The Hindu-chauvinist BJP Indian government is meeting serious resistance.
Trade unions have been taking action. The Modi government was forced to back off a series of economic reforms including privatisation and attacks on workers’ rights after strikes in 2015, 2016 and 2019. Those issues have not gone away. Ten India trade union federations called a one-day general strike on 8 January against the government’s economic policies (the eleventh federation is affiliated with the Hindu chauvinist movement and did not strike).
The workers were joined by farmers in their action. It brought out anything up to 250 million people, making it the largest strike in India’s history.
Attempts to exclude Muslims from citizenship centre on the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) (currently limited to the state of Assam), which seeks to exclude marginalised individuals lacking adequate official documentation from citizenship, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which offer those other than Muslims so excluded a fast track back into citizenship.
The BJP Prime Minister, Nahendra Modi, has denied that his government intends to roll this scheme out nationally. But last July’s budget included funding for the NRC nationally, and the government has instructed all states to build detention centres to hold “foreigners”, stipulating ten-foot high fences topped with barbed wire. One estimate of the cost of the register alone is 5 million lakh rupees (around £5 billion). The cost for the lives of those affected would be incalculable.
The government reacted to demonstrations in December with lethal force, but public reaction was of sympathy for the demonstrators. The government has now reined in the police and party-controlled thugs. The protesters too have shifted their tactics. A women’s protest in the Shaheen Bagh district of Delhi has been blocking a major highway since mid-December, and the tactic is now being repeated elsewhere.
The protests against the citizenship laws are being joined by other groups. There has been conflict brewing in the university sector for some time, not least because the Modi government see the universities as reproducing a liberal elite which the BJP hates almost as much as it hates Muslims.
In early January students organising an on-going rent strike at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University were attacked by thugs of a right-wing student body affiliated to the BJP while police stood by. There were protests against the state-sanctioned violence across many of India’s 800 universities.
Although the three movements are not directly related, they show the strengthening will to resist the policies of the BJP. The BJP has an impressive parliamentary majority, but in the 2019 general election it won only 37% of the vote (its coalition of right-wing parties, the NDA, totalled 45% of the vote).
The BJP’s comfortable majority is a result of the fragmentation of electoral opposition and India’s first-past-the-post electoral system.
Much of that support was based on the promise of economic growth that the BJP looks increasingly unable to deliver.