India is called the world’s most populous democracy. It is held up in contrast with China and Pakistan, as a country in which “free and fair elections” are regularly held. The fact that several political parties compete for seats in the central and state legislative bodies is presented as proof that democracy is thriving in our country.
Life experience, however, keeps exposing the fact that elections in the existing system are neither fair nor free by any standard.
If elections are to be fair, then every adult member of society must enjoy equal right to elect and be elected. In practice, only a privileged minority enjoys the right to be elected.
Thousands of candidates are contesting the 543 seats in the 17th Lok Sabha. However, only candidates of a handful of parties are promoted in the media. Only candidates of BJP, Congress Party and a few regional parties are represented in the debates and interviews on TV news channels.
Numerous women and men who have risen up through struggle, from among the workers, peasants and other toiling people, are contesting these elections. Such people’s candidates face a steep uphill battle. They carry out their campaigns through extremely hard work, spending many hours every day meeting people in their houses and factory gates. They have only a few lakhs of rupees to spend on their campaigns, collected from their supporters and friends. There are more than 15 lakh voters in an average Lok Sabha constituency. With the best of efforts, the people’s candidates can reach only a fraction of the voters in their constituency.
At the other pole, candidates selected by parties backed by the capitalist class enjoy a privileged position. The Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and other Indian monopoly houses, regional capitalist groups as well as foreign multinational companies contribute to the campaign finance of such parties. Thousands of crores of rupees are spent to promote the candidates of such parties on TV and through social media, on a daily basis, for several months before the election dates are announced. Thousands of paid volunteers are set in motion to run their election campaigns.
The Election Commission, an unelected body, is supposed to ensure that elections are fair. The EC specifies campaign spending limits for individual candidates. But there is no limit, and no monitoring, of what political parties spend on election campaigns. There is rampant and growing inequality in campaign spending between people’s candidates and the candidates of capitalist parties. There is also growing inequality among the capitalist parties. The EC is powerless to prevent the inequality of money power, except to make a show of capturing some hoards of cash meant for distribution before the voting day.
India’s 17th Lok Sabha election is said to be the most expensive election that has ever taken place in the world. Total election spending is estimated by different agencies to be between Rs. 50,000 and 1,00,000 crore. Most of it is spent by the parties of the capitalist class. Within the capitalist parties, BJP alone accounts for more than three-fourth of the total expenditure, according to some estimates.
Rules laid down by the Election Commission are not only failing to curb the exorbitant use of money power. They further accentuate the unfair competition facing people’s candidates. All kinds of restrictions are imposed on posters and other means of communication available to such candidates. There is no restriction on paid hoardings, paid advertisements in newspapers and on TV, social media and other means used by the BJP, Congress and other capitalist parties. Moreover, the “recognised” parties enjoy the advantage of having permanent election symbols assigned to them. They can start popularising their symbol several months ahead of the elections, whereas many of the people’s candidates get a symbol assigned only a few weeks prior to voting day.
The candidates of capitalist parties try their best to divert the attention of people away from burning problems such as unemployment, insecurity of livelihood facing peasants, violation of workers’ rights and insecurity facing women. They do so by spreading hatred and jealousy against specific castes and religious minorities, and against neighbouring countries.
The capitalist parties have no choice except to divert, deceive and divide the people, because they have no solution to offer to the any of their burning problems. They have no solution because they are committed to implement the capitalist enrichment program of globalisation, through liberalisation and privatisation. They reduce political debate to the lowest possible level, setting people at each other’s throats.
The 17th Lok Sabha elections have been marked by the leaders of rival parties calling each other thieves, mass murderers and national traitors. As Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi hurl all kinds of abuses against each other, people are left wondering why the fate of India should be entrusted to one or another of these gangs of thieves and killers of the people.
The code of conduct prohibits candidates from spreading hatred against people of a particular religion or caste. Historically, the EC has rarely taken any action to punish those who violated this principle. In 2019, the EC has been directed by the Supreme Court to take action against candidates who deliver hate speeches. After being admonished by the Supreme Court, the EC ordered the temporary suspension from campaigning of a few selected candidates. Mayawati and Yogi Adityanath were among those temporarily suspended for making communal speeches.
No action has been taken against Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Shah, who have repeatedly and openly incited hatred against Kashmiris, and referred to immigrants from Bangladesh as pests. They refer to Muslims as “they” who must be put in their place. No action has been taken against either of them for their repeated hate speeches. Why? It shows that the Prime Minister and president of the ruling party are, for all practical purposes, above the law. It is they who dictate to the Election Commission and not the other way around.
The electoral battlefield is not fair by any standards. It cannot be fair as long as society remains divided between an exploiting minority and the exploited majority. There can be no equality of opportunity as long as monopoly capitalists own and control the principal means of social production, as well as the news media. There can be no fair elections as long as monopoly capitalists are free to pour enormous amounts of money behind the election campaigns of their preferred parties.
These elections are not free either. Every adult woman and man is not really free to go and vote for whoever she or he wants. Enormous pressure is brought to bear on different sections of the people, to induce them to vote one way or another. Different forms of inducement and pressure are used, ranging from cash and liquor distribution to threats of physical attacks. Crores of workers who are registered as voters in their village cannot bear the cost of missing wages and travelling to their villages to vote.
Laws and rules governing elections offer full freedom to the representatives of capitalist parties to get away with the most monstrous crimes. There is no freedom as far as the toiling majority of people are concerned. Those in positions of authority use the laws and rules to persecute and harass the representatives of workers and peasants.
Elections in this system are an occasion for the ruling class to escalate the spread of fear, suspicion and all kinds of tensions among the people. Periodic elections are a mechanism for manipulating public opinion and gaining legitimacy for imposing the will of monopoly capitalists on the whole of society. Election campaigns are dominated by massive disinformation which the monopoly capitalists and their parties spread through TV, newspapers and through social media such as facebook, twitter and whatsapp.
These elections are being held in as many as seven phases, spread out over 40 days. Past experience with multiple phase elections shows that it not only enables the deployment of more security forces. Multiple phases also give a lot of scope for Indian and foreign monopoly capitalists to gauge the mood of the people and manipulate the results in their own favour.
The biggest monopoly companies organise exit surveys after every phase, both to gauge the people’s mood and to promote the slogan and party of their choice. The capitalist class, headed by the monopoly houses, uses surveys conducted after the early phases to decide which of their trusted parties is better equipped to fool the people at this particular time. They use the most modern means of communication to promote their preferred team as the best for the nation. Multiple phases allow them the option of orchestrating a so-called wave in favour of one or another party in the concluding phases.
Past experience shows that even when one party replaces another through these elections, there is no qualitative change in the course of India and the conditions of her people. The right to vote is not of much use to the people because the laws and rules governing the electoral process are designed to ensure that only parties which have the backing of the capitalist class can win elections and take charge of executive power.
The existing political process, in which parties backed by big money power take turns to manage the government, is the mechanism through which the monopoly capitalists impose their will on society. They use elections as a tool to maintain their dictatorship, while creating the impression that people have expressed their will.
The deep desire and growing demand of the people, that they must be the decision-makers and rulers of India, can be seen in the rise and growth of people’s candidates. It shows that people want an end to the vicious cycle of monopoly capitalist rule, with the same kind of parties replacing each other periodically. They want to take their destiny in their own hands.
A qualitative change in the political process and the nature of political power is essential for fulfilling the people’s desire and demand to determine their own destiny. The existing political system needs to be replaced with a system that is consistent with the demand that we, the people, must be the master of India. The political process must serve to keep decision-making power in the people’s hands and prevent it from being usurped by any party or gang of vested interests.
The role of a political party in such a system will be to provide the people with the vision, plan and leadership they need so as to rule themselves. Laws governing political activity will ban any party that spreads hatred or enmity among people on communal or caste basis. There will be no space for any party that seeks to exclude the masses of people from decision-making power.
Democratic Renewal of the
Let us unite around the program for the democratic renewal of the political process (see Box). It is an essential component of the overall program for the Navnirman of India – that is, for the political empowerment of the people, reorientation of the economy to fulfill human needs instead of being geared to fulfill monopoly capitalist greed, and reorientation of foreign policy to safeguard peace and defeat imperialist war designs.