No neutral umpires in BJP’s regime: points editorial

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No neutral umpires in BJP’s regime: points editorial

| Updated: March 6, 2024 20:51

The recent political theatre over the Rajya Sabha seat in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly has further fuelled the perception that Narendra Modi’s government will do everything in its power to crush the foundations of democracy.  In an incisive editorial in The Print, Sagarika Ghose, a former journalist and MP-elect (Rajya Sabha), All India Trinamool Congress, questions why Congress MLAs who voted in favour of the BJP were reportedly given the CRPF’s (India’s central police) cover. Part of her editorial reads: “In Modi-style politics, the police, Enforcement Directorate, governors, returning officers, in short almost all institutions of state, are pressed into service to make life impossible for political opponents.” Flipping the pages of history, Ghose recounts how, in 1975, the Allahabad High Court disqualified Indira Gandhi’s 1971 win from Raebareli for using the services of her private secretary, Yashpal Kapoor, who was then a government servant, for her election work. Ghose believes Indira Gandhi’s actions seem a “mere traffic offence” compared to the Modi government’s blatant misuse of power. In the game of political thrones, no rules apply, and no offence is big enough. To elaborate, the writer reminds us that the Congress enjoyed more numbers than the BJP in Himachal Pradesh. The BJP, for its part, opted for a former Congressman to crack the Congress. She laments the “sorry spectacle” of Congress MLAs, who had cross-voted, being allegedly transported in a CRPF and Haryana Police convoy to a government guest house in Haryana, where the BJP has a stronghold. She reminds us of instances when the police acted against the BJP’s rivals. A case in point is the Assam Police arresting Congress politicians Jignesh Mevani and Pawan Khera. Mevani was arrested for a social media post, and Khera for bungling up Modi’s name.  “Should Opposition politicians be at the mercy of security agencies? Do the police in the US arrest politicians for speaking against the President? The Modi government seems to live by the dictum: L’etat c’est moi. (I am the state),” she writes. The writer outlines that even in non-BJP states, Raj Bhavans have become alternative power centres. For instance, Ghose notes that five years ago, Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari swore in the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as CM in the wee hours in a ceremony away from the public gaze after the Ajit Pawar faction broke away from the NCP.  Koshiyari didn’t even wait to determine whether Fadnavis had enough numbers. In Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, governors CV Ananda Bose, RN Ravi and Arif Mohammad Khan have been accused of playing a partisan role, she adds. She elaborates: “There have been protests against Ravi and Khan in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Last year, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann moved the Supreme Court against the Punjab Governor’s refusal to give his assent to state bills, leading the SC to rebuke the governor for “playing with fire” and “putting the parliamentary form of government in peril”.”  Former SC judge Rohinton Nariman has gone on record saying that the Kerala governor was “sitting over bills.” Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh, during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, the Congress’s Kamal Nath-led government was overthrown. BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan was clandestinely sworn in as the CM by the Governor and BJP veteran Lalji Tandon. The writer likens the BJP’s use of electoral muscle to crush opponents at any cost to Operation Lotus, both misuse of state power. The recent Jharkhand example is another eye-opener. After Hemant Soren resigned as chief minister, the ED arrested him, destabilising the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-RJD alliance. “The ruling alliance’s MLAs fled to Congress-ruled Hyderabad in fear of Operation Lotus,” she writes. The frequent ED summons to Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi Lieutenant Governor for supposed faults with the union territory’s elected government are examples of how constitutional institutions are consciously subverting non-BJP leaders. “The Opposition is often not allowed the time to prove its strength even when it has bigger numbers. In 2017, former BJP Mahila Morcha chief and then Goa Governor Mridula Sinha hurriedly invited the BJP to form the government even though it had fewer seats than the Congress. In the same year, the Congress emerged as the single largest party in Manipur but Governor Najma Heptulla (a veteran Congresswoman who had joined the BJP a decade earlier) invited the BJP to form the government first when four members of the Naga People’s Front declared their support for the BJP,” she adds. Pointing at other examples of misuse of institutions, she observes that the National Commission for Women doesn’t believe in turning to the President during instances of ethnic violence in Manipur but does so in West Bengal where a responsive state government arrests the Sandeshkhali accused. The recent Chandigarh mayoral poll is another dark example of weaponisation of state power, the writer laments. The returning officer, Anil Masih, a member of the BJP’s minority morcha, was caught on camera shredding ballot papers to enable the party’s victory. “When a single party controls all levers of government and there are no neutral umpires, then there is no level-playing field. It’s like a football match where one team commits foul after foul, but the referee shows the red or yellow card only to the other team. In any game, the players and spectators accept certain rules. What happens if one of the teams suddenly tries to change the rules while the game is being played and a section of the media covering the game hails this as a “masterstroke” to vanquish the other side? Should the public endorse the change in rules so that only one team keeps winning?” she asks. 

The Modi government is ensuring that a multi-party system is fast becoming a myth. As The Print editorial observes, India’s democratic structures have been crippled to such an extent that there’s no one to show the ruling party the red card.

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