Rediff Logo News Find/Feedback/Site Index
August 19, 1999


Search Rediff

E-Mail this column to a friend Krishna Prasad

Fixed Tenure Politics

If you can't play the game, change the rules, is about the only way in which L K Advani's latest threat to amend the Constitution, can be interpreted. The caretaker home minister says if the BJP is voted to power, it will try to pass legislation which will ensure that an elected government cannot be voted out before it has completed its full term.

Advaniji proposes to call this latest affront on the "Gullible Indian Masses" as the "Fixed Tenure Legislation". And, typical of a muh-mein-swadeshi, bagal-mein-videshi party, he says the idea comes from America, where the president's four-year tenancy of the White House can only be curtailed in exceptional circumstances.

Five Questions
Would Kargil and Kutch have happened had the Election Commission agreed to the demand of the BJP and its allies for an early election?
Bal Thackeray can't vote, and Sonia Gandhi will contest in this election. Does this settle for good who the foreigner is?
Does the EC code of conduct make sense when elections are the only time voters can expect to be showered with goodies?
Would the media have treated the tragedy in Gaisal in the same fashion had two aeroplanes, not two trains, collided? Close to Delhi?
Do you have to be told everything that happens in the world, the very moment it happens, that DD should start a 24-hour news channel?
And, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal showed, not even that. The intention behind the move, reveals 'Rambhakt' (as Atalji calls him), is to see to it that the stability of the government in power is not hurt by the whims of a single party (a la the AIADMK) or by a single vote (a la Giridhar Gamang). When that happens, he says, the country's economy and its political health get hurt, and that's not a good thing.

Thank God for small mercies that he hasn't spoken of the high cost of recurring elections. Yet. (Somebody in his party soon will.) But the mere fact that the BJP should be contemplating this course of action, while in the same breath predicting a majority for its alliance in next month's election, tells us more than a little of the kind of confidence it has in the kind of electoral partners it has tied up with, in sticking with it through thick and thin, especially through thin.

And at a more deeper level, it demonstrates that the BJP think-tank has probably come to the conclusion that it will never gain an absolute majority on its own. And that, should it scrape through this time, as most opinion polls show it will, it intends to stay, by hook or crook, especially by crook. Advani's threat is advance warning.

Lalchand Kishenchand assures us that "Fixed Tenure Legislation" is possible within democratic norms. So we can safely stop using the words like the "dictatorial tendencies" of a wannabe government and start talking of the arrogance behind such thinking that comes easily to members of the "knicker lobby".

What a fixed tenure will really mean is this: If the government brings the nation to the edge of a nuclear precipice it can't be thrown out of office; if Muslims and Christians and god knows who next are killed or burnt, we can't ask it to pack up and go; and if onion prices top Rs 200 a kilo we will just have to weep and bear it till the government's tenure ends and another comes to power.

It's certain that such a dangerous, dastardly move will win the okay of the BJP's alliance partners because, at a primal level, all politicians of all persuasions are umbilically and singularly united in their lust for power. And as long as they have it, they will be all for it. But two questions must be urgently asked before the BJP proceeds further down the road of fixed tenures.

a. Would the BJP have backed the Congress if Sonia Gandhi's party had initiated a similar move for a fixed tenure? And...

b. Does it take for granted that the masses who will flock to the polling booth next month are fools?

The answer to the first query is obvious, which should automatically tell us why we should be wary of a party -- any party -- which wants a full five-year term, come hell or highwater or both. Hasn't Mr Advani or his colleagues heard of that lousy dictum, 'Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely'?

Government is an institution of trust; a secret communion between the voter and the voted. The moment that trust is belied -- to us or to those wonderful gentlemen and women who represent us -- the government ought to be put on notice. What's wrong with that if the interests of bloodsucking cell phone companies are what you want to protect?

As it is, our system suffers from an astonishing lack of accountability at every level. Once elected, MPs, MLAs, councillors, zilla panchayat members are sighted less rarely in their constituencies than the most extinct of the rest of the animal species; their actions and activities beyond the ken of those who gifted him with the high office.

The prospect of a fall from power, the prospect of having to face the electorate once again, is just about the only thing that keeps them on their toes. That we should be talking about "fixed tenures" at a time when we should be discussing legislation to "call back" our representatives shows how the BJP is taking us for a ride. Instability may be a bad thing, but it's a good corrective for arrogant partners in coalition politics.

And is there a worse indicator of the nation's health than the Indian economy, whose cause Mr Advani seeks to protect in the process of pushing through his retrograde legislation, where the record low of 1.62 per cent inflation hides the fact that foodgrain prices have shot up 16.38 per cent? For more than a decade now, if "Gullible Indian Masses" have voted as they have in spite of being told ad nauseam on the pitfalls of fractured mandates, they probably have a damn good reason for it, and that is Rajiv Gandhi, who turned a 400-plus majority in the Lok Sabha into a "full tenure" showcase for all that's wrong with our polity.

Pseudo-psephologists may have given a nice drawing-room term for the fickle nature of the Indian electorate. But "anti-incumbency" is a lovely little concoction that voters, fed up with governments which act at will while in power, have dished up for themselves. It's a balm they should be allowed to administer at will.

"Fixed tenures" will prevent them from doing that. Which is why we must oppose it at every step.

Krishna Prasad

Tell us what you think of this column