“The worst day in the constitutional history of India…which could lead to the dismemberment of the country.”
The strong words from P. Chidambaram of the Congress, a lawyer and former home minister, may sound like an alarmist prediction.
But after the scrapping of Article 370, which effectively changes the status of Jammu and Kashmir, and after the reorganisation of the state that will convert the state into two union territories, the status of other states can also be called into question.
Indeed, the very fundamental basis of India as a union of states appears shaky.
The manner in which the move was executed – by increasing the presence of security forces, arresting opposition leaders, including two former chief ministers and shutting down all communication – shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party government is ready to use all available means, including brute force, to get its way and that public and political opinion will count for little.
The stage is also now set for the BJP to proceed on all its pet projects without any fear of being challenged, much less stopped. The Ram temple in Ayodhya, the Uniform Civil Code, changing the constitution, institutionally marginalising Muslims and much more are on its wish list. Doing away with Article 370 was a long-time dream of the Sangh parivar that is finally coming true.
No opposition will be brooked and no petty legal or constitutional ambiguities will be bothered with. As for public opinion, or the concerns of the populations directly affected – who are they when the nation has given the government a massive mandate?
This excuse of being voted in overwhelmingly is being used by the BJP and its supporters all the time to justify every decision – however questionable it may be. But the government – any government – must be challenged and questioned; accountability to the people is a basic tenet of democracy which the BJP simply does not get.
Whether answering an RTI query or indeed refusing to hold press conferences or, as we just saw in the case of the finance ministry, barring reporters from asking questions, the government is averse to anything that may hold it accountable.
In its first avatar, the Modi government showed some tentativeness as it took decisions that could cause controversy. There was no contriteness and no explanations, but it was apparent that the criticism from other political parties or commentators – or indeed the affecting public – made little difference.
Rahul Gandhi’s jibe ‘Suit boot ki sarkar‘ singed Modi so much that he suddenly changed tack on economic policies, while the many alterations to the Goods and Services Tax were in response to the constant complaints from businesspersons.
No apology was ever offered, but it was clear that public perceptions were important.
Not so now. Laws are being introduced speedily and the opposition is either co-opted or ignored. In some cases, opposition parties, including the Congress, even support the BJP’s speedy introduction and passing of critical bills. Before we know it, parliament has enacted laws that will give the state unprecedented powers over our lives – anyone, at any time, can be declared a terrorist and arrested without trial. The Right to Information Act has been amended, effectively rendering it toothless.
The few dissenting voices have not been able to make any dent in the decision-making process. Who knows or cares that former information commissioners have warned of the dangers of diluting the RTI? That is not going to change the government’s mind.
Given that the government has a comfortable majority in parliament and has many other urgent tasks to fulfil, why this hurry? Surely the most urgent priority should be to boost the economy, which is now in very poor shape? Jobs are being lost rather than added and consumer demand is at its lowest; doesn’t that worry the government?
The economy is important, but for the BJP – and its mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – its longstanding political agenda is critical. The Sangh parivar has a vision and has ceaselessly worked towards it for decades. Every opportunity it got, it pushed forward just that little to move towards its goal. As the Jan Sangh, it joined Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement, became part of the Janata Party, even provided a crutch to V.P. Singh’s short-lived government – all tactical moves to be close to power.
At one stage the RSS was banned, its leaders were in jail during the Emergency and the BJP was reduced to two MPs, but the ambition never changed. During Vajpayee’s government, it was in a position of influence, yet many of its objectives remained unfulfilled because it was a coalition.
Now, with Modi at the helm, the Sangh parivar is close to achieving its ultimate prize – a Hindu rashtra. Every step brings it closer to that goal. And that Hindu India has to be enshrined in the constitution and legitimised by an elected government; anything less will be unsatisfying.
If the constitution does not permit it, it can be changed, but its seal of approval is needed. Then the RSS can say with pride that it is the will of the people. The parivar would like it to reach there at the earliest – the 75th anniversary of Indian independence in 2022 or the centenary of the RSS in 2025 are good dates to keep in mind, but Narendra Modi and Amit Shah wouldn’t want to wait. They are quick decision makers, remember?
And while many in India are aghast at this turn of events – as they were when the Babri Masjid was brought down – let no one be under any illusion. The move has the support of a large number of people who have the power, the privilege and the ability to make their voices heard. This approval is not coming only from trolls or bhakts or the sold-out media – otherwise perfectly ‘sensible’ people are also happy this has been done, as they will be when all the other measures are put in place and when the Hindu rashtra is declared. The Sangh parivar is not alone in its fantasies.