Volatility continues in Rajasthan about the future of the state government. We will have to keep watching the developments in Rajasthan High Court and State Assembly to know whether the government is able to weather the storm. Regardless of the eventual outcome of the present crisis, what should really be a matter of greater concern is that such a destabilization bid is going on in the middle of a raging epidemic when the entire focus should be on saving the state and the people from the scourge of the novel coronavirus. If the regime-change in Madhya Pradesh badly affected India’s Covid19 response in the initial phase, the Rajasthan toppling game is being played out at a much more critical stage when the Covid19 figures are rapidly escalating in India and Rajasthan remains one of the worst affected states.
What happened earlier in Madhya Pradesh and is happening now in Rajasthan is part of an ominous trend that is threatening to become axiomatic in the Modi era. The BJP-ruled Centre has made a habit of toppling opposition-ruled governments in state after state and it has acquired mastery in this game. It is being done so routinely as to send out a message to the electorate that there is no point in electing a non-BJP non-NDA government. After trying it out in small northeastern states and in states like Goa, the BJP has gone on to overturn or capture governments in big states like Bihar, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. There are reports of destabilization attempts going on in Jharkhand too. In Bihar the BJP colluded with incumbent CM Nitish Kumar to hijack an emphatic anti-BJP mandate of the people, in Madhya Pradesh it trapped Jyotiraditya Scindia, and in Rajasthan, it is banking on Sachin Pilot, former Deputy CM and PCC chief.
The BJP has normalised horse-trading to such an extent that no questions are being asked about its periodic raids on elected opposition governments, engineering of wholesale defections and acquisition of opposition MLAs at exorbitant rates. These are just considered routine expeditions of the emperor and continuing expansion of the BJP empire that we must marvel at. Look at the whole discussion over Rajasthan. It is being seen as a just revolt by Sachin Pilot, and as a failure of the Congress to retain its MLAs or even a ploy of the Congress to purge the party of potential challengers to the Gandhi-Nehru family leadership. From the purported audio tapes and confessions of MLAs to the deployment of top pro-BJP lawyers to fight the legal battle for Pilot, the involvement of the BJP is all too palpable. And if Pilot’s toppling bid is successful, the alternative government is anyway going to be effectively a BJP government, BJP-backed if not BJP-led. Yet there is hardly any discussion in the dominant media about the obscenity of the BJP’s power game at this hour of grave national crisis.
With the rise of Narendra Modi at the Centre, the use of big money in politics has reached an altogether new high in India. The public display of the intimacy of big corporate houses with the Modi dispensation also beats all previous records. Yet the flow of big money into politics has been rendered totally opaque, anonymous and unaccountable. Even the Election Commission of India expressed serious concerns about the implications of the Electoral Bonds and subsequent changes in the Finance Act, Income Tax Act and Representation of People Act whereby donations from even foreign sources would be untraceable as parties do not have to report about donations received via these bonds. It should be noted that 95% of the payments through electoral bonds till date have accrued to the BJP. With the outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic the Modi government immediately launched the PM-Cares fund and placed it beyond the ambit of public audit and accountability. It will be no surprise if it turns out that the money accumulated in the name of Covid relief ended up being diverted to fund the purchase of MLAs and destabilisation of the Rajasthan government.
The other question that needs to be discussed is how come Congress leaders and MLAs are finding it so easy and comfortable to migrate to the BJP. The discussion in the media revolves around the lack of internal democracy in the Congress, the control of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty and the lack of reward for performance of young leaders. The BJP with the tight and shadowy control of the RSS and the ever growing domination of the Modi-Shah duo and complete marginalization of the rest of the leadership is certainly no better option than the Congress on these scores. The BJP still grills the Congress in the name of the dynasty. But the leaders it is increasingly promoting within its own ranks or borrowing from the Congress are all products of dynasties. It has even inducted part of the Gandhi-Nehru family by accommodating the Sanjay Gandhi legacy. The self-styled ‘party with a difference’ has made itself all too hospitable for turncoats from the Congress or other opposition parties. Indeed, we should acknowledge the fact that much of the political barriers that existed historically between the Congress and the BJP have become rather porous and ineffective, if not redundant, with the rise of the BJP as the dominant political force and the growing rightward shift and ‘normalization’ of the Sangh-BJP version of Hindutva or Hindu supremacist nationalism.
Regardless of the denouement of the Rajasthan crisis, two conclusions are quite evident. The Tenth Schedule anti-defection law has proved to be fairly ineffective in checking defection. We have seen numerous ways in which MLAs and MPs have played around the provisions of the anti-defection law. The law basically treats defection only as a violation of party loyalty. Defection must primarily be seen as a violation of an elected representative’s contract with the electorate. Hence the law must provide not only for mandatory resignation of all defectors but also disqualification from holding public offices or contesting elections for a period of at least six years. The other important conclusion is ideological. If Indian democracy has to be saved from becoming a predominantly one-party system, ideological-political contestation must be strengthened and the effective ideological counter to the growing rightward drift and domination can only come from a powerful Left resurgence. The growing assault on the lives and liberties of large sections of the Indian people is surely creating new potential for a renewed rise of the Left as a bulwark of democracy. The Left must rise to the occasion.