What we are witnessing in the run up to the next Lok Sabha elections is deeply disturbing. The stakes are high and this is going to be no-holds-barred fight where the winner will take all. The Opposition, unable to take on Narendra Modi and the BJP-NDA combine in a united front called mahagathbandhan, is desperate to block the return to power of the rulers who don’t seem to particularly care about the rules of the game, or as some allege even for the rule of law. The complaint that it is not a level-playing field is not totally unjustified. It is a different matter that the Sangh Parivar no longer presents a picture of a happy Hindu Undivided Family. Discordant voices can be heard louder than whispers.
The battle of nerves between the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the Central government has taken an ugly turn. True, the CBI’s alacrity to investigate a senior police officer’s complicity in a Ponzi scheme managed by persons enjoying the patronage of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is mistimed and smacks of political vendetta, but systematic serial provocation indulged in by Didi (Mamata Banerjee) can’t be defended either. Law and order are state subjects in our federal Constitution but even a dim-witted school child knows that state governments are not sovereign entities at par with the Centre. When it comes to the crunch, it’s the Central government’s will that prevails. A confrontation fuelled by ego and bravado can only end disastrously.
Constitutional crises engineered with an eye on short-term political gains are not in national interest. It is most unfortunate that the CBI has lost its credibility as an independent investigating agency. Recent infighting has not left it with a fig leaf of respectability. It certainly can’t barge into any state without its consent. However, this doesn’t mean that the policemen under control of the state should apprehend officers of the CBI and confine them to ‘temporary custody’. By the time these lines are printed, the apex court would have heard the Home Ministry’s complaint about the matter. It would be an incorrigible optimist who can believe that a judicial intervention at the highest level can resolve the dispute. The required resilience and the will to reconcile is missing on both sides.
Contentious partisan issues that need to be sorted out by debate and discussion in legislature can’t be passed like a buck to the Supreme Court. Be it the ruling party or the Opposition—both must share the blame for lowering the level of discourse and for stifling reason while gleefully fanning flames of passion and prejudice. The populist Budget has left the Opposition seething in impotent rage. NaMo’s new Finance Minister has announced a long list of sops to keep a large segment of electorate happy enough till the time they cast their votes. This ‘master stroke’ has put into shade Priyanka Gandhi’s ‘game-changing entry’ into politics.
There is still a little more than a month to go before the Election Commission announces the date for the polls and the model code of conduct comes into force. Postings and transfers of government officials will for the duration of the electoral process cease to be the prerogative of the state. Deployment of paramilitary forces in different states, particularly in sensitive constituencies, will be done by the Centre. There are serious apprehensions that the besieged leaders will continue to launch attacks on individuals and institutions eroding their authority.
Shifting the struggle for power to the streets doesn’t bode well for our democracy. The Central government is busy listing its achievements underlining the high economic growth rate, low inflation, steady improvement in infrastructure, social welfare schemes for the poorest of the poor all leading to the restoration of national self-respect. The ‘numbers’ have been disputed not only by political opponents but also by respected statisticians. The Opposition is retaliating with accusations that these claims are examples of post-truth magnified by fake news.
Growing intolerance, flouting of fundamental rights and violation of the right to life that includes the right to privacy and a life of human dignity by vigilantes enjoying political protection can’t be dismissed lightly. The saddest part is that the majority chooses to remain silent. Do we conclude that the young voters who comprise the majority and have the greatest stake in the future are indifferent to current developments? Or, are they scared of speaking out? Have the millennials stopped dreaming and sharing their dreams and are content watching passively from a ‘safe’ distance the battles that seem to change the course of our destiny?
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University