Political opportunism

The current bid to impose President’s Rule in the sensitive state of Arunachal Pradesh shows total disregard for provisions of the Indian Constitution and norms of democracy. This is competitive politics rearing its ugly head. The onus is, yet again, on the apex court to protect democratic institutions.

Competitive politics, we all know, can form the basis for a lot of good decision making at various levels. Take for instance, the mid-day meal scheme that has greatly helped in improving literacy levels as well as in reducing malnutrition over the years. To give a more comprehensive impetus to it, political parties have competed to add more nutritive foodstuff to the menu. As is well known, such competitive politics between two political parties in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have, in the long run, greatly benefited school going students.

In almost equal measure, political parties have also competed to bring down, or even debase institutions that are crucial for the running of a democracy. It was always held, in the past, that it was the Congress which was determined to break all democratic and Constitutional norms to either retain power or ensure that its rival loses power. And, its successor in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had always been projected as the party which protects the Constitution and assiduously follows all the values of democracy to safeguard the Constitution.

But, what has been played out in a very critical border state of India in the North East is something that has surprised even the Congress, the past masters at acquisition of power in violation of all norms. Arunachal Pradesh borders China and, in fact, the latter even claims ownership of a major part of this state. What happens in this state is, therefore, that much more significant even though it sends just two members to Parliament and has a legislative assembly membership of just 60. The small number, however, does not permit violation of Constitutional norms and verdicts of the Supreme Court.

The issue itself begins, interestingly, because of the incapacity of the Congress leadership to deal with dissidence among its own members. Grounds for dissidence emanate because of political rivalry, because the chief minister and his colleagues have misused or abused power and the level of corruption. But, the Congress has, even after so many years, not evolved a mechanism to deal with such issues within the party. Neither has the BJP even though it has been in power in many states during the last three or more decades. So, typical of the political differences that exist, competitive interests intervene and try to make the most of it.

As is always the wont, the Constitutional head in a state keeps a close watch on all developments. The only difference is unlike his predecessors who were, mostly, former generals from the army or former senior intelligence officials, the federal government currently has a former bureaucrat from the neighbouring state of Assam. The Governor, after receiving many representations from the unhappy members of the Congress, has preferred to believe that holding a demonstration before his official residence (called the Raj Bhavan) is a serious breakdown of law and order and, therefore, a fit case for the imposition of President’s Rule.

To the Governor, it was also a fit case because the protestors, led by a minister, also slaughtered a ‘cow’ during that demonstration. The cow is in quotes because it is not the one that was slaughtered. It is a bovine called mithun (a bison) whose slaughter is part of the tradition in that part of the country. A mithun is also slaughtered, apart from festivals, even when a daughter is given away. The Governor has tried to explain that it was not his way of trying to convince the federal government to recommend President’s Rule. But, this is not the only the first to the credit of this Governor.

He has taken the liberty of calling for a session of the legislative assembly on one date and, later, advancing the date of its meeting. The first one was as per norms, meaning, that it was as per the advice of the council of ministers but the second one was in violation of the norm. Since the legislature could not meet at the legislature hall as it was locked by the government, it was held in the ‘banquet hall of a community centre’! This is where the Congress government lost majority because the dissident members joined hands with the BJP members to form an alternative government. The Governor, obviously, did not refer to the historic judgment of the Supreme Court in what has come to be called the S R Bommai case. This is the case which set the ground rules for the Governor and the federal government on the procedures to be adopted in determining whether a government enjoys majority or not.

The most unfortunate aspect of this complete ignorance or deliberate effort to defy Constitutional norms, is that the federal government, too, agreed to the imposition of President’s Rule. Even this rule was imposed when the issue had reached the Supreme Court which had already constituted a five-member Constitutional bench. In other words, mishandling of the procedural norms and Constitutional provisions, and politically motivated actions seems to have been total. The crisis is being watched very closely because the BJP has always been claiming the top slot in public perception as a party that swears by the Constitution and that it has always been different from the Congress. What has happened in the Arunachal Pradesh episode, indeed, defeats the concept of ‘co-operative federalism’ that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised.

But, the interesting aspect is that the BJP appears to be emulating all the negatives that had sent the Congress out of power in the past. As if the only idea that is working is didn’t-you-do-it...so-will-we. And, the worst is that this is said with pride. This is the dangerous part. In short, it will again have to be the Supreme Court to uphold the law of the land to smother political opportunism.

Sex determination

This is another one of those out-of-the-box ideas that have been floated like the odd and even number vehicles to run on alternate days to cut pollution. This one, however, does not come from the author of the anti-pollution man and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. It comes from the federal Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi. (Yes, she also belongs to the first political family of the country, but is the estranged second daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi. The first daughter-in-law is Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party).

What Maneka Gandhi is suggesting is something that will cause, no doubt, a big debate in the country in the coming days. She, fundamentally, wants to put the present norm on its head. The law currently says that it is illegal to do an ultrasonography to determine the sex of the foetus. This was introduced to curb gender discrimination wherein if it was a girl, people would get the child aborted. Her idea is that once a woman gets pregnant and the gender of the child is known, it shall become part of the public record and the sex of the baby can be tracked. The government would also be better equipped to initiate action against the parents, in the event of female foeticide.

But, it would be more useful if the health of the pregnant mother is also monitored, regularly, at the village level by the health worker. Indeed, the system of keeping a check on the pregnant mother to cut maternal mortality has been successful in the southern state of Karnataka. Of course, the state government used a simple technology to ensure mother mortality rates came down. May be, Maneka Gandhi could get the same done at the federal level.

Tailpiece

Every few years, the world gets worked up about some virus or the other. Until recently it was the HIV. Now, it is the Zika virus, which can be caused by a mosquito biting a human being. The worst is that it has terrified expectant mothers because it is known to cause birth defects in babies. Reports suggest that it could be like an abnormally small head or even cause damage to the brain. There are also reports of nearly 22 countries in the world where the virus has made its presence felt. The world has not invented a vaccine yet. And, India could well be the last one to respond to fighting the already existing menace of mosquitoes. So, if family members back in India show more expenditure on mosquito repellents, NRIs could well understand their plight and pay up despite the Gulf crisis.

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