Former liquor baron Vijay Mallya, apparently, is not getting back to India soon. There is an appeal process and there is misdirection. The Indian government is good at the latter. Beset by major problems, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dispensation is once again deploying a favoured tactic — deflection.
Mallya was allowed to leave India. Others were as well. The problem of non-performing assets is not going to go away soon. The mandarins in Delhi do not see what many people do — that governance is not happening. The Mallya case is just a small portent. We have seen all institutions undermined, including those enshrined in the Constitution. The rhetoric of good governance in the guise of less government has not been delivered.
Not very long ago, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir justified his decision to disallow a government to be formed by the National Conference, the Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party on the grounds that he would be forced by the Centre to install a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-engineered government. That is hardly a good advertisement for constitutional, federal relations.
The test of majority is on the floor of the House, Lok Sabha or legislative Assemblies.
But then, the Modi dispensation has thrown to the winds all manner of institutional propriety. It has suborned the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department to pursue political vendettas.
It has not even spared the judiciary. Take the cases of Sabarimala and the Ram temple issue. On both counts, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have directly opposed the court. The prime minister has not issued a single statement to countermand his colleagues. Thus, the Sabarimala ruling stands in abeyance, while the Ayodhya case is sought to be circumvented by infructuous demands for legislation to build a temple. Lest we forget, the ownership of the plot is being adjudicated.
It can be argued that the CBI has always been used as a political vehicle. But no party president has been present at a meeting to decide the fate of a CBI director. BJP president Amit Shah was present, inexplicably, at a midnight meeting during which Alok Verma was in effect handed his papers. The meeting took place at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, the prime minister’s official residence. The contretemps facing the CBI would have been unthinkable in other climes.
The Election Commission has faced the same tactics. In the run-up to the Gujarat and Rajasthan elections, questionable decisions were taken. The BJP won the Gujarat elections by a sliver after it was allowed to announce pre-election hand-outs. In Rajasthan, the last-moment reprieve that allowed outgoing chief minister Vasundhara Raje time to announce free electricity, and Modi to address a rally, has not been good enough.
Let us take another case: demonetisation. It was an attack on the populace to score political points. Politically, it worked. But for many people then, and for the economy in general, it didn’t. The manner of doing it was also in keeping with the de-institutionalising drive of the government. The Reserve Bank of India was not, as far as we know, consulted. Its governor has now resigned. The previous governor had, by all accounts, turned down an early proposal to demonetise. The stated benefits of demonetisation did not fructify.
What hangs like a miasma over all these events, however, is a sense of illiberality. Citizens of this country are now sensing that they are targets, with the Nehruvian consensus breaking down. Jawaharlal Nehru’s big contribution was creating a liberal India. The BJP is trying to break that by telling us what we should eat, how we should dress and, generally, how we should live our lives. The Supreme Court has upheld the right to privacy, which precisely allows us to live our lives as we choose. It cannot be infringed.
Nehru talked in and to Parliament all the time. There was a sense of transparency in the dealings of government. Along the way, that has been lost as institutions have been undermined. It would once have been unthinkable that a central vigilance commissioner would have thought fit to allow his office to send out a note to the prime minister’s office after working hours. No emergency merited that act. It was nonetheless done.
The integrity of institutions has to be restored. It does not matter which party is in power. The last time civil rights were severely infringed, a government was voted out of power. That should be a lesson for those who seek to justify their mandate with arbitrary actions.
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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2018 16:04 PM