workers Participate on Day 2
In January 2020, another massive strike of workers will take place involving an even larger number of workers. Significantly, it will be backed up by the 100-organisation AIKSCC which has called for a Grameen Bandh (rural strike) on the same day.
The Modi government has set a record in sell-off of public sector to private entities, with sales worth Rs 2.97 lakh crore already done in five and a half years, and Rs 76,000 crore announced. Even such profit making enterprises like Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) are on the chopping block with plans for selling off more of such enterprises. It has also initiated disinvestment (or corporatisation) of defence production sector, railways, banks, etc. In order to please foreign monopolies, the government has opened up India’s strategic coal sector for 100% Foreign Direct Investment, thus, opening up the country’s mineral wealth to foreign conglomerates.
As a result, even in the short period since Modi 2.0 was established, a strong reaction of protest emerged.
Railway workers and their families came out in thousands to protest against corporatisation of several production units which is nothing but a precursor to privatisation.
Over one lakh workers of 41 ordnance factories started a month-long strike in August 2019 forcing the government to back down from its plans of privatisation. After this victory, the strike was called off on the fifth day.
Over 6 lakh coal workers went on a one-day strike in September 2019 against the government’s decision to invite 100% foreign direct investment in the coal sector.
Bank employees observed a massive strike in October 2019 against the government’s decision to merge ten public sector banks into four. It received active support from the officers’ unions resulting in near total strike effecting banking operations.
A country-wide full day strike of all refineries, marketing and pipeline workers of BPCL and HPCL was held in November 2019 against the privatisation of BPCL and HPCL.
Besides these, there have been numerous other local, regional or industry level struggles spanning thousands of workers. Only recently, the construction workers held an unprecedented march to Parliament against changes in labour laws that demolish protection provided to them. Journalists, too, protested against such changes in the laws governing them. Anganwadi workers and other scheme workers have held large protests in several states.
The joint platform of trade unions has also become a leading and influential voice in issues that affect the country’s people, not just those relating to workers and employees. For instance, the joint platform has been actively leading the protests against the CAA-NPR-NRC conspiracy launched by the Modi government. At its call, demonstrations have been held across the country in working class centres. In fact, the working class organisations are raising the demands of the peasants, agricultural workers, issues of unemployment, violence against women, privatisation of public health and education, etc. They have raised their voice against the attacks on the democratic and constitutional rights of people in the name of ‘urban naxals’, against attacks on dalits, adivasis, minorities, etc. They have criticised the amendment to the RTI Act to cripple it, amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) to make it even more draconian and vindictive, and abrogation of Article 370 without consulting the people of Jammu and Kashmir, in fact by gagging them. It has strongly denounced the communal forces which are creating conflicts and providing an opportunity to the government to deflect the attention of the masses from their core issues and were endangering the basic ethos and core values of the Indian Constitution.
Fight Against Attack on Constitution
Two major steps of the Modi government were designed to further the RSS agenda: the abrogation of Article 370 for J&K and the Citizenship Amendment Act (and proposed National Register of Citizens). Both are components of the Hindu fundamentalist agenda created and nurtured by the RSS and serve to, what they think, solidifies the ‘Hindu Nation’. But both created a huge wave of protests in the country, with the anti-CAA-NRC protests scaling unprecedented heights, shocking the BJP/RSS itself. Across the country, in virtually every district and every town/city, in over 100 universities and institutions, protests took place and are continuing. The student upsurge in such a scale and form has not been seen since the 1970s. The movement was consistently backed by Left forces but it went far beyond the organised pale. It represents the vast, unknown secular and democratic opinion that exists in the country.
Merging Streams of Struggles
India today is witnessing a coalescing of various strands of struggles—economic struggles are getting converted to larger political ones—students who were distressed by privatised education and high fees (as in JNU and many other universities) are joining hands with anti-CAA-NRC protesters and also with workers and farmers; dalits who were fighting against upper caste atrocities and oppression are joining the citizenship protests; adivasis who were fighting for land rights are joining those farmers who were fighting against land acquisition for bullet trains or Adani’s mines; women fighting against rape and violence are coming to the forefront in defence of minorities and against police atrocities.
The new year will see this process further gaining momentum because gross mismanagement and flagrant hijacking of the economy will keep fuelling unrest in the coming months. The government has little or no clue on how to deal with it. And, the rhetoric of ‘nationalism’ is turning sour and lame.
Also read: As CAA/NRC Protests Rage, PM Modi Talks About $5 Trillion Economy