February 15, 2015

DELHI ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS `Modi Invincibility’ Vanishes

THE Delhi electorate has busted the myth of `Modi invincibility’. They did so resoundingly.  With a mere three MLAs out of the 70, the BJP now faces a similar situation in the Delhi assembly as that of the Congress in the Lok Sabha.  In fact, worse.  The BJP does not qualify to claim the post of the official leader of the opposition in the Delhi assembly.

The hype of the RSS/BJP campaign, with the pumping in of thousands of crores in its advertisement campaigns alone, projected that the people of Delhi will repose their faith in a `Modi government’.  The media blitz was so overpowering that the people of Delhi were virtually told that Modi will be their chief minister as well while concurrently serving as the prime minister of India.  PM Modi himself took the lead in his election speeches saying that what the country `feels’ will reverberate in the Delhi elections as well.  He directly exhorted the voters to repose faith in him and give him the victory. The election debacle has now forced the BJP leaders to say that the Delhi result is not a referendum on the Modi government at the centre. However, the fact remains that it was the RSS/BJP which projected and imposed such a contest on the Delhi electorate.  The people of Delhi overwhelmingly rejected these and many other similar exhortations by PM Modi. 

The virtual sweep that the AAP recorded places on them a greater responsibility to deliver. Given the limited status of Delhi statehood, many of its promises face difficulties to be realised.  Under the present dispensation, on the question of law and order, land use and many others like power generation etc, this Delhi assembly has limited jurisdiction.  The BJP government at the centre will be like an impenetrable wall that cannot be breached given the current legal status of the Delhi assembly.  Only time will tell how the AAP government will be able to enlist the central government’s cooperation on all these matters.  Nonetheless, the Delhi electorate seems to have made a point that AAP cannot ignore. Unfulfilled election promises can lead to an exponentially growing discontent and disenchantment as the BJP and PM Modi have learnt in a bitter way. 

The RSS/BJP staked their prestige in these elections. Both Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah worked overtime. The induction of Kiran Bedi as their chief ministerial candidate appeared at first as a fine tuned strategy to cut losses – victory being attributed to PM Modi and defeat to her. However, during the last phase of campaign, the BJP commissioned over 120 MPs, 20 plus cabinet ministers with PM himself addressing three rallies in four days. 

The BJP’s post parliamentary election performance at the hustings continues to snowball. This cannot, however, be extrapolated for the entire country at this moment.  For instance, in the by-elections held in UP, Gujarat and Rajasthan for 50 assembly seats earlier, the BJP-led NDA won a mere 18 compared to the 35 where it had big leads in parliament elections. Likewise in UP, it lost in seven where it recorded big victories. The BJP secured a Lok Sabha majority with only 31 per cent of votes cast. It wrested the state governments in Maharashtra and Haryana by winning 123 seats polling only 29 per cent in the former and a majority polling a mere 33 per cent in the later. In Jharkhand, BJP lost 10 per cent of its parliamentary vote. Under conditions of a strong anti-incumbency against the existing non-BJP state government and multipolar contests, the BJP has been securing a majority with a minority vote share.  Both these factors, however, were absent in Delhi.  Delhi has been under the central rule since prior to the 2014 general elections. Instead, there was a visibly strong Modi anti-incumbency sentiment.  This relates to the virtual non delivery on any of the high sounding promises that the RSS/BJP made during the election campaign. 

Many weeks ago, this column had anticipated that it won’t be too long before the Modi’s slogan of achhe din aanewale hain is transformed into the people’s slogan of koi louta de mere beethe hue din.  This has turned out to be true as far as people of Delhi are concerned.  Modi had promised the immediate return of all `black money’ lying in foreign banks resulting in at least Rs 15 lakhs to benefit every person.  Nothing has moved in this direction. Forget recovering, even a reasonable estimate of such amounts abroad has not been made so far.  The price rise of all essential commodities continues.  The PM’s much tom-tomed programmes like the Jan Dhan Yojna may have resulted in the opening of new bank accounts but has meant nothing in terms of tangible benefits to anybody.  The economic policies of further opening up India to allow profit maximisation of foreign and domestic Indian capital is proceeding at a pace that dwarfs Manmohan Singh’s reform agenda. Liquidating of Indian people’s assets, the public sector, is proceeding a furious pace. These are only a few of the many instances where the rousing of people’s anticipation during the 2014 election campaign is betrayed. 

The `Modi magic’ seems to be waning a little too fast.  Slogans creating illusions of prosperity and the pursuit of hardcore communal polarisation at the ground level welded together to give them electoral victories. Post parliamentary elections, the development illusions are fast vanishing and the campaigns for ghar vapasi; love jihad; rewriting Indian history, parading mythology as history etc have exposed their real agenda. After the Delhi  polling and before the results were counted, a BJP MP, notorious for whipping up communal polarisation, declared that it is wrong to portray Mahatma Gandhi as the father of the nation.  This is the continuation of the RSS campaign to erect statues of Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin, as a national hero.  Not to be left behind, the RSS chief has, once again, reiterated that India has always been a `Hindu Rashtra’ and this is the best opportunity the RSS has to establish such a negation of our secular democratic Republican Constitution.

The logical corollary of such a campaign is the latest controversy regarding the publication of the original preamble to the Indian Constitution, without the word `secularism’ in an official government advertisement. Large sections of people, battered by such communal offensive, are naturally, seeing a design in the omitting of the word `secularism’ from the preamble.  The BJP has cemented this suspicion by calling for a debate on “secularism” saying that this word was added by an amendment by Indira Gandhi during the period of internal Emergency (1975-77). The call for such a debate, despite recent sanitised comments by BJP president withdrawing their initial aggressiveness on this issue is, however, widely seen as ominous. It is reminiscent of the call for a `debate’ on secularism during the infamous BJP rath yatra that left a carnage of communal bloodshed in its trail culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.   

This Modi government holds office under oath of this very Constitution that includes the word “secularism”. Seeking its removal now is tantamount to the negation of this oath.  Further, both A B Vajpayee and L K Advani were members of the then union cabinet which dismantled the Emergency authoritarian structure, brought through the 42nd Constitutional amendment by Indira Gandhi. This was done through the 44th amendment.  The sole exception in this exercise was this amendment to the preamble which the then Janata Party government correctly saw as a mere reiteration of the letter and spirit of the Constitution.  This was neither opposed or objected to by the senior stalwarts of today’s BJP who were then cabinet ministers. Today, RSS/BJP have obviously rescinded from their earlier position. 

Our `Fundamental Rights’ (Articles 25 to 28)  grant `Freedom of Religion’ to all citizens. Article 25 encapsulates the secular essence of the Indian Republic by granting “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion”. The word `secularism’ in the amended preamble only reconfirms this. However, now the BJP is using this as yet another opportunity to rouse communal passions. 

During the Constituent Assembly discussions, one of those rare occasions  when the Assembly actually divided by show of hands, was on an amendment prefixing the words “in the name of God” in the preamble proposed by H V Kamath. This was defeated by 68-41 on a forceful plea that the invocation in the name of God was inconsistent with the freedom of faith which was not only promised in the preamble but was explicitly guaranteed as a fundamental right.  (The framing of India’s Constitution by B Shiv Rao and others).  B R Ambedkar replying to the criticism of the draft Constitution on the safeguards it provides for religious minorities said that the Assembly “has done wisely in providing such safeguards”. 

In independent India, after the Babri Masjid demolition, the then BJP state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan failed to implement the Supreme Court upheld ban on RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal in the country.  This led to a breakdown of law and order in these states leading to the imposition of President’s rule by dismissing the governments.  This was judicially challenged.  The Supreme Court clubbed all such cases questioning the Law and heard them conjointly including the landmark S R Bommai case regarding the misuse of Article 356, challenging the dismissal of a democratically elected state government, by a nine-member constitutional bench. While adjudicating that a state government cannot follow any particular religion, it elaborated on the concept of secularism. It reiterated that secularism is one of the basic features of the constitution – in matters of State, religion had no place;  constitution neither recognises, nor permits, mixing religion with State power; both must be kept apart and politics and religion cannot be mixed.  Any state government pursuing non-secular policies or non-secular course of action acts contrary to the constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to attract Article 356.  The Supreme Court, therefore, upheld the dismissal of those BJP state governments including UP then.

Thus, the issue of secularism, as far as the secular democratic Indian republican constitution is concerned, has been unambiguously settled. The RSS/BJP’s call for a debate on secularism, therefore, is part of its real agenda and its design to metamorphose the secular democratic Indian republic into a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’. For the sake of “India, that is Bharat” this must not be allowed. 

(February 11, 2015)