As India, the world’s largest democracy, held a general election last month, the rest of us waited and watched. The incumbent BJP party was sure to win, they were sure, the media was sure and so was almost everyone else. Their message, “Indian Shining,” emphasized the fact that India had undergone tremendous development.
A lot of foreign investment had poured into the country. India, along with China, had been emerging as a huge marketplace. The stability of the government and the banner of “e-governance,” including being the hub of outsourcing, attracted multinationals like Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and IBM, and financial institutions like Met Life. Indeed, a wide brand name product range of consumer goods poured in to the country.
Food brands like Philadelphia, Tropicana and Ocean Spray were unheard of before. The markets boomed and the malls of cities like Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) were overfilled every weekend.
Almost every businessman, housewife, teenager had a cell phone. Everyone was “happy” that India was “shining” – everyone who read the Economic Times and was a part of the newly emerging middle class, that is. But precisely for whom did India shine? As the results of the election showed, it didn’t shine for the poor, the working people and the farmers. They used the one voice they had and sent a powerful message.
The true masses spoke on the tenth of May. They made clear that India wasn’t shining for the working people who make up the majority of the country. Tech and outsourcing booms did not feed the poor. And they certainly did not improve their living conditions.
In Kolkata, the majority of the poor live in shantytowns built around the back alleyways of newly erected high-rise apartments. Families of five cram into 5-by-6-foot rooms. It is where they sleep and, for some, work. They use public toilets and bathe on the streets in what look like fire hydrant openings. India certainly did not shine on them.
Amina, 26, lives in one of these shantytowns. A maid who cleans and does laundry (by hand) at the high-rise buildings, she voted for the CPI(M), the Communist Party India-Marxist). Rashmi, also a maid in Kolkata, explained why she and her family support the Communists: “Because of CPI we have water and electricity. Other people don’t care about us.”
Many like Amina and Rashmi believed that the left would take leadership and solve the growing problems of poverty, scarce water and electricity. These are the essential issues that matter to them.
But will the new India shine on them? There are many unresolved issues in the new Congress government. The Congress Party won a majority of the vote but did not secure over 50 percent of the seats in Parliament.
This led to talks between Congress and other smaller parties to win their support to form a government. The Indian stock market panicked and had to be closed twice during the day. Foreign investors were rumored to be moving out.
Since then, things have quieted down somewhat. But clearly the coalition leading the newly elected government, the United Progressive Alliance, has a long struggle ahead of it not only on the home front but also on the international level. The peace process with Pakistan must continue. The struggle of the G20 countries on the economic front – formerly led by the right-wing BJP’s Arun Jaitely – must continue.
The United Progressive Alliance needs to quickly and truly unite and move ahead with clear-cut policies that help the working class, farmers and the poor and dispossessed. The Indian people are anxiously waiting to hear what the new government will do for them. And the rest of us will be watching as the new India leads.
Shelly Delos, former managing editor of Dynamic, the magazine of the Young Communist League, has been involved in the anti-globalization movement through the Independent Media Centers. She is currently studying in Kolkata, India. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.