Federal Fight at the Capital

Indian democracy has seen many ups and downs. There have been attempts to enfeeble the basic features of our Constitution. There have been efforts to exploit the loopholes in our legal framework. However, these reactionary forces mostly have not upturned the cherished ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

However, one thing that worries most Constitutional experts and the vigilant citizenry alike is the collapse of the political discourse of India- which has greatly weakened our institutions by default. Hence, integrity of major institutions face a trust crisis and need to undergo a trial by fire to ressurect themselves.

The narrative of a Unitarian State

The case for a weak federal state was laid down in the Indian Constitution because the universal determinants of federalism were honoured mostly in breach by framers of the Constitution. As the newly independent republic was still a fragile union-with too many denominators threatening its survival, the case for a quasi-federal state looked justified. 

Changing politics and evolving Federalism

However with the recent limbo in Delhi, it seems to be apposite for the powers that be to take this debate around federalism to a logical conclusion. Delhi was promised full statehood by all the major parties before the General elections. But the rulers of today seem to have renegaded on their promise. Even the Congress Party did zilch in this direction during their reign.

On the other hand as shows the commiserations of the three CMs for their counterpart in Delhi, the federal front which looked quite farcical not so long ago (keeping in mind its past misadventures) is surely taking shape. The difference between the past and the present is not only in the nomenclature, but also in the power-equation of the front, as for the first time the Left shall not be the lead actor in such an alternative front. 

That may make the coalition a motley group of regional parties with neither the resources nor the conviction to view the country as a whole- but it also makes their role important since their formation and success have been necessitated by the gradual decline by the Grand Old Party. Like it or not, regional parties in the coming months with the vices of casteism, regionalism and sectarianism dotted all over them shall emerge as a potent force in Indian politics. 

Their alliance may be a case study for expediency, but surely it is a wake up call to the pan Indian parties to review federal relations in the Union as well as in themselves. 

Post Script

This gives rise to a very interesting arrangement which betrays conventional wisdom. As the Delhi episode has shown, the national parties seem to be on one side while the rest of the smaller parties- (mostly limited one state) seem to be stacked on the other. This may not be of any electoral consequence, but it ought to skew our perception of politics.


When David defeated Goliath

We, the people of this country take pride in our civilization and heritage. However, India may also be bigoted, archaic and immensely patriarchal. Salma’s story epitomizes the pitfalls of our values. A young woman, who grew up in a conservative Muslim family had to fetter her goals, yet she never gave up her dreams. Islam happens to be a conservative religion, where change is difficult, evolution frosty.

Salma wanted to break the barriers of bigotry and fanaticism. She stood for the change, we all want to see, but never want to be. She didn’t wish to get married as education was her topmost priority. However, her family especially her mother thought otherwise. Salma’s mother wanted her to follow the convention, conform to filial and familial duties and live an orthodox life. Salma did not budge, and was too stubborn to change her stance. Hence she was duped into marriage by her mother, who emotionally blackmailed her to achieve her purpose.

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The tale of Irreverence

Salma was incarcerated for a long time in her own house for not listening to her family. Post marriage, again for a long period of time, she was treated in a similar manner by her in laws. Her husband threatened to commit suicide if Salma failed to cripple her artistic pursuits. Salma was a lover of literature, who found creative solace in poetry. She was a talented poet in Tamil, and even before marriage her work had found traction among the literary minds in Tamil Nadu.

However, our society speaks with a forked-tongue. Hence tradition is revered as long as it suits our purpose. Hence the same Salma, who once was kept under perennial house detention was encouraged by her husband to take a plunge into politics. He wanted to acquire power, and his wife became a means of achieving his coveted purpose. Salma seized the opportunity with both hands and participated in politics, another patriarchal backyard of our constitutional democracy. She won the Panchayat elections and successfully represented the local self government.

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Salma’s talk in Delhi

Her talent did not go unnoticed and soon she was given an important responsibility by the DMK Government of the state. Today, she happens to be a source of inspiration for the womenfolk of her state and the country. She has epitomized the emancipation of women like no other. Salma gets invited to conferences from different parts of the world and her linguistic limitation hasn’t dettered her from attending them. She is today a women rights activist with a vision for herself and her compatriots.

Her family may appear villainous, but it is important to understand the layers and sub layers of Indian society. Seeing Salma from the prism of cosmopolitanism is erroneous. The bigotry of our society is deep-rooted and there is no panacea to this archaic mindset. Things are changing slowly. And we will require irreverent rebels like Salma to accelerate the change. Salma’s family today has caved in and though not fully repentant, respects her choices. King Longinotto’s documentary ‘Salma’ emboldens the narrative of a changing India. David has truly overwhelmed Goliath.




Bengal- a mystery stranger than fiction

As a Bengali born and brought up in Calcutta, my childhood was mired with both political romanticism and opportunism. Unlike the North, the Indian Bengal saw “ideology driven” politics where students galloped on the campuses with huge portraits of Marx and Lenin dotting the processions. Behind this facade however, lied another Bengal where the state was all powerful, all pervasive. Where ideology was as relevant as Gandhi is in Kashmir.

Rough and ready methods were used unabashedly and any voice of reason was muzzled and at times eliminated. As a state Bengal unlike a Maharashtra has never seen a multi-corner fight where even the independents have a certain stake. Barring the 1967 elections, there has never been a strong opposition within the state assembly resulting in the formation of powerful as well as popular governments. Governmental stability usually is a precursor to political stability. But in Bengal, the reverse became true. A cadre based party with its ever expansionist zeal  kept Bengal volatile and skirmishes between the opposition and the ruling alliance became rampant. Even today, Bengal unfortunately defeats all other states in incidents of political violence.

It was difficult to define Bengal even then, as it is now. Few could draw a parallel between a Rabindra Sangeet loving, timid, couch potato Bengali and the bloodthirsty, violent political atmosphere in the state. There has always been a sense of rebellion in the air, a frozen fragrance of insularity which has cut Bengal from the mainstream.

Even as East Europe was spiraling out of Communist control and Soviet Union was counting its last days, the residents of the state reposed their faith in an ideology which was out of sync with the rapidly changing world where inward-looking is not only unpractical but sinful.

Hindi Cinema even today defines Calcutta through its narrow lanes and Communist flags. That perhaps is about to change as the death-bugle of the Communist party in Bengal has been sounded by the people who don’t find anything worthwhile in a party led by unaccountable, politically infertile octogenarians unable to evoke energy or passion . The BJP interestingly, which was usually seen to be a party of Hindi speakers is finding wider acceptance as RSS shakhas have increased five fold in the last 6 years. Incidentally the new regime is going to complete its 6th year next month sparking allegations of a secret TMC-BJP understanding.

Bengal has often flaunted and feigned its secular and liberal credentials. Hindus and Muslims perhaps have lived together without rioting. But that does not mean they have lived harmoniously all the time. I will be honest enough to confess that many members in my family were cynical of the ‘Mussalman’. The elders of my family have often advised me never to marry a Muslim girl. Nonetheless, my crush however happens to be a Bengali actress from the ‘other community’.

The recent aggressive Hanuman Jayanti Celebrations in Bengal by both the BJP and the TMC have been seen by intellectuals as a blot on the syncretic Bengali culture. Though I am not a self styled custodian of truth, the fact is that the recent turn of events is a manifestation of the complex and concealed narrative, and the civil society in Bengal very much like their Delhi counterparts fail to descend from their high horses. The falsehood of Bengali secularism is becoming conspicuous.

P.S- The state is at the doorstep of a political transformation which will unsettle many conventional stereotypes woven around the state and its people. The Border state today is a paradox. The paradox, perhaps is best reflected by my Brahmin friend in the city, an Islamophobic beef eater.

Key takeaways….

Bengal verdict is sound and clear. The highly intelligent voter has again proved, why she is the vanguard of democracy. The elections were made out to be bipolar. In reality it never was.

The punditry suggested that this time around, there will be a haddahaddi lorai, a fight to the finish.But the post 1967 tradition just had a new lease of life with the over the top majority for the TMC.

Here the equations of the alliance did not play out as expected. The so called political analyst had almost regarded the 39% Left-Congress voteshare erosion averse. It was assumed, that it is the TMC voteshare which is variable, not that of the alliance or tactical arrangement or whatever the name is.The punditry ruled out the point that voters in Bengal are no more servile.

The way the voteshare of the Left has gone down, with an almost written off BJP touching the double digit vote share, the index of opposition unity looks highly thwarted from place.

The same ‘analysts’ who concluded that the ascending BJP vote share in 2014 hurt the Left have been wronged. Rather, the ascending vote share of the BJP helped TMC lose Asansol, where Dola Sen was trounced by Babul Supriyo.

All the historic “hand in hand” gaffes to eloquently bat for the jot by ABP have proven to be out of place and severed from reality. The elections also show the media its place. 

Give news first, perhaps even views. But you are still a bit less important in my life than the Game of Thrones.

All the op ed pages and editorials have far lesser readership today than it had a couple of decades back. You may paint VYAPAM or SARADHA as corruption scandals, but it has zero impact if the voter at large is satisfied by governance.

Media lost the battle against Modi after 2002, the much hyped India Shining lost in 2004, the Ramnath Goenka dribble against the Congress perished in 1980. Overestimation of the power of the  prime time slot is perhaps born out of social media’s incessant political campaign.

But the tech savvy, fb or instagrammed generation is still a small puppy in comparison to the doughty, rural voter whose life gets improved by sops and freebies.

Economists living in opulent bungalows may point out at their undesirable effect on the economy, but they are surely desired by the villager in Samastipur suffering from nature’s fury. 

One caveat-these elections have proven leftism isn’t dead, it can’t be. Perhaps that’s why someone jokingly said on twiiter in February-Sitaram Yechury authored this year’s finance budget!

Do dooni char

As we move slowly into the third year of Achche Din, the question of too many contradictions look to scratch Modi’s eventful reign. However, his personal report card should be a source of relief for a government carrying the liability as well as the responsibility of being a one man show-at least tangentially.

Controversies are a part and parcel of any government. In Modi’s case the issue is no different. The Vyapam and Lalitgate were talking points of every television news channel irrespective of national or regional variety about one year back.

It has not hurt the image of the Modi government or that of the Prime Minister himself. Unlike a nervous and fragile UPA II the government did not budge to the pressure that was being released by one group of the 4th estate and a highly inquisitive opposition.

Though the Prime Minister’s endeavours deserve credit, he has been unable to do a Vajpayee-make an extra effort to rope in the disgruntled elements. Besides, the tactical error has been to cede too much space to the Sangh Parivar. 

The FTII conundrum was highly avoidable with the government coming across as complicit and ambivalent. 

The issue of rewriting books based on the synonimity of hearsay stuff and tangible facts of history has made the educational policy more idiotic, mechanical and devoid of any logic.

However, even if the BJP has been losing elections and has made little headway in states where it never has had a solid ground, it is undeniable that the trust, but not hope on Modi is increasing every day. 

With the opposition more worried about the PM’s certificates, the people have already Made it clear that its trust will eventually lean upon Modi, who is still the 5 year long certified upholder of India’s tryst with destiny….

Judiciary- torchbearer or trespasser?

Lord Bryce once said,”If the lamp of justice goes out in darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Montesquieu tried to appear as a moderator in the tug of war between the various institutions of a functional democracy. The Separation of Powers proved to be a futile experiment as the difference between legitimate intervention and interference came to seen as highly spurious.

The present Government has been facing the flak from the judiciary on a varied number of issues. The most recent judgement on the Uttarakhand deadlock has made the government loose a quantum of self esteem.

The annexationist executive for now at least will look to avoid a scenario where the government finds itself in a flawed position. More so, because the government in the past could not materialise its NJAC agenda with Ravishankar Prasad accusing the judiciary of ignorance of the value of elected representatives.

But when the Parliament ‘elected representatives’ who cannot fare better even as a Sarpanch or a Panchayat Pradhan are MPs and the Temple of Democracy is recalcitrant-can we expect a reluctant judiciary? The quality of debate has followed a downhill, with speakers in Parliament coming with the additional burden of spraying pepper in their colleague’s eyes.

Derek O Brien of the TMC in an interview to Barkha Dutt used the idiom ” I will scratch your back and you will scratch mine” to underline the behind the door understandings between two pan Indian National Parties-a system of democracy that is slowly becoming truly bipolar in more ways than one increasing chances of botch ups.

The judiciary was bolstered with criticism by the Union Finance Minister of the Country. Incidentally, the Congress party alongside other political parties chose to remain on the side of the government.

History says when the political class unites, it is to save its own interests from getting squelched. When you get to see ideologically or opportunistic adversarial political parties coming together to press their demand for a pay hike, then you surely come to know the seriousnessof their self accaimed virtues.

The judiciary has also crossed the Lakshman Rekha in an attempt to come across as the ultimate authority of the Constitution. The tactical ball game played by the Judiciary in the First and Second Judge’s cases further prove the theorem of judicial activism.

Even the opaque system of selection of judges and politicisation of the judiciary is a truth that cannot be denied by the most ardent follower of the legal system.

But the seriousness of the government can be questioned with ease, even if the demanour of the judiciary in certain cases are instrumental in enterprising the dictatorship of the nyalyaya.

The government has chosen to bark when its interests looks compromised. The question of judiciary’s bias has been a permanent feature through the years. The repentance of Justice Verma on the misinterpretation of his judgement was used as a point of reference by Arun Jaitley in the Legislature vs Judiciary debate moderated by Arnab Goswami of Times Now.

Judges have been seen wining and dining in embassies which have raised eyebrows of many people. The West Bengal CM has alleged in the past that favourable judgements were being exchanged for money. A case was lodged against her because of the remarks.

But the political class still dominates the proceedings of the judiciary directly or tacitly. Grapevine has it that Gopal Subramanian was not promoted in the legal ladder because of his judgement which went against Amit Shah.

On a similar note, the Emergency was put in place mainly because of one judgement of Jagmohanlal Sinha. Seniority as a principle was breached in 1973 and 1977 in the process of the election of the CJI because the seniormost judges could not place the hat at the Ephemeral Dictator’s feet.

The judiciary needs modification for sure. But before that it is the Legislature that needs to go through (to quote JP) “total revolution.”