You have to give it to Prime Minister Modi to throw up issues that will distract the attention of the people. He bets on the fact that the Opposition will respond by speaking in multiple voices and not always with irrefutable facts or logic.
Pulwama was a telling example. By every account, there was a massive intelligence failure. The governor of Jammu & Kashmir admitted as much when he said on February 15, 2019, “We could not detect or check the vehicle full of explosives moving on the highway… The fact that we did not know that there was a fidayeen among them (local militants) is also part of the intelligence failure.”
No government could keep quiet after the attack. Balakot was the answer, the Pakistan Air Force was half-prepared, the Indian Air Force hit the targets, and Pakistan shot down an IAF aircraft. The doubts are not about the strike but about the number of casualties. So, what do we have? — a worrying failure in Pulwama and a significant success in Balakot.
Mr Narendra Modi successfully fused Pulwama and Balakot. Anyone questioning the intelligence failure in Pulwama (and the tragic loss of 40 lives) was mischievously interpreted as if he was questioning the IAF’s success in Balakot, and labelled an anti-national. The Opposition — at least in the Hindi-speaking states —was not able to respond to this clever election tactic and make the people understand the distinction between the Pulwama failure and the Balakot success. Mr Modi successfully distracted the people and took the election discourse away from the sluggish economy, unemployment, farmers’ distress, communal hatred, lynching, etc.
After the election to the Lok Sabha, the focus should return to the sluggish economy, unemployment, farmers’ distress, communal hatred, lynching, etc. That should have been the thrust of the President’s Address; that should have been the core of the Prime Minister’s replies in Parliament; and that should be the theme of the pre-Budget debates. Alas, it is not so, and what is hogging the public space is Mr Modi’s slogan of One Nation, One Election. It is the new distracting tactic.
In a federal parliamentary democracy, the council of ministers in the Central government and the state government shall be collectively responsible, respectively, to the House of the People [Article 75(3)] and to the Legislative Assembly [Article 164(2)]. The ‘responsibility’ to the Legislature means that the council of ministers must enjoy the confidence of the majority in the Legislature every day and every hour. The moment the council of ministers loses the support of the majority, it should go. The notion that such a council of ministers can continue in office until another council of ministers proved it has the support of the majority is antithetical to the fundamental principles of a parliamentary democracy. Suppose a government is voted out, but no other person can muster the support of a majority in the Legislature, will the defeated prime minister or chief minister continue in office? That would be parliamentary sacrilege. Mid-term election is the only legitimate answer.
Equally antithetical to a parliamentary democracy are suggestions to the effect that the tenure of a Legislative Assembly can be extended or curtailed despite the prescribed term. The people elect candidates for a prescribed term: it will be an affront to the people if the term is extended or curtailed.
Evidently, the campaign for One Nation, One Election has been launched with the full knowledge that it is unconstitutional under the present Constitution. Although the protagonists will not admit it yet, their real intention is to change the Constitution. The direction of change is also visible: unitary, not federal; stronger Executive, weaker Legislature; uniformity, not diversity; common identity, not multiple cultures; and majoritarian, not consensual. The direction is toward a presidential system of government.
Bewarned of Changes
All of the above can be achieved only by amending, extensively, the present Constitution of India. It appears that the BJP is not averse to the idea of drastically amending the Constitution because they believe that, since the RSS was not represented in the Constituent Assembly, they are not obliged to take ownership of the present Constitution. It is obvious that the RSS and BJP want a Constitution of their liking and the One Nation, One Election campaign is a precursor to changing the Constitution.
No comparable country with a federal system of government has simultaneous elections to the national parliament and to the state/provincial legislatures — notable examples are Australia, Canada and Germany. The United States has a presidential system of government and hence is not comparable. Besides, the US has simultaneous elections and non-simultaneous elections (one election every four years and one election every two years). The argument that a country cannot be in perpetual election mode is also hollow: what does it matter if in a handful of state elections are held when due? If any country is in so-called perpetual election mode, it is the US where the House of Representatives is elected every two years! The US seems no worse for it.
The BJP should make plain its intentions. If it wants a presidential system of government, let it say so openly. Let the people decide if the priorities before the country, at this stage, are the sluggish economy, unemployment, farmers’ distress, communal hatred and lynching, or installing the first Executive President, subservient Cabinet and powerless Parliament.