Assam on brink is the headline one day. Mumbai on brink is on another day. And dominating all the news is the non-functioning of parliament that the people note helplessly—Rs. 1 crore is the daily expenditure on parliament. What the scenario indicates is that the political consensus, important for a parliamentary democracy, is beyond repair. The law and order machinery has broken down and faith in peaceful methods has drastically lessened. One may as well say that the Indian polity is coming apart from the seams.
The BJP is most to blame because it has taken the situation to a pitch which may leave the country with no option except to have a mid-term poll. Pushing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the centre of stage and asking for his resignation is driving the ruling Congress and its allies to the wall. Their defence is cutting less ice. The row over the Rs. 148-lakh crore coal scam is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is the BJP’s calculation that this is the most opportune time for them to have elections in the country.
Two of the Congress allies, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party in UP may ultimately come round to agreeing to a mid-term poll. Both have registered a thumping victory in assembly elections in their states and both provide the Congress the required numbers to have a majority in the Lok Sabha.
The five state elections later this year in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and three in the northeast may help trigger the demand for a mid-term polls. Chief Minister Narendra Modi looks like winning in his state. Yet the general elections are 20 months away. The Congress can legitimately say that it should either be defeated on the floor of the house or allowed to complete its present term. However, the BJP is desperate and is not willing to find an amicable way out.
The BJP has already played the communal card and its mentor, RSS, has asked for the ousting of Bangladeshis since most of them are Muslims. Some Muslim fundamentalists have also jumped into the fray, as seen at Azad Maidan in Mumbai and Khokrajar in Assam. Communalism indicates, to the delight of the BJP, that the plight of secularism is not good. This may tell upon the prospects of the Congress in the elections due in 2014. More so, it may pollute the atmosphere of the country where people have come to live together with the sense of accommodation and tolerance.
Yet if the democratic polity has not collapsed, the credit goes to the people who believe that the situation will turn for the better. They have been sustained by the institutions, however feeble, and the rule of law, however emaciated. Politicians are doing their worst and have not learnt the lesson even from the neighbouring countries which, when challenged, made compromises with the military or the authoritarian forces on the one hand and fundamentalists and militants on the other.
Understandably, the two main parties, the Congress and the BJP, are trying to gain as much space as they can before the 2014 elections. But they are unmindful of the harm they are doing in the process. They are, in fact, wrecking every rule, every norm and every value in a society which is also deficient in virtues. Consequently, the people are suspicious of both because they do not find any difference between when the BJP ruled and now when the Congress is at the helm of affairs.
Assam is a political problem which all parties and activists can solve provided the Congress drops its know-all attitude. Mumbai is a law and order problem but the Congress government is too complacent and too weak to handle Hindu chauvinists. It is true to some extent that people have got used to corruption which both parties have indulged in whenever they have been in power, although the Congress beats the BJP hollow. The coal scam which has come to light indicates that the allocation of coal blocks was capricious and designed to benefit such companies which must have paid money to particular rulers. The minutes of the screening committee show that the coal blocks were allotted even to those who did not apply.
The Congress-led government appears to defend the Rs. 148-lakh crore scandal only half-heartedly. Its plea is that there was no loss to the exchequer because the coal blocks it allotted never extracted any coal and hence did not sell any. The government gave the same zero-loss argument when the Rs. 180-lakh crore scam relating to the 2G spectrum was disclosed by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). The Supreme Court had to rubbish the argument to make the government not to repeat.
How can Finance Minister P. Chidambaram say that there was no loss to the exchequer when 150-odd parties were given the coal blocks? They may not have extracted coal but it is their property and their balance sheets have gone up by crores. Such fallacious arguments coming from the government dents its own reputation. The Prime Minister’s statement finds fault with CAG and does not fully explain the allotment when he was the minister in charge.
The Anna Hazare movement which was expected to provide an alternative has lost its ethos and has become another Naxalite group, mouthing laudable slogans but acting like the Nihilists who want to destroy everything around them. People want an orderly change and admire those who sacrifice and suffer for it.
The third alternative which Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has mentioned is the same old combine of practising casteists and ever-changing politicians in loyalty. They, including Bihar’s Lalu Prasad Yadav, changed the complexion of governments which came in the wake of Jayaprakash Narayan movement, seeking a total revolution. It was sheer graft and self-gain.
Because of the acts of commission and omission by rulers, the very fabric of India looks torn. Both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists are marshalling themselves and spreading the politics of hate and parochialism. I do not know what was Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad trying to prove by offering namaz at the protected monument of Safdarjung. The purpose was probably to capture 31 such protected monuments. I wish he had focused attention on other mosques which are in a dilapidated conditions. EOM