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We are letting BJP close its hands around democracy's throat

May 26, 2018 12:14 IST

'Already, the BJP treats the Constitution like the unpopular old uncle at the party, whom everyone pays lip service to and then proceeds to ignore,' says Mitali Saran.

Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, left, and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit A Shah. Photograph: Kind courtesy @BJP4India/Twitter

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, left, and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit A Shah. Photograph: Kind courtesy @BJP4India/Twitter

There goes the comforting thought we once entertained, that once the Karnataka election was over, we could all stop living at an exhausting pitch of suspense.

Far from relief, the aftermath of that election has put Indian democracy in free fall, in both alarming and interesting ways.

First, there was the stunning outcome in Karnataka, which in the morning had looked so certain for the BJP that various journalists jumped the gun with stories about their victory in yet another state.

By the afternoon the BJP was short of a majority, and a Congress-Janata Dal-Secular post-poll alliance was in place.

It looked like checkmate, except that the state's governor, an old friend of Prime Minister Modi, refused to meet the Congress.

The purpose of this window of no-man's-time was made clear by the do-or-die manoeuvres that followed.

 

The BJP allegedly offered Rs 1 billion inducements to MLAs; the Congress-JDS went about marshalling its flock.

The governor invited B S Yeddyurappa to form the government and gave him an unbelievable two weeks to prove his majority on the floor of the House.

The Congress applied to the Supreme Court, which held a pre-dawn hearing in which it refused to stay Yeddyurappa's swearing-in, but said it would be provisional until the case was decided.

During the hearing, the attorney general actually argued that the anti-defection law that disqualifies MPs who switch parties, should not apply before the floor test.

One MLA says he is being threatened with raids and cases.

Flights on which MLAs were being flown out of Karnataka 'didn't work out' -- several people speculated that they had been denied ATC clearance -- and they eventually took buses.

The BJP withdrew security from the Eagleton resort in Bengaluru where MLAs were staying and complained -- complained! -- that Congress MLAs had been locked up and had their phones confiscated.

Kerala Tourism trolled the whole process by tweeting an invitation to MLAs to unwind in its 'safe & beautiful resorts'.

Any number of jokes about horses did the rounds on social media, but the laughter is entirely black when you consider what all of this says about Indian democracy, especially alongside the horrific election-related riots in Bengal.

The whole sordid saga would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Meanwhile think back to the BJP's similar tactics in Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya.

At the time, the press it garnered was heavily about Amit A Shah being an awesome strategist whose every move -- in this case snatching victory from the jaws of defeat -- was a 'masterstroke'.

Much of the same media has decided, this time, that the Congress is engaging in dirty tricks.

In fact, the Congress has shown spirit in Karnataka, both through the campaign and in its messy aftermath.

It has shown spine in declaring that it will go back to Goa and Manipur, where it was the largest single party but was out-played by the BJP cobbling numbers together, and demand that based on the precedent in Karnataka, it be invited to form the government in those states.

It seems serious about trying to keep its MLAs together.

The Congress is no saint. It has a long history of messing with institutions, being high-handed and venal, and horse-trading like it's going out of style (which it manifestly isn't).

It is hobbled by sycophancy, slow to react, slower to act, and has been a source of deep frustration to secular, pluralist Indians since the BJP came to power.

But while we are busy standing around scrupulously criticising it for the past, we are letting the BJP close its hands around democracy's throat.

Like it or not, the Congress is an important part of the Opposition that this country desperately needs, to push back against the BJP.

In this election, whatever the outcome of the floor test, the Congress has found its feet with surprising speed and agility, sparking signs of solidarity from regional leaders.

The time for warnings about the death of democracy at the hands of the RSS-BJP is long over. Warnings are for before the fact.

Already, today, the BJP treats the Constitution like the unpopular old uncle at the party, whom everyone pays lip service to and then proceeds to ignore.

The Congress has to be better and held to merciless account when in power, but waiting for it to be perfect, today, is nothing short of an endorsement of today's status quo.

Mitali Saran
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