Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, despite breaking the Mahagatbandhan and embracing the BJP once again, has declared that his party will support the Joint-Opposition candidate for Vice- Presidentship, Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
When asked how he felt about Nitish Kumar’s decision, Gandhi said: “I am like so many in the democratic field in India, deeply saddened by the events in Bihar and I wish that the mandate given to the coalition that has collapsed, had had its full run, its innings. Its a setback to the larger national resolve to resist majoritariansim. I have no doubt about it. But in the context of the VP election, I would rather not comment on actions of political leaders. I would like MPs, electors, to judge the merits of the candidates before. I have asked all non-NDA MPs to choose between democracy and intolerance. I have also written to BJP MPs saying I cannot and do not seek their votes but do want them to know what I stand for. Of course not one of them has replied!”
Gandhi added; “So if JDU MPs vote for me as a result of their own assessment of the option, that would be a sign of their independence from NDA in the national context.”
Gandhi, in Delhi now in the last few days before the election to the Vice President’s post on Saturday (August 5), underscored why this contest for the Vice President was important. He said; “The contest is very important as both these posts are very crucial to the republic. As a democracy, the majority in Pariament is empowered, as a Republic, the constitutional authorities have a role (as represented by the President and Vice President in the Centre and the Governor in the states. Whenever the two elections are held, it is very important for a republic. because the constitutional authorities are meant to play a role connected with, but distinct to the role of an elected majority.”
Gandhi emphasised that the timing was of the essence; “The election to the President and VP has assumed extraordinary importance because of the timing. It will soon be the 70th anniversary of India’s independence and in a few months, the 70th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. India is at crucial crossroads..rights of freedom and thought and economic freedom, rights of immiserated peasant communities are under threat and the country is in the grip of a huge communal virus, propagated to divide the country along the lines of which that involked the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi.”
Is the Vice President’s role as the presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha more important now as the several senior ministers have made statements disparaging the role and status of the Council of the states. He said he sees the role of the Rajya Sabha; “The Rajya Sabha is very important that it is not meant to be just a relfection fo the Lok Sabha. It is a twin, but it is not a reflection or a mirror of the Lok Sabha. It is called the sceond chamber, but it is a distinct entity, it is distinct in being a House of reflection, cogitation and second-opinion. The possibility of a second-opinion by the legislature itself, of what has been passed by the Lok Sabha is a very important prerogative of our Parliament. The Rajya Sabha says, the Lok Sabha has passed an enactment, it has reaosns to do so, but before the President assents to it and becomes law, pause and reflect on where the Republican values of our Constitution stand in respect of this law. Democracy has given us the Lok Sabha enactment. The Republic asks us to put the Constitutional overview on that enactment and then to present it to the President. So its the House that tells us without agitation or excitement or without being in a panic, pause and reflect. It is a symbol of thought as opposed to reflexes.”
The difference between Majority and Majoritarianism?
“Majority in Parliament meant to give democratic options, and meant to give the prerogative of framing and making policy to the party in power. But this is not in any way meant to belittle or obscure the opposition. In West Bengal, when BC Roy was Chief Minsiter, the then Communist Party had barely three members, but he gave them the time and respect that was due to a large Opposition party three times that size. The senior Left Opposition MP, Hiren Mukherjee called Nehru the leader of the House and Opposition rolled into one. That is how democracies are meant to function. That is how you give space, not to numbers, but to value. and I think, the difference between a majority and majoritarianism is this. A parliamentary majority believes in consulting and talking to the opposition. Majoritariansim believes in steamrolling it and reducing it to a sheer token.
It is a huge challenge in India. I am aware of the violence in the air. But am also reassured by the fact India is so large, so diverse and replete with people who value their independence that there may be a period of numb acceptance of a certain ideology, but that cannot last in India.”
Is modern democracy just about Personalities now?
That is true, and here I must cite Dr Ambedkar who very pertinently and farsightedly, said in the Constituent Assembly, that hero-worship, India’s pietous devotion expressed in Bhakti, is India’s bane. and that we set aside everything to worship a hero. That is absolutely true. At the same time, the fact that somebody like Ambedkar could point this out at a time when hero worship of a different order, in a different pantheon was prevalent all over India, shows that if there is hero-worship, we also have awareness of perils of hero worship.
Internationally the examples cited of Turkey and Russia, are offset by say, France, where a completely different electoral result has brought in a preson to high office who is against all that we are talking about, against extremism, and who has recently presented a charter which is fiercely pragmatic, a non-cultist, non-populist charter and he has been elected to office, so I believe there is hope.