It is perhaps fitting that the Supreme Court’s decision ordering a floor test in Maharashtra was delivered on Samvidhan Divas, our national Constitution day. It is a celebration of this hallowed occasion that the BJP again stands exposed for its reckless ambition that prioritises its own political gains above the Constitution.
However, the fact that the apex court was required to intervene, once again, is itself a sad commentary on where the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah regime has taken Indian politics. Over the last five years, these tactics to secure power by way of constitutional subterfuge has become textbook for the BJP, which seeks to position this low-level cunning as illustrative of a political wisdom never seen before. In fact, this “Chanakya niti” as hailed by its cheerleaders, appears to be little more than horse trading. Evidence has even surfaced of the current Karnataka chief minister allegedly admitting to the BJP’s interference in Karnataka .
This latest episode had all the hallmarks of the BJP fly-by-night operation; unquestioning institutions in the form of the Governor and the President, who without recording any protest, allowed President’s rule to be vacated in the early hours of the morning, the fabled purification — which exonerates former rivals whom the BJP had promised to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law — and a desperation to secure power at any cost without any concern as to how it looked to the public.
But few were shocked. Because this is exactly the sort of behaviour that the public has come to expect from the Modi-Shah duo. We saw it in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Goa, Meghalaya, Karnataka where despite not having the requisite numbers, the BJP clawed its way into office. In the first two cases, the Supreme Court struck down their preliminary attempts as illegal (in 2015-2016).
In fact, we owe a debt of gratitude to the previous benches of the Supreme Court which laid down rock solid precedent interpreting the Constitution in a manner which limits the scope for horse trading. It is the one thing the BJP could not find a way around.
But Modi in 2014 had promised India two things above all else — a corruption free government and unparalleled economic reform. No amount of spin can detract from the fact that on the latter he failed spectacularly, breaching even the lowest of expectations. On the former, he has demonstrated scant regard for the ethics and morals which he claimed made BJP a “party with a difference”. Even his attempts to appropriate Gandhian principles through propaganda are scorned for their apparent hypocrisy.
This episode was also a reminder of the BJP’s unsettling fondness to execute its moves under the cover of darkness (as in the late-night movements against a former CBI chief) or in the confines of a sealed envelope. Are these the actions of a government that swears by transparency? Considering the BJP government has recently amended the RTI Act in a manner that effectively neutralises its independence, this too is in doubt.
On the contrary, the BJP’s reckless and selfish ambition has come at a great cost to our institutions and to our laws. Some of these highlights of the BJP’s tenure include governors whose fax machines suddenly stop working, who violate convention by allotting arbitrary amounts of time to different parties to prove their numbers, governors who invite the second-largest party before they invite the first. They should bear in mind that ultimately it is the Constitution to which they have sworn their allegiance. This judgment is the latest reminder of that promise.
We have also witnessed an Election Commission, which despite repeated and brazen violations of electoral laws, took no action against the leaders of the parties in power, requiring us to approach the Supreme Court yet again for its intervention. What we saw instead was action being initiated against an Election Commissioner who dissented against this approach.
We have seen vast sections of the fourth estate become parodies of their former selves in their embarrassing loyalty to the king. Some of whom steadfastly celebrated these actions as being indicative of political “hunger” and worth our respect. These are just some illustrations in the current context which remind us the direction in which the Modi-Shah BJP has taken the country. All in an ironic inversion of their own slogan, “minimum government, maximum governance”. Whatever this form of “governance” is, it has certainly advanced the political fortunes of one party above all others.
If Modi-Shah had spent more time studying the Constitution they would have been made familiar with Justice Brandeis’s maxim that sunlight is the best disinfectant. And regardless of how many late-night operations or coups are executed, the sun always rises.
No amount of “Chanakya niti” can change that.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 27, 2019 under the title ‘Checkmated by the Constitution’. Surjewala in the AICC national communications in-charge and an advocate. Khan is a lawyer.
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