India - Congress paves the way for the Hindu far-right

Summer 2014

Following the general election which took place over five weeks, between April 7th and May 12th, India found itself with a new administration led the by the BJP - the Indian People's Party, the political wing of the Hindu nationalist far-right.

The ruling Congress party - which has been in power for more than 54 years out of 67 since the country's independence - had been literally wiped out. Its share of the votes was down to 19.3%, compared with 28.6% in the last general election, in 2009. As a result, but also due to the first-past-the-post electoral system inherited from British colonialism, Congress was left with just 44 seats in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, the Delhi Parliament - a loss of 162 seats. Never had Congress done so badly, whether in terms of votes or seats - something which, in and of itself, gives a measure of this party's discredit.

As a corollary, the election proved to be a landslide for the BJP, at least in terms of parliamentary seats. Not only had the BJP won 31% of the votes - up 12.2% -  but it also won an absolute majority in Parliament, with 282 seats - an increase of 166. It was the first time since 1984 that any party had gained an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

The British media immediately hailed what they called the "Modi wave" -  after Narendra Modi, the BJP's strong man who has been leading his party's election campaign and has now been appointed India's 15th prime minister. For most British commentators, there was absolutely no question. To use their own language, in the "world's largest democracy", the "centre-right" BJP had been elected to power in a "wave of enthusiasm". Never mind that India is anything but "democratic" - in any case, not for the poor masses who form the overwhelming majority of its population. Never mind either, that there is nothing "moderate" about the BJP or that this so-called "wave of enthusiasm" amounted to just 21% of all registered voters casting their votes for BJP candidates - which was hardly a tidal "wave".

The point, however, was that this "Modi wave" had been predicted by bourgeois commentators for a long time, with much expectation, both in India and in Britain. As the increasingly sluggish growth of the Indian economy was disproving their claim that the "emerging economies" would pull the world out of the capitalist crisis, these commentators had to find a culprit - and that culprit was the ruling Congress party, whose policies were supposedly putting the Indian economy in a straitjacket.

So much so that British business papers such as the Financial Times and The Economist could hardly contain their enthusiasm for Modi - even if it was tempered, at times, with a few hypocritical reservations about the inflammatory anti-Muslim demagogy used in the past by the BJP in general and, in particular, by Modi himself, during his 14-year rule as chief minister of the state of Gujarat.

But the past is the past. As far as the British media were concerned, Modi and his party could only be good for business - especially British business - and this was all that could possibly matter. This was obviously also the point of view of many international investment funds, judging from the flow of capital which have been pouring into India, in the run-up to this election, in anticipation.

Significantly, on the day the election results were proclaimed, Indian share prices jumped by 5% on the Bombay stock exchange. On that same day, the shares of the Reliance and Adani groups, two industrial and commercial giants which are considered most closely associated with Modi, went up by over 7%! Within 4 weeks, the share prices of the so-called "public sector enterprises" (in which the state owns at least a 51% stake) had increased by over 22% - obviously due to speculators betting that Modi would deliver swiftly on his election promises to restructure what he described as a "bloated" public-sector and speed-up the privatisation drive initiated more than two decades ago by his Congress rivals.

Big business - both Indian and foreign - was delighted with the outcome of the election. However, a by no means unusual (for India) incidentI shed some light on the stark reality which lies behind all this hypocrisy. On July 3rd, the Bombay Stock Exchange had to stop its operations due to a power outage. This was blamed on "the anticipation ahead of the newly-elected government's first budget announcement [which had] created a record surge in trading on the main stock index Sensex." Whether this explanation is accurate or not, the fact is that a lot of this "anticipation" actually involved speculation on the shares of companies related to the energy sector - this, at a time when, in addition, an estimated 400 million people, or one third of the population, has no access to electricity whatsoever!

So beyond the enthusiastic acclaim of the so-called "business community", what is the significance of the outcome of this election for the proletarian majority of the Indian population?

The myth of the "world's largest democracy"

To begin with, it seems necessary to get rid once and for all of the claim that there is such a thing as "democracy" for the vast majority of the Indian population.

India may have more billionaires than Japan or Britain, but poverty dominates its social life. Over two-thirds of its population still survives on less than $2 a day (£1.16). One third of the population is illiterate, 48% has no access to sanitation, one-third has no access to electricity, decent housing or schooling. Malnutrition is endemic and 40% of all children are underweight. Last year, the state spent £56bn on subsidising staple food and funding food programs which are not just vital for the poorest but also for that so-called "rising new middle-class", which is so often celebrated by the western media. For instance, a recent report described one of the 200 soup kitchens set up in the run up to the elections in Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu: "Every morning, at 3am, the kitchens... come to life... At 7am the first of the 4,000 daily customers surge in. Porters, rickshaw drivers, nurses, patients, students, bureaucrats, doctors and itinerant holy men all stand to eat their heavily subsidised meals, priced at no more than 5 rupees (5p) and eaten at ferocious speed with fingers from tin plates."

Despite India's much trumpeted "success stories" in some hi-tech industries - mostly software engineering - this is a country which remains deeply impregnated with social backwardness inherited from a distant past. British colonialism bears a major responsibility in this, for having strengthened its stranglehold over India by whipping up religious divisions, playing ethnic minorities against each other and using the ancient caste system to its advantage.

After the large-scale communal massacres at the time of the partition of the Indian sub-continent at the time of independence, communal violence has never ceased to be a feature of India's political life - just as the violence against the so-called "low" castes has remained rife in many parts of rural India.

More generally, violence is a feature of the country's day-to-day social life. India is a place where human life comes cheap. The violence of the army, police and other paramilitary appendages of the states as well as that of the gangs of thugs hired by the privileged is used against all those who dare to rebel against the social order - whether it be workers taking strike action, poor peasants defending their land against the capitalists' greed or ethnic minorities defending their right to exist. There is the violence against women, who are treated as expendable commodities and who are victims of arranged marriages and casual sexual assaults - recently illustrated by a series of rape scandals, which are only the tip of a huge iceberg.

Above all, there is the violence of capitalist exploitation, in a country where bonded labour, although illegal, is still widespread, and where whatever labour legislation is passed is rarely enforced. A mouthpiece of capitalism like The Economist, which hails the fantastic "opportunities" that India offers to British business, describes unashamedly the atrocious misery lying behind the promised profits: "A steaming mountain of rubbish, it rises 30 metres (about 100 feet) above the Okhla industrial district, providing a view over much of south Delhi. With rats, kites and, during the monsoon, clouds for company, Mr Chaurasia spends days and nights there, salvaging scraps of plastic and metal from the detritus of India's capital. He is one of around 200 ragpickers working the Okhla dump, one of India's biggest, with around 7m tonnes of rubbish. Most of them live at the foot of the mountain, in a shanty of iron and plastic. They scavenge for about ten hours a shift - enough, says Mr Chaurasia, a 19-year-old with a decade of experience on the dump, to earn 40-100 rupees (40p). It is a traditional system - the ragpickers are Dalits, members of Hinduism's ancestral underclass - but it has helped assure India of one of the world's highest rates of recycling: anything from 50-90% of the waste stream... For the ragpickers the work is wretched. Wading through rubbish gives the pickers skin diseases and infections. Methane emitted by the dump makes them nauseous. A decade ago, people say, when the dump was more unstable than it is today, several ragpickers were buried alive."

Finally, corruption permeates the whole of Indian society, from the very top of its state institutions to the lowest levels of its state machinery. In this respect, whatever may be said about India's "emerging economy", it is hardly different from any other poor country across the world: given the dismal level of the wages paid to state officials, it is considered "normal" that they should top up their income by asking for bribes from whoever requires their services. Never mind that those who have to pay these bribes are often even poorer than these officials themselves! And since the example of corruption comes from the highest echelons of the state and political institutions, why should it be otherwise?

Yes, this is the country that western commentators dare to describe ad nauseum as the "world's largest democracy". But what does the word "democracy" mean for the hundreds of millions of Indians whose income is so low that they can't be sure they will have something to eat the next day? What does it mean for those whose lives depend on the goodwill of corrupt functionaries and can always be threatened by thugs, whether those of the state, those of their landlord, or those of their employer?

No, under such conditions, the word "democracy" means absolutely nothing, except maybe for the small minority of the westernised better-off, educated layers, living in the leafy districts of the country's large cities.

The election process, an insult to the poor masses

In fact, this year's elections provide a graphic illustration of the hypocrisy which lies behind this so-called "democracy".

The election process itself constituted an insult to the poor masses. The total cost of the campaign was estimated to have reached 400 billion rupees (£3.9bn) - almost as much as Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, which was the most expensive in US history. In Indian terms, this cost was equivalent to half the annual cost of the programme which, under the terms of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), is supposed to provide employment to 50 million among the poorest rural households.

Big business plays a major role in funding the main parties. Despite the theoretical legal limits to their political funding, the law allows them to set up subsidiaries - so-called "electoral trusts" - which they can use to make tax-deductible donations to any party and of any amount. This device is widely used by big companies to hedge their bets: of the 36 which officially provided funding to either Congress or the BJP, 24 funded both parties! But there are many ways of funding an election, other than cash. For instance, Adani Enterprises, which is based in Gujarat and closely associated with Modi, provided many BJP candidates with free private air transport during the election campaign.

High as it may be, though, the 400 billion rupees figure vastly underestimates the real cost of this election because it only includes amounts which are officially recorded. It does not take into account the "black money" mountain - money which appears in no official accounts but is used to buy votes, one way or another, on a colossal scale, as well as to fund even more shady activities, such as the hiring of thugs to intimidate voters or to beat up activists campaigning for rival candidates, for instance.

Officially, parliamentary candidates are limited to spending 7m rupees, or £68,500, but, according to the Indian fortnightly Frontline, they commonly spend 50 to 100 times this amount. In its 30th May issue, this magazine described the situation prevailing in a number of states, such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, as follows:

"An electorate that is too desperate to reject any monetary or material offer, field-level political workers who view money distribution as an easy way to mobilise votes, an ineffective or accommodating official machinery, and a stretched Electoral Commission have made money a decisive factor in the elections... Enquiries with senior functionaries of political parties revealed that a serious candidate from a main-line political party would spend about 20 to 30 million rupees for an Assembly seat... The amount required for a parliamentary election is between 180 and 200 million rupees. Increasingly, political parties give the ticket to rich aspirants so that the party does not have to spend money on their election".

The same issue of Frontline went on to quote a former minister of the state of Karnataka, who certainly knew what he was talking about when he said: "It is an untruth and an hypocrisy to say that elections in India are fair and free. I have been fighting elections in Karnataka since 1971 and I can safely say that the use of money has gone up exponentially. Political parties are not interested in strengthening democracy; instead they are fine-tuning and intensifying the use of black money. At the higher levels of the Electoral Commission, there may be a desire to impose the rules, but the same cannot be said of the lower level staff, the constables, the revenue inspectors, the people manning the checkpoints. To get past the checkpoints, the contestants or the parties would have to pay as bribe a fraction of the huge amount of money that is being transported through them."

"Curiously enough," commented Frontline, "many of these check points were dismantled by the Electoral Commission two days before the election date, when the transportation of inducements such as liquor, food and money was at its peak" - and this, despite the fact that, so far, according to the Commission's own figures, a record £26m worth of banknotes and liquor had been confiscated by its road blocks.

In addition to this endemic corruption, the election process was dominated by an epidemic combination of thuggery and intimidation. This was how the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (ADPR) described this phenomenon in the state of West Bengal: "The people of West Bengal have once against witnessed an example of free and peaceful polling in seventeen seats in the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections. Following are some symptoms of free and fair polling: booth capturing, fake voting, stopping voters from getting out of their houses, locality, village or apartment building, not allowing them to vote when they reach polling station, threatening of dire consequences if votes are not cast in favour of the candidate favoured by the goons, beating up to the extent to breaking bones of supporters and workers of opposition party candidates, liberal use sticks, bullets, bombs - all these were part of the elections". And West Bengal was by no means an exception across India.

A vote for the BJP or a vote against Congress?

Since the BJP's campaign expenditure is estimated to have amounted to two-thirds of the total, it seems logical to conclude that this party has benefited more than any other from the corrupt operation of the election process. But this, in and of itself, cannot explain the scale of the electoral shift which brought the BJP into office.

Since the BJP emerged on the political scene, in the 1990s, the Indian political system has increasingly looked like a two-party system in which coalitions led either by the Congress party or by the BJP alternated in office - even if the composition of these coalitions varied with time. As a result, there has been an anti-incumbency factor in every election ever since, reflecting the disappointment of a section of voters caused by the failure of the coalition they had voted into office in the previous election, to deliver on their expectations.

This anti-incumbency factor certainly played a role in this year's election. But it was also compounded by the impact of the crisis and the fact that the Congress party has been in office ever since the crisis broke out, implementing policies which have been catastrophic for large sections of the population.

For a long time, western economic "experts" used to claim that, together with the other "emerging economies", India would pull the world out of the capitalist crisis. But as world trade slowed down, so did India's export-orientated industries. The crisis brought to an end the "golden days" when massive foreign investment flowing into India in search of a low-cost workforce created more and more industrial facilities and large numbers of jobs - thereby producing impressive GDP growth rates. Nor that foreign investment flows ground to a total halt. But whatever foreign capital did come into India was only designed for purely speculative purposes - thereby weakening even more the country's economy.

Eventually, the Indian economy's growth rate was cut by more than half. Over the past two years, industrial production and investment have both been virtually stagnant, with annual growth rates of less than 1%. Meanwhile, overall inflation was increasing to almost 10% and even more than that, for food.

The working class and urban poor have taken the brunt of the impact of the crisis, in the form of wage cuts, massive job cuts and a further degradation of employment conditions for the minority who had had some form of regular job. But the working class was not alone to suffer from the crisis. A significant section of the so-called "new middle-class", whose material conditions were already at best precarious, was also affected - in particular the younger generation whose expectations of getting a better job were disappointed. Meanwhile, the traditional urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie was hit by the slowdown in the domestic market and the rising inflation.

The growing discontent thus caused was compounded by a series of scandals involving the highest spheres of the Congress-led administration, which exposed both their corruption and their criminal negligence.

There was, for instance, the "2G scandal", in 2011. A few telecom companies had managed to deprive the state of an estimated £23bn in revenue thanks to a "friendly" minister of Communications & Information, who had illegally organised the auction of 2G telecom spectrum licences at rock-bottom prices to his favoured partners.

In 2013, another scandal developed, this time around the state-run Indian Railways, the largest employer in the country, with 1.3m workers.

During the year, five trains caught fire and in the last of these fires, which was due to a short-circuit, 26 passengers were burnt alive. There had been a long-standing decision to increase the use of fire-retardant material, but it had never been implemented.

In November, a wagon derailed, bringing down a wall at Old Delhi Station and killing three people. This was the third derailment in a matter of 10 days. Behind these accidents were the crazy patterns of work imposed on the 60,000 train drivers, due to the fact that for cost-cutting reasons, 22,000 positions remained unfilled. The Times of India explained the consequences: "The engine crew roster for Hampi Express which collided with a stationary train suggests that the driver had run 23 trains in 19 days of which 12 were full-night, three half-night and seven full-day duties. This means the driver had undisturbed sleep in only seven days in the past three weeks. The crew roster for Kanpur shows that a driver has to run 16 trains in 15 days, of which 15 are full-night." However, not only was there no plan to recruit more drivers, but a "restructuring" exercise was being planned with the aim of cutting another 70,000 jobs across all grades!

While the government was justifying this dire situation and wholesale cost-cutting by the fact that the Indian Railways were desperately cash-strapped, a report of the Controller and Auditor General was exposing the fact that the Indian Railways' management had been transporting iron ore for export at the same low rate as iron for domestic consumption. The resulting loss for the Indian Railways - and the extra profit for the export companies - was estimated to be £4.9bn over five years!

The main beneficiaries of the politicians' corruption are, of course, the biggest companies. Of the ten biggest family firms by sales, seven are involved in some sort of corruption allegations linking them to top politicians. And the arrogance of these well-connected super-rich has no limit. An illustration of this arrogance is given by India's richest individual, Mukesh Ambani, who owns a controlling shareholding in the Reliance Industries group. The home of this character, in Mumbai, sports "twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and six hundred servants", writes the Indian journalist Arundhati Roy.

It was indeed this combination of blatant corruption among the Congress-led administration and arrogance among the super-rich which propelled the anti-graft Aam Aadmi Party (AAP or Common Man party) to prominence, in December last year, just 13 months after it had been launched, when it won 28 out of the 70 seats of the Delhi territory legislative assembly.

Modi's "clean hands"

Predictably, however, the AAP's success was short-lived. Although it managed to field 432 candidates in this year's elections, it only managed to win 2.05% of the overall vote. Its resources could not match the massive electoral machines of the national parties, or even the main regional parties - although it surprised many people by topping the poll in Punjab and winning 4 of the state's 13 seats.

Ironically, it was the BJP which managed to make the most of the anti-corruption mood of the electorate. One focus of its campaign, especially of Modi's speeches, was a commitment to "clean up India".

This is particularly ironical - and cynical - as the BJP in general, and Modi in particular, have a long record of corruption. Back in 2004, it was a series of corruption scandals involving ministers which resulted in the BJP being humiliated by Congress, losing 44 of its 182 seats and being kicked out of office for a whole decade.

As to Modi himself, it is sometimes hard to tell where corruption ends and where outright gangsterism begins. But Mr "clean hands'" Modi has definitely something of both.

For instance, there is the case of Amit Shah, who is both Modi's right-hand man and one of the BJP's general secretaries. Once upon a time, Shah was Modi's Home minister in Gujarat. Then it turned out that, not only had Shah been involved in some sort of racket together with high-ranking officials from the state police, but he was accused of having organised and covered up the murder of compromising witnesses, by dressing it up as a shoot-out with terrorists. The evidence was so damning that even the Gujarat judiciary was unable to protect Shah. He was dismissed from his post and banned from the state, to protect potential witnesses in a future trial - which has still to take place. Nevertheless, Shah was appointed to run the BJP's campaign for this year's election in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state!

Modi's entourage includes other dubious characters. For instance, his Water Resources and Agriculture minister, in Gujarat, Babubhai Bokhiria, was caught red-handed in an illegal £5.2m limestone mining case and was given a 3-year jail sentence. Nevertheless Bokhiria retained his post, pending his appeal!

But then the example of dubious dealings may well come from Modi himself, judging from his ownership of a television channel, NaMo, which just happens to have been previously owned by the state of Gujarat, before being privatised under his tenure.

Still under Modi's tenure, the Gujarat government has been involved in a host of land deals which are still under investigation. They all involve the allocation of large tracts of land at rock bottom prices, usually without any public bidding process, to big corporations such as Tata Motors, Essar Steel and Essar Oil, Adani Power, Reliance Industries, Ford India, and various hotel groups.

The oil industry is another shadowy area of activity for Modi's administration. In March, the Times of India reported: "The Controller and Auditor General reports for 2009-10 and 2010-11, placed before the Gujarat assembly on the last day of the budget session on Friday, tore into the Narendra Modi government on the issue of corruption by pointing out irregularities causing a cumulative loss of nearly Rs 17,000 crore [£1.6bn]. The villain of the piece turned out to be state-owned public sector undertaking (PSU), Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC), which showed irregularities leading to losses of up to Rs 12,400 crore [£1.2bn]. "

Among the irregularities pointed out by the Commission were the large quantities of electricity bought by the state of Gujarat from Adani Power - the electricity generating subsidiary of the Adani group, which is linked to Modi. Also, there was another deal going back to 2003, when Modi was in office in Gurajat and the BJP in Delhi, in which a company called GeoGlobal Resources won a 10% share in the 457,000-acre Krishna-Godavari Basin, off the coast of Gujarat, whose total value was £12bn. As it turned out, GeoGlobal was a Barbados-based shelf company with a capital of just £37, which never paid a penny for its 10% share, nor for the 10% exploration which it owed. Somehow, it was GSPC which footed the bill, while GeoGlobal parked its 10% with another Mauritius-based shell company and still managed to win several oil contracts with the BJP-led government of India. Who was behind GeoGlobal? No-one seems to know. But someone did make a lot of money - someone with good connections to Modi and the BJP!

The lethal poison of Hindu nationalism

In order to promote his image as India's future prime minister, Modi is said to have hired the services of an American lobbying firm called APCO Worldwide. Apparently this is a company which specialises in very dodgy cases, judging from the fact that it has been hired in the past by people like the Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev!

Such a choice by Modi, who made a big show of pretending to be the candidate of "all 1.25 million Indians" during his campaign, is understandable, given the record of the BJP and his own - and, more generally, the record of the Hindu far-right.

This Hindu far-right was, and still is, a galaxy of groups of various sizes, including anything from cultural and religious associations to groups which are very similar to European neo-fascist sects and to mass organisations. Its main component, since the beginning, has been the Rashtryia Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or National Volunteer Organisation) which was set up in 1925 with the aim of promoting an Hindu identity. As there was no well-defined Hindu religion, the founders of the RSS defined as Hindu those who "love the territory stretching between the Indus river and the Eastern Sea and consider it both as their fatherland and their holy land". This was just another way of defining any Indian who was not a Muslim as Hindu.

Until independence, the RSS was primarily, therefore, an anti-Muslim organisation, occasionally providing anti-communist and anti-working class gangs when required. Its leaders used Mussolini's Black Shirts in Italy as a model to organise their members into a strict hierarchy of disciplined units, whose main activity involved regular physical exercises, parades and drills. And this is what it has remained, organising several million people in its quasi-military structures.

Today, the RSS is fundamentalist - or revivalist - in that its aim is to reshape Indian society according to a Hindu religion which its leaders have reformulated to serve their nationalist purposes. But just as for all fundamentalist movements, religion is merely a demagogic weapon for the RSS, designed to turn the Muslim minority into a scapegoat, so as to rally the most backward, or the most desperate, sections of the Indian population behind its reactionary policies.

Formed in 1980, the BJP was the latest of a series of unsuccessful attempts by the Hindu far-right to challenge the political monopoly of the Congress party since independence. Ten years later, the BJP had managed to establish itself as the second largest party after the Congress party.

Shortly after this, the Hindu far-right and, in particular, its RSS activists were instrumental in the outbreak of the worst anti-Muslim pogroms since the Partition of India. From 6 December 1992, the pogroms spread to the country's main cities, lasting 7 weeks. Out of the official death toll of 900 - which was a huge underestimate - two thirds were said to be Muslim and one third of the casualties were said to have been caused by police firing.

It was in 2001 that Modi came into the sphere of public politics. Up until then he had been a high-ranking member of the RSS, assigned by the organisation to take a position in the central apparatus of the BJP. But in 2001 the BJP-led administration of Gujarat was running into problems, following a number of corruption scandals and a series of defeats in by-elections. As the then chief minister was sick, Modi was assigned by the BJP leadership to take over his post temporarily and to prepare himself and the BJP for the next state elections, due in December 2002.

On 27 February 2002, 60 Hindu pilgrims died when a fire broke out in their train. The rumour was spread by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (Hindu World Congress), one of the organisations of the Hindu far-right, that the fire had been caused by Muslims. And over the next three months, Gujarat saw the largest wave of anti-Muslim pogroms since 1993. Over 2,000 people died and 150,000 were left homeless after Muslim houses were systematically burnt down.

The numerous subsequent enquiries left no possible doubt. These pogroms had been well prepared by the VHP and RSS - if not with the active cooperation of the state, at least with its tacit support. For example, a report published by the National Commission for Human Rights mentioned that lists of houses to burn down were handed out and that truckloads of gas bottles were distributed to the rioters. Another report mentions meetings organised by the VHP in villages with a large Muslim minority, during which non-Muslims were invited to evict Muslims from their houses and villages unless they were willing to become Hindus. And it so happens that it was precisely in those villages visited by the VHP that the worst massacres of Muslims took place.

As to the BJP authorities of the state, including Modi, not only did they do nothing to oppose the pogroms, but subsequently they went out of their way to cover up these cold-blooded murders. But so did most of the Indian judiciary. The BJP politicians who had been identified as participating in the pogroms were never convicted - except for one, a member of Modi's cabinet, who was eventually given a 28-year sentenced in 2012, before being released the following year on ill-health grounds. Modi himself was declared innocent of any wrongdoing.

However, these pogroms reversed the electoral fortunes of the BJP in Gujarat. Modi triggered an early state election in July 2002 and, following a violent anti-Muslim campaign, the BJP won a record 127 seats in the 180-seat state assembly.

Of course, in this year's elections, Modi and the BJP mostly left their Hindu supremacist agenda in the cupboard. But not entirely. In West Bengal, for instance, Modi could not stop himself from attacking Bengali migrants for taking Indians' jobs and stating that those who do not respect Hindu festivals should go back to their country. Meanwhile, Modi's right-hand man Amit Shah, speaking on the scene of the Muzaffarnagar communal riots which left 63 dead in 2013, called on Hindu voters to "take revenge against the perpetrators" by voting for the BJP.

But now that the BJP is back in office, with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, it has no reason to show such restraint. So, for instance, one of Modi's new ministers made a press statement announcing that the government was considering repealing the semi-autonomous status of Indian-controlled Kashmir - which would be a gratuitous provocation in a region which has been the scene of a low-level civil war ever since independence, as well as the cause of two wars between India and Pakistan.

Gujarat's "model" of development against the working class

Modi's main "selling point" in these elections, however, was based on Gujarat's economic "success story" and his pledge to bring back economic growth to India - and more specifically jobs - by attracting foreign investment.

But despite the shining light shed by the western media on Gujarat's "success story", the reality is somewhat different, particularly when it comes to social conditions, of course..

So, for instance, in October 2011, among all 28 Indian states, Gujarat had the 7th highest level of female infanticide, the 13th highest infant mortality, the 14th highest child mortality and the 9th highest level of child malnutrition. The same year, the level of basic literacy was 79% in Gujarat, compared to 93% in the top performer, Kerala.

On a different measure of social development, out of the state's 170 urban local authorities, only 90 had any sort of sewage system. And among those, just six had sewage treatment plants releasing treated sewage into the environment. As a result, one third of drinking water sources are contaminated, without anything being done to alert the villages concerned.

So, what about the jobs promised by Modi and the BJP? According to a study released in March by US bank Goldman Sachs, India could add 40m jobs over the next decade if the "flexible" labour laws implemented by Modi in Gujarat were extended to the rest of the country - mainly things such as freeing companies from the need to get government approval for lay-offs in a Special Economic Zone, reducing the notice period for an individual redundancy to one month and to two months for a factory closure. And the bank adds that if only labour laws could be "reformed" further, so as to be made even more "flexible", 110m jobs could be added within 10 years!

Of course, all this is pure dreaming - if only because of the evolution of the world crisis, in particular. But in addition, even if investment did materialise, past history shows that the link between investment and jobs is anything but automatic. Indeed, in the decade up to 2008 - the heyday of Gujarat's industrial development - although manufacturing investment increased by 9.1% per year on average, industrial employment increased only by an annual average of 2.8%.

And even if both investment and some jobs at least did materialise, how would workers fare? Today, the average wages of permanent industrial workers may be very slightly higher in Gujarat than in India as a whole - although by only 20p a day! However, for casual workers, who make up the majority of the workforce, wages are significantly worse - 23% below the all-India average in rural areas and 20% below in urban areas. By comparison, in Kerala (which does not have such "flexible" labour laws), the equivalent wages are 200% higher and 100% higher respectively!

In fact, over the pre-2008 decade of rapid investment growth in Gujarat, the share of workers' wages in the value they produced actually shrank from 11.4% to 8.5% - in other words, the rate of workers' exploitation increased! But, of course, this is exactly what Modi and the BJP are aiming at - turning the screw on the working class.

At the time of writing Modi's first budget and legislative plan have not been published. But an announcement made by the BJP-led administration of the state of Rajasthan provides a foretaste of what is to come.

The main points in this announcement are: employers will only be responsible for labour law violations by a subcontractor if they employ more than 50 workers (instead of 20); employers will be able to make up to 300 workers redundant without the government's permission, (instead of up to 100); the setting up of a union will require that 30% of the workforce vote in favour (instead of 15%).

Since then, Modi's new government has given a few hints about its plans, which would include 54 amendments to the labour legislation, including allowing night shifts for women (in the name of "gender equality"); doubling the maximum overtime from 50 hours a quarter to 100, and from 75 to 150 hours a quarter in areas involving "work in the public interest".

It is worth noting, however, that many of these "flexibility" measures were already to be implemented in the National Investment and Manufacturing Zones that the previous Congress administration had announced as part of its National Manufacturing Policy (NMP). And, so far, Modi has at least made it clear that he intends to stick to the NMP. Whether the BJP will try to go further than the Congress party dared to go remains to be seen. But like anything else in this society, this is a question of balance of forces. And, after all, even Modi and his flexibility have proved unable dampen workers' militancy. In 2011, according to the Economic Survey, Gujarat had the highest number of strikes of any state. And what was true then of Gujarat, may well be true of India tomorrow, should Modi and his big business partners push their luck too far.