The BJP, in command of the Centre and most of the states, has been working on ideas of reaching out to the panchayats, rural and urban, with a single electoral roll enabling simultaneous elections at all levels panchayats to Parliament. That would facilitate the party under its supreme leader, PM Narendra Modi to move closer to its coveted ‘one-nation’ goal (Hindu Rashtra).
Were these ideas being mulled over by the Law and Election Commissions on references from the Modi government to fructify and BJP make headway into the near future, well beyond 2019, India can earn the dubious distinction of becoming a ‘party-less democracy’. All this may sound melodramatic at present, the way the post-poll developments in Karnataka are playing out. But there is no mistaking that the country is headed for an ideological battle, raising the stakes for inclusive democracy and the Constitution, itself, in the approaching Lok Sabha elections, which could be advanced ahead of May 2019.
The one-nation concept, as the PM would have it, embodies one law, one tax, one religion, one culture, one language and so on. Federalism, as understood now and constitutionally delineated, would be gradually on the way out. We see already a beginning in the carefully defined Terms of Reference of the 15th Finance Commission (FC), which have agitated the southern states.
Not merely the reference year for population (2011), but also the entire framework for the 15th FC, is designed to fiscally strengthen the Centre at the cost of the states. The Centre wants to beef up its finances for its, as of now, hidden plans of “development”, with at least a partial undoing of the impact of the 42% devolution of the Centre’s tax revenues to states awarded by the 14th FC (2015-’20).
Will it be the end of federalism as we know it?
The one-nation concept, as the PM would have it, embodies one law, one tax, one religion, one culture & one language. Federalism, as understood currently and constitutionally delineated, would be gradually on its way out.
In the first four years, we have heard little from the PM on what he means by “development” mainly used as the BJP’s virtuous election slogan against “corruption” that all Opposition parties are charged with, and with unbridled hatred for the Congress. If development had been taking place in this period, neither economic growth, nor the jobs promised and generated were flaunted.
Also, the PM’s “New India” concept is smuggled into the terms of reference by calling on the 15th FC to take into account “the imperative of the national development programme, including New India 2022”. What is this “New India”? Are the states involved in any consultations about the “New India”? Do their aspirations count in drawing up any new medium, or long-term development plan? The Centre has made no secret of where it is driving the nation, emboldened by the series of electoral gains over the past four years since its ascent to power.
All key institutions under the Constitution have been sought to be rendered malleable through the exercise of majoritarian power and placement of faithfuls to push through skewed policies, or politically retributive moves.
One of the earliest actions of the BJP government as soon as it came to power was the appointment of new Governors in the states and all of them were associated with Hindutva politics. While the Congress governments in the past were no exception in favouring senior party men to adorn Raj Bhavans, the BJP has been dexterously using the instrumentality of its chosen Governors to promote the ruling party’s power reach.
Ironically, in some states, BJP-led parties lacking the numbers were hurriedly sworn in by the Governors in place. It was, therefore, predictable that Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala would give the first opportunity to the BJP as the largest single party (104 seats) even if lacking majority by 8 seats in the 224-member Karnataka Assembly.
The Karnataka experience for the BJP may, perhaps, goad Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to push for advancing the Lok Sabha elections along with the BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh. This is because most Opposition parties are beginning to line up confidently to pose a combined challenge to the BJP. The coming weeks are likely to see the Modi government coming up with more baits for voters, such as universal social security and an improved version of the National Health Programme (Ayush) announced in the 2018-’19 Budget in February, without providing for the financing of a countrywide programme.
The Centre has to announce the minimum support prices, but farmers in distress would look more for a total waiver of debts financed by the Centre. But the current fiscal is turning out to be more challenging than envisaged with the ongoing rise in oil prices to above $80 a barrel and adding to the surge in consumer price inflation (both food and fuel). On the external front, the economy has begun to experience outward flows of capital as global interest rates have hardened and a widening trade deficit has begun to put pressure on payments.
S. Sethuraman (The author is a political commentator)