On 8 and 9 January, 200 million workers went on strike in India, disrupting key industries, blocking train-tracks and highways and rallying in their masses against the anti-labour policies of the right-wing, sectarian BJP government. In parts of the country, society was brought to a grinding halt, an immense show of strength from the Indian working class which attracted the support of many of the country’s farmers and students. The workers’ demands – against price-hikes, the casualisation of labour, unemployment and privatisation – reflect the deep anger that exists at the neo-liberal policies of the government.

This comes after years of brutal attacks by the ruling class on the poorest and most oppressed in the country, with an onslaught of privatisation and the carving up of the economy in the interests of the global elite. Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut, Microsoft, Monsanto and Rupert Murdoch all entered the market as industries were liberalised.

US marketing firms concocted the idea of an “India Shining” to boost tourism, which was then popularised in India by the reactionary leader of the BJP, Narendra Modi. The emptiness of this slogan is clear. 68% of Indian workers earn less than $2 a day, while there were almost 41 million unemployed people at the end of 2018. Agricultural dominance by multinationals has displaced many small farmers and created a malnutrition crisis, with one in two children being underfed.

The BJP – which rose from the semi-fascist paramilitary force RSS – has used Hindu ultra-nationalism to justify the rampant repression and brutalisation of the country’s oppressed groups, such as women, LGBTQ+ people, Muslims and Dalits. These attempts to divide workers resulted in as many as 2,920 incidents of inter-communal violence over the four years ending in 2017, in which 389 people were killed and 8,890 injured. The leadership of the ‘Communist’ parties and trade unions are dangerously pointing to the capitalist Congress Party as an alternative. Such a position ignores the fact that the BJP’s policies are driven by the capitalist class, which the Congress Party also represents, and that the oppressive ideas of casteism and Islamophobia are tools of the elite.

The heroic actions taken by workers, peasants, young people, women and oppressed minorities against the Modi government point to the crying need for a socialist alternative, led by the working class, putting forward bold policies of nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy under democratic workers’ control. Such a force is the only thing capable of challenging the interests of the billionaires and transforming the economy to work for the masses.

by Christopher Stewart