‘Operation Lotus’: Anatomy of a Sinister Destruction of Democracy
WHO used this code-name is not important. But, this has been widely used by the media as a euphemism for the expansion of the BJP. As is now the practice, the obnoxious manner in which this expansion was being planned has been sanitized by the media. This was only to be expected with the transformation of the regime with Narendra Modi’s assumption of power.
The contours of the forging of the corporate-communal nexus started unfolding in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Two unusual developments emerged in the public domain. First, the RSS which had despite its forays into the political realm covertly since the lifting of its ban by Sardar Patel in 1948 after its explicit undertaking that it will not indulge in the political process, had abstained from going covert. This was for the first time, that RSS openly defied this course. In the run-up to the projection of a prime ministerial candidate in the event BJP would win the election, the RSS issued a public statement urging the BJP leadership to name Narendra Modi.
Second, the top corporates of the country announced in a trade meeting that they are all for Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat chief minister, as prime minister of the country. The vocal votaries among the industry captains included the Ambanis, the Adanis and the Tatas. India’s parliamentary democracy rests on the majority in the parliament; which, in turn, would elect the prime minister and his council. But naming an individual implies a presidential form with Modi as the centrepiece. It was clear that corporate India uncertain about the economy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis wanted somebody at the helm who would go all out to ensure corporate profits at the cost of all other aspects of the economy. The ruthlessness with which Modi had supported the well-being of corporates in Gujarat spurred a massive dressing up of the `Gujarat model’, which now stands completely exposed.
However, this overwhelming support of the corporates brought the RSS around to the realization that such powerful support could mean an opportunity for realizing the goal of creating the ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Thus the nexus was forged.
The use of corporate support on the one hand and the unstinted backing of the RSS paved the way for a narrative in the 2019 elections. The levers of State power with the systematic undermining of independent institutions, and media support driven by the corporate owners helped in unveiling a security-centric narrative of nationalism which was heavily loaded with communal underpinnings. The massive mandate in the 2019 elections with a brute majority in the Lok Sabha has led to further consolidation of the corporate communal nexus.
MANIPULATING AND REVERSING THE ELECTORAL VERDICT
The original slogan was for a `Congress mukt Bharat’. But since 2019, there is an obsessive drive for an `Opposition mukt Bharat’. In several Assembly elections, the BJP was defeated despite the misuse of money and the hijacking of institutions. Therefore, the framing of `Operation lotus’ has meant destabilization and eventual removal of elected opposition state governments. In some cases, the formation of the BJP governments was also ensured, even though the BJP did not have the majority in the elections.
These were in Manipur and Goa. Subsequently, defections were engineered in Madhya Pradesh to replace the Kamal Nath government by inducting a section of the Congress MLAs. These took place when the Covid pandemic was setting in.
The BJP’s drive for gaining absolute control over state governments led to its confrontation with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. This led to the emergence of an opposition coalition with Shiv Sena becoming part of it. It was this coalition which subsequently assumed office. This was despite every effort by using the office of the governor. Obviously, the central BJP leadership could never digest this course of development. Recently, the BJP caused a major defection of the Shiv Sena MLAs for a new arrangement with these MLAs combining with the BJP to form the government.
Three more state governments were seen to be on the radar for the BJP’s capture after Maharashtra. Bihar, Jharkhand and now Delhi were seen to be targeted. The break-up of the BJP-JD(U) alliance was a response to what was happening in Maharashtra with the JD(U) preempting the BJP move. Now, a fresh move is on destabilising the Jharkhand government while allegations fly thick and fast in Delhi.
KEY ROLE OF POLITICAL FUNDING
In an affidavit filed before the supreme court, the election commission (EC) in 2019 stated that the electoral bond (EB) project and the removal of caps on the extent of corporate funding would have “serious repercussions/impact on the transparency aspect of political finance/funding of political parties”. In its submission, the EC had attached two letters it wrote to the Modi government in early 2017. On the issuance of EBs, the EC noted “Any donation received by a political party through an EB has been taken out of the ambit of reporting under the contribution report as prescribed under Section 29 C of the RPA, 1951”. “In a situation where contributions received through EBs are not reported, on perusal of the contribution reports of the political parties, it cannot be ascertained whether the party has taken any donation in violation of provisions under Section 29 B of the RPA, 1951, which prohibits the political parties from taking donation from government companies and foreign sources.”
On amendments led to the Companies Act that removed caps on corporate funding, the EC warned that this would open up the danger of “shell companies being set up for the sole purpose of making donations to political parties, with no other business of consequence having disbursable profits”. In the same affidavit, the EC was also apprehensive that the changes to FCRA could legalise donations to parties retrospectively and added that “changes made in FCRA, 2010 through Finance Act 2016, that this will allow donations to be received from foreign companies having a majority stake in Indian entities”. The EC opined that “This is a change from the existing law which barred donations from foreign sources……..would allow unchecked foreign funding of political parties in India which would lead to Indian policies being infringed by foreign companies”.
That the Modi government did not respond to this concern was crystal clear. Now the consequences are out in the open. Anonymous political funding by corporates and individuals through EBs has reached no more than nineteen political parties out of over Rs 2,800 across the country and BJP alone mobilising 68 per cent of the Rs 6,201 crore received in three years. Actually, investigative reports published in 2019 by Reporters Collective showed that the union government ignored objections to the bonds from RBI and lied in the parliament about the EC’s comments. And, actually broke even the laws enacted by themselves before the Karnataka state assembly elections and made the SBI accept expired bonds. The SBI itself had lied in its RTI responses on bonds while denying that it does not have data on how many bonds of each denomination were sold in 2018 and 2019, with official records proving the contrary. Further, the bank was also regularly sending data to the finance ministry. Without dilating further on the information available in the public domain, it is clear that the EBs had a crippling effect on the ‘level playing field’ which is the heart and soul of any electoral democracy; with frequent violations of the amended laws.
It is now clear that the total amount collected by political parties has gone up to Rs 10,246 crores from various anonymous donors in 21 phases since 2018 when the scheme was introduced. It is not surprising that 92 per cent of the total collections are big money with denominations of one crore. It is also clear that out of that collection, more than 70 per cent had enriched the BJP coffers which, anyway, had a hands-on advantage compared to its political rivals.
Contemporary political developments clearly established how much these astronomical financial resources have benefited the BJP. What has also been pointed out at the outset was that the EB scheme would further strengthen the stranglehold of corporates over the political process; the consequent quid-pro-quo would also lead to the cronyism of a very high order. That the BJP finds itself in a position to form governments even though it has not secured a majority in the elections. Similarly, the number of resources which were on display during the defection of MLAs in Madhya Pradesh and those of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra do not leave anything to the imagination. The movement of MLAs from Maharashtra to Surat in Gujarat and the prolonged stay in Guwahati smacks of brazen wrongdoing.
‘CARROT AND STICK’: THE CENTRAL AGENCIES – CBI & ED
The gross arbitrary misuse of the enforcement directorate (ED) and central bureau of investigation (CBI) had to be deployed in the most brazen manner. This became particularly evident in Maharashtra where threats of ED investigations have been tellingly employed to force Shiv Sena legislators into submission. Some NCP legislators, including ministers, have been also put into jail custody. That these moves were only aimed to secure political advantage has become apparent with no further follow-ups against those very MLAs, who are now part of the BJP-Eknath Shinde fraction. The Modi government had brought about a draconian amendment to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), which is enabling the ED to arrest the alleged accused even without furnishing the ground, let alone the FIR. Never ever in the past has the country seen such blatant and partisan misuse of an independent agency. It goes without saying that the need for actual conviction is secondary and the custody itself becomes a punishment and, more importantly, an obnoxious instrument for intimidation and surrender.
It is the same approach which is also defining the role of the CBI. Some of the most corrupt officers who had been under the cloud for some of the most serious offences and would normally not get vigilance clearance have been cleared for appointments in crucial positions of the organisation. Such an arrangement has further facilitated their ‘cooperation’ with the government’s political masters. This course of action has come under sharp attack from the AAP and its ministers in Delhi. In Jharkhand, the pressure on the chief minister has been mounted by the reference of a BJP allegation by the governor to the EC. The EC may recommend his disqualification. However, facts have come to light that in similar circumstances, the EC had passed a contrary order to save the skin of the incumbent chief minister of Sikkim who is on the right side of the BJP.
GOVERNORS AS BJP AGENTS
It is amusing to see that the BJP which, when in the opposition, used to regularly allege that the raj bhawan (Governor’s House) acts as PCC offices. But the current set of governors, all of whom are either former leaders of the BJP or its known acolytes have abandoned all pretensions of being non-partisan. Again, the most brazen example has been in Maharashtra, where following the formation of the Mahagathbandhan, the governor without ascertaining the actual reality called Devendra Fadnavis to form the government by reinvigorating the assembly which had remained adjourned. Even though he had to eat humble pie, it did not allow the assembly to elect its speaker. However, within a week of the formation of the ED (Eknath-Devendra) government, the governor allowed the election of the speaker. It would be a cliché to mention that this is part of a central game plan to destabilise and dismantle opposition state governments!
In Kerala, we have seen the antics of the governor, Arif Mohammad Khan, in trying to throw the entire sphere of higher education by opposing the appointments of vice-chancellors. The list could go on and on!
CORPORATE MEDIA IS A KEY ACCOMPLICE
The Indian media, which was considered to be free and vibrant is not even a shadow of that. That corporates have been part of the nexus with the political ruling elite is more than clear.
It is well-known that the form and content of our media and the social consciousness which nurtures it is affected less by the opinions of the majority and more by the financial requirements of the corporates who control the economics of our media. Certain features about media ownership from the inadequate information available stand out. The absence of restrictions on cross-media ownership implies that particular entities dominate markets both vertically (across different media such as print, radio, television and internet) as well as horizontally (across geographical regions). The concentration of media control with corporates close to the regime is ominous. Adani , Ambani and Zee control 67 per cent of TV media space.
However, the most striking characteristic of the media today results from the politico-corporate nexus. Mainstream corporate media is virtually turning out to be a mouthpiece of the ruling party and the ruling dispensation. The narrative manufactured by the media is also not just supplementing, but actually spearheading the Modi government and BJP’s agenda. A prime example is the inversion of the media’s role where instead of holding the incumbent government to account, the media is asking the opposition about its omissions and commissions. It is hardly surprising that the prime minister can afford the luxury of not addressing press conferences and freewheeling interviews! The prime minister chooses to speak when he wants to while falling silent on questions that he needs to answer to reassure the confidence of the citizens. Therefore, outright manipulations and inducements are depicted as the strength of the government and not the undermining of the constitutional processes.
BROADEST POSSIBLE UNITY OF THE PEOPLE AND MIGHTIER STRUGGLES OF RESISTANCE
It is very clear that the sinister games that the RSS-led BJP and its government is playing are actually resulting in crippling democracy as opposed to what was conceived in the constitution. With even the judiciary refusing to intervene on critical constitutional issues (as in the case of EBs) and blatant undermining of independent agencies and Constitutional entities, to expect that the situation can be rectified, if not reversed, through due process of constitutionalism would be a fantasy. The broadest possible unity for eliminating anonymous corporate funding and defanging central agencies is the only way forward. For all political parties, groups, and individuals who are interested in the defence of constitutional democracy, the downslide will take us to the deepest pit. The rot in India is already being noted across the globe. Therefore, resistance has to be the only battle cry.