CHOKING OF DEMOCRACY!

By Rajan Narayan

THE year 2023 saw a further rise in the saffronization of India. Indeed, the word India has been given up by the Narendra Modi-led government. Increasingly, the BJP government refers to India as Bharat. This is not confined to the Modi government at the Centre. Many BJP states have started using Bharat as synonymous to India. India now represents the Opposition groups which hope to take on Modi in the 2024 election.
This year also saw Modi’s dislike for the Nehru-Gandhi family. The government has systematically diminished the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawarharlal Nehru. This has been dramatized by the renaming of the Jawaharlal Nehru Library in New Delhi. This was a great source of information not only on Jawaharlal Nehru but all the subsequent chief ministers and prime ministers of India. I recall that I used the material made available in the JNU library — not to be mistaken with the Jawaharlal Nehru University which is also the centre of excellence. Fortunately, it is still called JNU and has not been changed to Bharat National University.
Besides tagging Bharat to all its social welfare and other schemes the government also increasingly used Bharat in all its communications with regard to its G20 summit meetings in India. It may be part of the G20 programs held in Goa. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chairperson of the G20 summit meets held in India.
There is been a major change in the educational syllabus. For instance, some universities have made the teaching of the “Mahabharata” and particularly its core philosophy of the “Bhagwad Gita” in it compulsory. There has been a suggestion that management students should learn management styles adopted in in the Mahabharat’s “Bhagwad Gita” which essentially deals with how to question Bita”Bhagwat Gita which is essentially a question of aggression and how to deal with it. Arjuna was hesitant to go to war with his cousins. Krishna advices Arjuna that he must do his duty.
The central government has also made changes in the education syllabus. It puts great store by Indian cultural heritage. Nothing wrong with this but everything must be seen in its proper context. You cannot push the wheel back, progress is an on-going idea. This whole business of how we must resurrect the past makes us look backwards instead of forward.
Politically, 2023 has seen the slow strangulation of the democratic process in India or should we now say Bharat. Now parliament has become the new arena where democratic norms and traditions must be choked. It started innocently enough with the expulsion of the outspoken West Bengal MLA Mahua Moitra. Moitra was accused of taking money for asking questions. She made her case worse by admitting that she took gifts but denied that she ever took money for asking questions in parliament.
The BJP used its majority in parliament to humiliate and sack Mahua Moitra. She has rightly called the decision the decision of a
“kangroo court” decision. The Parliamentary Ethics Committee which recommends disqualification and sacking of members parliament is packed with BJP loyalists. PEC’s recommendation in this case was approved by a voice voice. It would have been in fairness if a secret ballot was drawn given the BJP’s overwhelming majority it was not surprising that parliament pass the resolution expelling Mahua Moitra. A vindictive Modi government immediately asked her to vacate the bungalow which was allocated to her in Delhi. Mahua Moitra was one of the critics of the Modi government which increasingly finds means to silence any kind of criticism or opposition.
Even before the latest incident the BJP government doctored parliament to disqualify Rahul Gandhi. An old speech of Rahul Gnadhi’s was dragged up asking for his disqualification. The Gujarat court where he was tried gave him two years imprisonment for defamation. Normally, in defamation cases an apology is usually demanded. In this case, Rahul has not given even that option. Fortunately, the Supreme Court set aside the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi. The SC also directed parliament to restore Rahul Gandhi’s status. Parliament had no choice but to set aside the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi and returned to parliament.
In the newest case of marginalising the opposition parliament suspended as many as 140 members of parliament in a recent intersession. They were suspended for demanding that Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a statement on the security breach which took place in the Lok Sabha. It may be recalled that two smoke bombs were exploded on the floor of the Lok Sabha.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have been hinting that the unsavoury episode is part of a larger conspiracy. But the expansion of as many as 120 Lok Sabha members means that the Opposition members in parliament have been totally demoralised. Parliament functioning with only the BJP members passed several crucial bills including the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code. Parliament has been reduced to a farce with the speaker misusing his authority on cue.
It’s not only at the Centre but at State level too the BJP government has been misusing power. All the governors are direct nominees of Home Minister Amit Shah. Presumably, the PM too played a major role in selection of governors to the various states. The BJP-appointed governors like President of India Droupadi Murmu change the rules of the game and play foul with the elected government of non-BJP ruled states.
In West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the governors have withheld consent to many vital bills moved by the Opposition-led state governments. The SC had to intervene again to direct the governors not to unnecessarily withhold consent. Governors have also played a role in creating mischief in Opposition-ruled state governments. The office of the Speaker of the LA is also abused by the BJP government. Even in Goa the disqualification petition filed against the eight Congress MLAs has been kept pending for over a year. In this case, also the SC has intervened and asked the Speaker to take a decision within three weeks. No decision hs been forthcoming so far. In the meanwhile, the BJP has undermined the unity of even the Opposition by rewarding Alexio Sequiera with a cabinet berth.
THE year gone by reveals to us how the BJP poses a major threat to democratic processes hitherto respected in the democratic counties. Fortunately, the BJP is an elected government and the people have an opportunity to set the matter right in the forthcoming elections in 2024 if they wish to. Parliamentary elections are scheduled sometime in April.
It’s a pity the Opposition groups in I.N.D.I.A. are not perceived as united. Congress has been weakened in the three northern states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in state elections. The Congress was able to hold on only to Telangana. In the new organisation of I.N.D.I.A. are all the parties united enough to take on the challenge of a Narendra Modi?
No doubt the projection of Mallikarjun Kharge as the prime ministerial face may have improved the acceptance of the Congress leadership of India. But Mallikarjun Kharge may not be strong enough as an Opposition candidate. It is now clear that the Sonia Gandhi family does not need much influence with the masses at large.

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