“The Modi Regime can and will be defeated”: Oxford University Union Debate

In June 2023 the Oxford University Union held a debate on the motion, “This House believes that Modi’s India is on the Right Path”. The debate was chaired by the President of the Oxford University Union Mathew Dick, and there were three speakers each on opposite ends.

The speakers for the Proposition were Baroness Verma, Businesswoman also a Member of the House of Lords, Akash Banerjee, founder and host of the Deshbhakt, India’s first political satire platform reporting on Indian politics, promoting media freedom and Palki Sharma, journalist, news anchor and an editor at ‘World is One News’.

The speakers for the Opposition were Dr Ashok Dhawale, National President of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), one of the leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Prashant Bhushan, lawyer in the Supreme Court of India and co-founder of the Aam Aadmi Party and later of the Swaraj Abhiyan and Ajay Maken, former Congress MP and Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation from 2012-13.

Below is the intervention/ speech by Dr. Ashok Dhawale during this debate:

Mr Chairperson, distinguished speakers, friends, ladies and gentlemen,

“Let me first warmly congratulate the Oxford Union for completing the bicentenary of its vibrant debating tradition of free speech which began in 1823. It is a great and enviable track record, of which all of us are very proud!

“In today’s debate, I rise to speak on behalf of the Opposition. I am deeply convinced that Modi’s India is on the “right path” ONLY so far as the interests of the Adanis, Ambanis, other crony corporates, and of the rabidly communal and fascistic RSS are concerned. I firmly assert that Modi’s India is on the worst possible path so far as the interests of the massive majority of its 1.4 billion people are concerned.

“Modi’s path is in fact the path of destruction of all the noble values of democracy, secularism, sovereignty, federalism, and socio-economic justice that are ingrained in India’s Constitution, values which themselves are the result (and outcome) of India’s glorious two-century long bitter struggle against British colonialism. When I say India in this context, I also include what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh, because we were all part of one country that fought against British imperialism tooth and nail until a few years before we attained Independence.

“The freedom struggle of India led to millions of martyrs, from the Sanyasi-Fakir Rebellion and various tribal revolts from 1760; to the First War of Indian Independence in 1857; to the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919; to the terrible Bengal Famine in 1943; and to the horrifying communal Partition of India in 1947.

“Along with this was the British killing in cold blood of a long line of great patriots, who included Tipu Sultan, Mangal Pande, Rani Laxmibai, the Chapekar brothers, Birsa Munda, Khudiram Bose, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Alluri Sitarama Raju, Ashfaqulla Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Jatin Das, Surya Sen, Pritilata Waddedar, Udham Singh, the Kayyur martyrs, and innumerable others.

“Let me remind you all here in Britain itself that the ruling classes of Britain have never once even apologised for these millions of deaths of Indians for which they were solely responsible, and also for their unprecedented loot and exploitation of India for two centuries, leave alone giving reparations and compensation to India for these priceless losses.

“Let us now briefly see the results of the nine-year long Modi rule under the following three major heads:

  1. The danger to livelihoods,
  2. The danger to democracy,
  3. The danger to secularism and national unity.

Danger to Livelihoods

“What have the Modi regime’s economic policies in the last nine years led to? First, the disastrous demonetisation in November 2016 sucked out about 86 per cent of the cash in the economy in just a few hours. This destroyed the economy, particularly given the further shock of GST reforms in 2017.

“The unorganised sectors bore the brunt of demonetisation. Agriculture and the peasantry were severely affected. Millions of workers lost their jobs. GDP growth rates fell sharply in Q4 of 2016-17. The clearest indication of economic slowdown was the historic lows to which the offtake of bank credit fell after demonetisation.

“As the official narratives of “blocking terror financing and unearthing black money” proved to be bankrupt, the government shifted the goalpost. Demonetisation was projected as a step to usher in a cashless economy, or a less-cash economy. But data show that cash is back, as seen in the cash-to-GDP ratio.

“Four years later, the sudden countrywide Covid lockdown in March 2020 with just a four-hour notice, the bankrupt Covid vaccine policy, and the terrible state of the public health system led to the unprecedented misery of millions. While the Modi government officially estimated Covid deaths in India through the end of 2021 as just 481,000, the WHO estimated them as 10 times higher, at 4.7 million, the highest in the world. The prestigious British medical journal ‘Lancet’ estimated the Covid deaths in India to be 6 to 7 times the official count.

“The number of poor in India (with income of $2 per day or less in purchasing power parity, according to the UNO) has more than doubled from 60 to 134 million in just one year 2020 due to the pandemic-induced recession. It is estimated that 150 to 199 million additional people have fallen into poverty by the end of 2021. During the pandemic, India accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the global increase in poverty.

“The number of Indians in jobs shrank from 440 million in 2013 to 380 million in 2021 – a straight drop of 60 million in eight years of the Modi regime. However, the working age population grew from 790 million to 1060 million during that same period. Recession hit thousands of factories, which closed down. Unable to find jobs, millions of people just stopped looking for them and headed back to rural India for survival, which was also hard.

“Women in the work force had fallen from 36 per cent in 2013 to 18 per cent in 2019 even before the pandemic lockdowns. In February 2021, this figure plummeted to only 9.24 per cent, underlining the dire straits that women were in.

“The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which is directly under the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, estimated that over 100,000 farmers and agricultural workers in India were forced to commit suicide due to indebtedness in the last eight years of the Modi regime. Further, the monthly income from “cultivation” fell in real terms from Rs 2,855 to Rs 2,816 (a fall by -1.4 per cent). The enormity of the contemporary distress in India’s agrarian society is fully borne out by the farmer suicides and the absolute fall in real incomes from cultivation.

“The 2022 Global Hunger Index ranked India at 107 out of 121 countries. Last year the rank was 101 and a year before it was 94. India is now categorised as a country with a ‘serious level of hunger’. Hundreds of thousands of Adivasi and Dalit children died in rural India every year due to malnutrition and starvation.

“All through the Covid period when people’s misery was rising, petrol and diesel prices were hiked almost on a daily basis, until both petrol and diesel crossed an unprecedented Rs 100 per litre. Prices of cooking gas cylinders sky-rocketed from Rs 400 in 2014 to over Rs 1150 per cylinder in 2023. These massive price rises were a result of increase in government taxes on petrol and diesel and cut in subsidies on cooking gas. The Union Finance Minister informed Parliament that during the last three years the Centre had through this loot earned a whopping Rs 8.02 trillion between 2018 and 2021. These price hikes of petroleum products triggered an inflationary spiral due to rise in transportation and other input costs. Food, vegetables and other essentials saw a massive price hike, scaling a 12-year record. Now, for the first time in 75 years of independence, GST was imposed on food items. For the poor, even living has now become difficult.

Survival of the richest

“On the other hand, there has been an engineered transfer of incomes to a few at the top of the pyramid. According to ‘The Economist’, published from London, Mukesh Ambani’s net worth increased by 350 per cent between 2016 and 2020 and rose to Rs 7.18 trillion; while Gautam Adani’s net worth increased by 750 per cent during the same period and rose to Rs 5.06 trillion. When the Modi government assumed office in 2014, the Adani group had a market capitalisation of only $ 7 billion. This zoomed to $ 200 billion in 2022. In international rankings, Adani was No. 609 in 2014 when Modi came to power; he astronomically rose to become No. 2 in the world in 2022, until the Hindenburg exposures in January 2023 pricked his inflated balloon. In spite of revelations of massive wrongdoings, the Modi regime is still protecting Adani by stonewalling any Parliamentary enquiries against him.

“According to the Oxfam India Inequality Report 2023, aptly called ‘The Survival of the Richest’, the top 1 per cent people in India hold 40 per cent of the country’s wealth; the top 5 per cent hold 62 per cent of India’s wealth; while the share of the bottom 50 per cent (700 million) is only 3 per cent. Since the pandemic began in March 2020 up to November 2022, the total number of billionaires in India increased from 102 to 166, and their wealth surged by 121 per cent, i.e. by Rs 25 million every minute. The richest 21 billionaires have more wealth than 700 million Indians. But in this same period, the number of hungry Indians increased from 190 million to 350 million. In the last seven years of the Modi government, loans taken by corporates worth Rs. 10.72 trillion have been written off. Corporates have been favoured with tax concessions of millions of rupees.

“With receipts from disinvestment (privatization) budgeted at Rs 17,50,000 million in 2021-22, some of the best profit-making public sector firms and financial institutions have been put up for sale to domestic and foreign corporates. Public sector banks and insurance companies are to be privatized. The National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) is to sell off Rs 6 trillion of land and other public sector assets to the corporate lobby. The entire country – railways, airports, airlines, ports, steel, coal, oil, telecom, banks, insurance, health, education, and even defence production – is being put up for sale to the domestic and foreign corporates for a pittance. Along with the massive loss to the country, this is also attacking the workers and employees through massive retrenchment.

“Sharp cuts in public expenditure on infrastructure and its growing privatisation are having their disastrous impact, as seen just last week in the horrific multiple train accident at Balasore in Odisha, which claimed nearly 300 innocent lives. While the railways are starved of funds for their development and modernisation, PM Modi goes about the country inaugurating several elitist Vande Bharat trains which will run on the same hazardous railway lines.

“The Modi government sharply attacked the working class, the peasantry and the agricultural workers through the four Labour Codes, the three Farm Laws, and the assault on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

“The three Farm Laws had to be repealed as a result of the SKM-led historic one-year long struggle of the farmers of India. But the BJP government’s repression on the farmers’ struggle was intense, and it led to the martyrdom of 715 farmers. The worst case was the horrifying mowing down of four farmers and a journalist at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh under the cars of the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni, who is still shamelessly allowed to continue to remain in office. This would never have happened in any real democracy. In the UK itself, we have the example of Boris Johnson being forced to resign first as Prime Minister, and then as Member of Parliament, over the ‘Partygate’ scandal, which though serious in itself, pales in comparison with the five murders committed through conspiracy by Minister Ajay Mishra Teni.

“The classes that actually produce the wealth of the country through their labour – the workers, the peasants and the agricultural workers – are being viciously attacked. This is the real meaning of corporate communalism, whose symbols today are Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Gautam Adani, and Mukesh Ambani.

Attacks on Democracy

“One of the main architects of the Constitution of India, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, had written this just before independence came, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country…It is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”

“The attacks on democracy by the BJP-RSS government in India are unprecedented.

“The draconian use of the Sedition laws, National Security Act (NSA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on the one hand, and of the CBI, ED, IT and other central agencies against political opponents, has crossed all limits. Hundreds of innocent human rights activists, intellectuals, students and journalists have been thrown into jail for years without charge sheets being filed against them. They include the Bhima Koregaon detenus and the Delhi riots detenus. Along with them, the arrests of Sanjiv Bhatt, R B Sreekumar, Umar Khaled, Teesta Setalvad, Kappan Siddiqui, Safoora Zargar, and Mohammed Zubair are some other shocking examples. The mysterious and sensational deaths of Haren Pandya and Judge Loya are, of course, the most serious cases.

“The removal of opposition state governments in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, and some North Eastern states through a combination of corrupt money power and ED-CBI threats is another manifestation of the BJP-RSS murder of democracy. All constitutional bodies – parliament, judiciary, election commission, central agencies – are being subverted.

“Most of the print and electronic media in India are already owned by the corporate lobby, led by Ambani, Adani and the rest. They are kept in line by the grant or denial of government advertisements, and other coercive measures. They are called the Godi media in India, and they are engaged in a competition to glorify the Modi regime and to stamp out any opposition and dissent against it.

“The V-Dem Institute has called India an ‘electoral autocracy’. Freedom House has described India as ‘partly free’. IDEA has said that India scores ‘at the level of 1975’ when a formal Emergency was in place. ‘Reporters without Borders’ has placed India at number 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. This is the shocking record of the so-called “largest democracy in the world” under the Modi regime.

Danger to secularism and national unity

“The grave danger of the Modi regime to secularism and national unity is seen from the regular attacks on, and lynching of, the Muslim and Christian religious minorities. This is hardly surprising, considering Modi’s key role in the 2002 horrendous Gujarat communal carnage, that killed nearly 2,000 Muslims, raped hundreds of women, and slaughtered even children. The BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question” was banned in India. However, thousands of students across University campuses in the country broke the ban and screened the documentary nevertheless.

“Communalism is a legacy that the RSS has faithfully lifted from British colonialism and from its dictum of ‘Divide and Rule’. It is no wonder that all three communal organisations in India at that time – the Muslim League of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Hindu Mahasabha of Savarkar, and the RSS of Hedgewar and Golwalkar, strictly stayed away from the glorious freedom struggle of the Indian people against British colonialism. The latter two organisations were directly involved in the dastardly assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Decades later, similar forces were responsible for the killings of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, Prof M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. No progress has been made in the investigations into their murders.

“One of the most shocking recent instances is that of the BJP-led Gujarat state government setting free 11 criminals convicted of killing 14 Muslims during the Gujarat inferno of 2002, gang-raping the then 21-year old pregnant woman, Bilkis Bano, and killing her 3-year old baby daughter also. The release of these 11 criminals was carried out on the 75th anniversary of India’s freedom – 15 August 2022 – and on the eve of the Gujarat state assembly elections, clearly in order to sharpen communal polarisation.

“The BJP’s attempt to link citizenship to religion through the CAA-NRC-NPR elicited remarkable countrywide protests for months, including the prolonged and remarkable Shaheen Bagh protest by women in Delhi, which was eventually crushed by engineering communal riots in the capital. The sudden withdrawal of statehood to India’s only Muslim majority state, Jammu & Kashmir, and the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A of the Constitution that had made special provisions for that state, was followed by an unheard-of crackdown and repression on the people there.

“Dalits, Adivasis, backward castes, and women are also at the receiving end of these casteist proponents of the Manusmriti. In the last few years, we have seen the terrible instances of atrocities on Dalits, particularly on Dalit women, at Hathras and Unnao, and in the tragic institutional murder of Rohith Vemula.

“The RSS-BJP allegiance to the Manusmriti was clearly shown in the case of the foundation stone laying and inauguration ceremony of the new Parliament building in Delhi. Although the President of India is the highest constitutional authority in the country, both successive Presidents of India were kept out of the two ceremonies – first Ramnath Kovind, a Dalit, and then Draupadi Murmu, an Adivasi woman. Although both of them had been hand-picked and elected to these high posts by Modi, it was Modi alone who conducted both these ceremonies himself, with a host of saffron-clad sadhus, seers and mahants in tow.

“The BJP government’s determined opposition to a caste census for the accurate enumeration of OBCs is yet another example of its Manuwadi mindset.

“The implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 is being undermined. Adivasis are being driven out of their forest lands to help the corporate lobby acquire their land for mining, industry and other purposes. The recent changes in the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of 1980 are meant precisely for this purpose.

“Atrocities on women and girls have shown a sharp increase in the last nine years of the Modi regime. Many of these atrocities are perpetrated by BJP leaders themselves, and there is no punishment meted out to them. All laws giving protection to women against violence are being systematically diluted. The right to freedom of choice is being snatched away and the growth of ‘honour killings’ is a matter of grave concern. Laws passed by BJP state governments are a direct attack on the freedom of choice and seek to impose even more control on women.

“The most striking recent instance which has rocked the country is the agitation by Olympic medalist women wrestlers against sexual harassment by the then President of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP MP. In spite of the wrestlers conducting an agitation for over a month in Delhi, which got mass support from the people, the accused BJP MP has still not been arrested; on the contrary, the wrestlers were manhandled and arrested on the very same day that the new Parliament building was inaugurated by Modi.

The tide is turning

“But as Abraham Lincoln famously said, you cannot fool all the people all the time. Accordingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aura of invincibility is being eroded in recent years. In the last two years, the BJP has been resoundingly defeated in elections and has received other setbacks in the states of Kerala, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Punjab, Bihar, Delhi, and recently in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, where its state governments were ousted by the people.

“The BJP has lost three of its long-standing regional allies in the NDA in recent times – the Akali Dal in Punjab, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, and the JD(U) in Bihar. There are four important state assembly elections later this year, and these will be followed by the parliamentary general elections in April-May 2024.

“If most of the secular opposition parties unite to minimise the splitting of the anti-BJP vote, if peoples’ struggles around their real burning issues are intensified, like the iconic farmers’ struggle of 2020-21, and most important, if the RSS-BJP attempts at communal polarisation are fought politically tooth and nail, it is surely possible that the Modi-Shah-led BJP-RSS regime can and will be defeated, and the people of India will be saved from a dark, divisive, and fascistic future. Let us all bend our energies towards that end!

Thank you very much!
Jai Hind!

Long Live Revolution!

[Dr Ashok Dhawale is National President of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), one of the leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)]



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