Finally, last week, we had Shri Pranab Mukherjee, telling the Indian parliamentarians that continued disruption of parliament by the opposition to protest against demonetisation is not acceptable at all. He reminded them that the ways of the street are ill-suited for the parliament and that crores of rupees are wasted when the parliament is disrupted in this manner.
The fact is that the Congress has been so used to ruling the country that it has come close not to believe in democracy at all. Hence, whenever it loses elections, it wants to believe that the people have made a terrible mistake in electing an alternative and that the country should get back to being ruled by it as quickly as possible. And, if the people can’t do it on their own, it would leave no stone unturned to facilitate conditions for its rightful return to ruling the country. In this it has been helped by various factors:
- The country-wide movement against the imposition of Emergency in the country by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi after Allahabad court found her guilty of electoral malpractices although succeeded in installing a non-Congress government (Janata Government) for the first time in 1977, it lasted for only two years due to various factors such as internal squabbles, and the Hindu-Muslim riots due to external machinations by the Congress trying to portray that it was the only secular front in the country and that the country was doomed if it was to go the RSS way.
- Generations of bureaucrats in the government have obtained reflected glory, power and influence by being as loyal to Congress governments as wazirs have been to the rajas. The Congress kept them in good humour soon as it was elected or re-elected to power. This arrangement worked so fine that I remember when in 1978 the first non-Congress was formed in Maharashtra, there was a news item that brought out that the babus, loyal to generations of Congress MLAs, didn’t let the newly elected non-Congress MLAs to transact any meaningful business.
- Successive Congress governments shared the largesse with a number of think-tanks in the capital and elsewhere who mastered the art of pleasing their masters by carefully concocted theories that only secular (read Congress led) government would be the country’s saviour. And this, even after it facilitated the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in the capital and elsewhere after Indira Gandhi was killed by her own security-guard, a Sikh. Predictably, after Modi government was installed, Congress engineered the people’s movement against intolerance. At this juncture, it was helped in no mean measure by the Hindu revanchists who translated BJP victory as their licence to have a Hindu rashtra with supremacy of cow and other purely religious ideas. (Please read: ‘Is Communal Disharmony A Challenge To India’s March To Greatness?’ that I wrote in Feb 2015).
And just a week before I write, there is a newspaper item about Prime Minister Modi directly reaching out to the people since, he says, he is not allowed to speak in the parliament. It seems that the governments in India and the opposition take turns in denigrating the parliament. It also appears that the Indian parliamentarians take the word opposition very seriously and feel compelled to oppose anything and everything that the other party or front proposes, even if the idea was mooted by them in the past.
Why does the opposition feel compelled not to let the government duly elected by the people to function thereby questioning democracy as well as people’s verdict? I think the precedence of obtaining independence by disobedience movement engineered by Mahatma Gandhi goads it to employ similar tactics against all rulers as the father of the nation employed against the British. That we are already an independent country doesn’t direct it to change tactics more readily suitable and even acceptable in a functioning democracy. Hence, many a times, the opposition doesn’t mind putting the ruling party or even the nation to shame internationally as long as it can score points with the voters as an opposition. Consider the following:
- In order to infuse new thought in a stalemated Indo-Pak diplomacy, when the BJP PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, started a Sada-e-Sarhand (Call of the Frontier) Delhi-Lahore Bus on 19 Feb 1999 (on the inaugural day as the world watched agog, the Prime Minister Vajpayee traveled by the bus to attend a summit in Pakistan and was received at Wagah Border by Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif), the opposition, as soon as the Kargil War started, protested on Delhi streets by displaying a large rubber-inflated bus, upside down. Even some of its own party men felt that it was in very poor taste; it showed as if it hated the enemy of the country less than the BJP:
- In order to prove that despite people’s verdict a non-Congress government wasn’t qualified (read experienced; since the only party that had any experience of ruling the country was the Congress), when Vajpayee government took over, it rejoiced in onions (staple food for the poor in the country) being made scarce by hoarders loyal to it and put his government to shame for mishandling the onion-crisis in 1998. The BJP, having quickly learnt from the opposition (Congress) how to bring the government to heel on the issue of onions, returned the favour in 2013:
- After the Uri terror attack on 18 Sep 16, the opposition took the Modi government to task for not coming equal to its pom-pomed speeches when it was in opposition to the effect that if voted to power it would teach a lesson to Pakistan if it indulges in proxy-war that it had got used to. So, on 29 Sep 16, eleven days after the terror attack at Uri that killed 19 Indian soldiers, Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Dilbir Singh declared it in a press statement that the Indian Army had made a preemptive strike against “terrorist teams” who were preparing to “carry out infiltration and conduct terrorist strikes inside Jammu and Kashmir and in various metros in other states.” (Please read: ‘Cross- LOC Surgical Counter-Terrorism Strikes, A New Indian Psyche And Resolve?’) Seeing this as a national issue of high-import internationally, the opposition (led by Congress) initially declared full support to the government, but later relentlessly made a mockery of the government for its false assertion. What was the trigger? The BJP government tried to get credit for the surgical strikes so as to sway the voters in the largest Indian electoral state of Uttar Pradesh. In retaliation, the Congress very quickly showed the government and hence the nation in poor light globally (Please also read: ‘ “India Retaliates” – The Aftermath And The Consequences’).
- After the so called ‘Surgical Strikes’ by the Modi government, the Congress and any number of think-tanks that it had so assiduously promoted during its tenures (which I mentioned in the beginning of this essay) including retired armed forces officers, claimed that such strikes had been carried out many times earlier too under Congress rule except that the Congress never talked about it in national interest (Ha! Ha! How the average Indian hopes that sometime or the other the political parties (all of them) would actually be guided by national interests and not electoral gains).
- The Congress led opposition ensured that the complete winter session of the parliament was a wash-out on the issue of protesting against demonetisation of high-value currency notes of 1000 and 500 rupees, announced by PM Modi on the night of 08 Nov 16. That its Manmohan Singh government had mooted this in 2012 was soon forgotten. As far as Modi government is concerned, it took enormous credit for the courage to go in for demonetisation in order to rid the country of corruption and cross-border terrorism conveniently forgetting that in 2012, when in opposition, it had opposed it tooth and nail on the issues of distressing the common man and doing nothing to net the big fish who would, in any case, find ways and means to circumvent such demonetisation.
It can be seen with these examples that there is no consistent policy with any of our major political parties. The only consistent policy that it has is to denigrate the other party for whatever it does even if when it was in power it did or mooted exactly what it is opposing now. It ridicules the government when it is in opposition to have come up with some hare-brained idea but, finds merit in the same idea when it comes to power.
Who suffers? We, the people of India, suffer irrespective of who is in power and who is in opposition. And, this suffering is in many different ways:
- First of all, our political polarisation makes us divided as people as we or they; either you are with us or against us. The politicians of all hues and parties rejoice in such divide and rule policy that was mastered by our erstwhile rulers: the British, and now perfected by our own rulers. The real issues facing our country are lost track of when we make everything into political or worse, electoral issues (Please read ‘How Proud Should We Be Of Indian Republic At 62?’ an essay written by me on Republic Day in 2011 and bringing out how Indian democracy and elections work and make us at the bottom of human growth indices.)
- Such polarisation also ensures that we are unable to discuss the merits or otherwise of issues without taking sides. The debate on the television is all about the opposition holding a charge against the government about their wrong-doings and the government spokesperson bringing out that the opposition, when they were in power, did worse. It is as if all is forgiven and forgotten in the light of the misdeeds of the previous government.
- Take the present issue of demonetisation for example. The country is divided squarely into mainly two types of people: the Modi-Bhakats (Disciples or Worshippers of Modi who feel that even at times when people are put into extreme hardships, Modi can’t do any wrong and will ultimately lead us all to pots-of-gold as soon as achhe-din (good days) are ushered in) and the Congress-Bhakats (Disciples or Worshippers of Congress) who feel that the sooner the nation returns to Congress rule and normalcy, the better. Very few have discussed, at any length, the merits or demerits of it objectively and whether there were other and better means available to achieve the same objective. Indeed, the objective (or the goal post) itself is still not clear: from tackling corruption to cashless society, the goal-past has been frequently shifted.
- Granted that corruption in our society has reached such gargantuan proportions that some extreme measures were required, why is it that the Modi-Bhakats are silent about Modi government having exempted political parties from any adverse effects of possession of 1000 and 500 rupee notes? Doesn’t it realise that the mother or gangotri of all corruption in India is funding of political parties? Doesn’t it make mockery of the claim of Modi government that the travails undergone by the common man due to demonetisation would be well worth it since it would largely do away with corruption?
- The common man, therefore, always makes sacrifices and the big fish (such as the political parties) laugh all the way to the bank or wherever they store their money, at his cost.
I would want the Modi government to be given a chance to prove its credentials. I salute the people’s verdict in its favour in the last Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2014. Afterall, before that the country had been plunged into a morass of almost total corruption, inefficiency, hopelessness and cynicism. The majority voted Modi into power to bring about a change. However, most Indians tend to forget that once brought into power the Prime Minister or the government ceases to represent only those (often as little as 9 percent of the electorate; please see these calculations in the article quoted earlier: ‘How Proud Should We Be Of Indian Republic At 62?’ ) that voted for him or it. The PM or the government when in power represents and is answerable to all the people of the country who have every right to discuss every issue on its own merit, without taking sides. For example, however fond I may be of Modi’s promise to bring about changes, as a retired defence forces person, I can never forget the fact that he and his government allowed the armed forces personnel to be denigrated, publicly abused and assaulted on the issue of OROP? How can I forget that whilst finding faults with the Congress for superseding LtGen SK Sinha in favour of Gen AS Vaidya, it did exactly the same with LtGen Bipin Rawat superseding two others?
In all these issues, follies and announcements, this time, though, there are bigger stakes. The people gave Modi government a clear majority to bring the country out of the pit of hopelessness that it had plunged into before him. If he fails and/or made to fail, we have a revolution waiting around the corner that is likely to be bloody, brought about by the people who are fed up of all governments and oppositions in the country; whose numbers include the vast majority of Indians.
Lets hope the government and the opposition keep this ominous warning in mind whilst blithely reducing every issue that the country faces into crass politics.
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