Lalu Prasad Yadav justifies Emergency rule!
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stands isolated?
Politics as a calling is never kind to indecisive leaders!
Democracies: strong and weak democracies
Dictatorships: ideologically-based and military dictatorships
Democracies are facing new challenges everywhere. In India there are challenges now for our democracy, as coalition partners, the Left and the casteist allies, stand distanced from the Congress party. Who is leading the coalition government? Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh?
Politics is such a serious subject that hardly we find today serious political debates on matters of high political principles. Is politics a short-term affair? Has it no long-term implications?
Even in advanced countries like USA what we see is rather very weak-constructions of what constitutes a liberal society (Francis Fukuyama) or more speculative theories or theses (like the one put forward by Yale historian Paul Kennedy (of the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers).Kennedy predicted the decline of US, the rise of China and a glorious future for Japan. The book sold 2m copies and put the US administration on the back foot.
Every large country, large democracy has its own traditions and peoples’ collective belief systems and commitments. India has had a fairly long constitutional democracy and our political parties have evolved and therefore, Indian democracy must have its own strong survival instincts. Yet, there is no guarantee. There are always uncertainties and certain dangers from within the system, sometimes from without.
The point here is that as we look at India and the Indian politics and politics in the immediate India’s backyard, in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh, not to mention Sri Lanka or Nepal, there are reasons to be disturbed and become more introspective even when one contemplates developments inside India.
The UP elections are to end soon and there are voices from within the UPA government about thoughts for taking a stand regarding the future of the Congress party vis-a-vis the Opposition as represented by the Samajwadi party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Lalu Prasad Yadav, a key player in the UPA and in the inner circle of Sonia Gandhi speaks of the Emergency days, calling Emergency a necessity to control political “indiscipline” in the country. He cites the recent “indiscipline” of utterances of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray against President APJ Abdul Kalam. Yadav says such “indiscipline” cane be curbed through emergency “The railway minister if no joker, though many consider him so, he is a shrewd man, he even publically stated he wants to be Prime Minister! Who knows, he might make it considering the compulsions that might build up in the Indian polity, given the current mutation of numbers game.
Yet for a man, a senior member of the government to speak in such blatant terms is seen widely as a licence to anarchical politics. He says that “if a need arises, emergency could be imposed again”(The Economic Times,26 April 2007).These are all very serious pronouncements and when the Congress-led Central government is even said to be thinking with the idea of imposing President’s rule in UP, in case of some uncertainty. This uncertainty, as everyone knows, can be artificially engineered to suit the ruling combine in Delhi. Anyway, Lalu Yadav has certainly embarrassed the UPA allies, more so the Left as well as his other regional allies. He has certainly embarrassed the Congress party very much, the party always shies away facing the Emergency legacy.
Of course there will be other uncertainties.
There is the forthcoming election to the high office of the President of India. There are so many theories in circulation for promoting Kalam for a second term. Is her ready to stand for a second term? Yes, the newspaper reports say so and these reports seem inspired. While Kalam is a great President, there are certain constraints for an incumbent President to be elected for the second term. Except in the case of the first President, Rajendra Prasad, this never happened. It is unlikely to happen this time too. Political parties are testing the waters; the kite flying is just a mirage.
Will the President of India oblige the UPA combine for such an action? That question is also linked to the end of the term tenure of the President. The much respected Kalam is being promoted by a number of parties and leaders and of course a wide number of disparate individuals, even some interested media groups for the second term at Rashtrapathi Bhavan. The Congress party is not surely one of them, as the party wants to have its own candidate. By implication Kalam is not an obliging type of President, given the Congress party’s current predicaments.
This is only one side of the story. As far the working of our present coalition type of government is concerned. Our Constitution is, luckily, very well-evolved over the years to take on the expected challenges to its basic structure. Given the current evolution of the great document, that Indian democracy doesn’t accommodate the President at Rashtrpathi for than a term that is five years. All past precedents and the present political compulsions indicate that the parties are restless; they are for putting their own wishful list for both the posts of Vice-President and the President. India is after all a big country, a diverse country and there are so many regions and belief systems and there will be more people who aspire to see changes in an orderly manner and order in a rather routine and regular way. So, to give an individual more than a term and that too for an individual like Kalam academic and scientist, who had talked endlessly for too long, many people, might feel. More so the restless and ambitious political aspirants!
So, a new President and new Vice-President are in order. Also, the political scenario is such that even the Prime Minister might not last a full-term if the outcome of the UP elections and the subsequent alliances among the various Opposition groups take such turns to force the UPA to change guard to please some allies.
All these thoughts rumble through when one contemplates what is happening in neighbouring countries. In Bangladesh, we see the Bangladesh military, it is now a military dictatorship for all purposes that has debarred the coming back of former Premier Ms.Sheikh Hasina and has now withdrawn that gag order obviously in the face of internal and external pressures. Also the plan to send into exile another former Premier Begum Khaleda Zia has also been given up, again in the face of resistance from within and from without. As Sheikh Hasina noted that under Article 58 of the Bangladesh Constitution, an election has to be held within 9o days but it hasn’t. Chief adviser took over the caretaker government and now he is not willing goes by the Constitution. Hesia has referred in an oblique manner the Pakistan and possibly the neighbouring Burma that the Bangladesh military could draw inspiration to stick to power for long. Though she has claimed that Bangladeshis are different and they are conscious of their rights, this assertion is often empty in such situations. Pakistan itself is an example, where the military dictator seeks to do a deal with civilian leaders, like Benazir Bhutto to stay in power and thus the new democracies or to be more correct, the new dictatorships become more tempted to stick to power through several devices, considering these are not yet mature democracies. One can go on citing such challenges to new democracies in Sri Lanka and Nepal, in our neighbourhood. In far off, distant lands such threats are more real and new democracies have few safeguards than the older ones. In the USA at least, any wayward President, at best, can’t stay in power for more than two terms of 8 years. Even such short terms are seen as a drag on the world, considering the power and reach of the US power. In the UK, it is much trickier, the British, though declining as a power, has been accustomed to play international diplomacy by tagging on to the US policies, often to disastrous consequences. The UK approach is it is better to be in the international news, as a power to be reckoned with. It is a member of the UN Security Council, it knows the countries and it can always pretend to know about the many regions of the world where the US may not know. It is true in a sense and the world’s many troubles originate from the interests of the US and UK to seek domination by using their past and the present strengths.
The Security Council has just five members, when they became members by virtue of being there as leaders during the second world war. The Council, as it is very unrepresentative, it has failed to intervene when the US unilaterally went to war, now the UK is slowing acknowledging its mistake to join the infamous invasion on such blatant lies. The world as it is no safer for peace; agenda for war is fashionable in a world where the agenda for peace is no one cares for. China is not a democracy, so too we can’t say Russia too is a democracy in the fundamental sense. Germany and Japan are democracies but they suffer credibility because of their war legacy.
Yes, it is now a world where democracies are sought after, though it is a long path towards making the world safe for democracy. Not one country in the world shares the US assertion it is fighting wars to make the world safe for democracies, democratic values.
What is the future of Indian democracy? A tough question that no one asked, as far as we know. But we have to ask this question as it is time to look to India’s internal issues.
There is a remarkable similarity between Indian democracy today, as when Germany had democracy before Hitler came and destroyed it. Why this comparison? Is it justified?
In my considered view there are certain patterns. As the noted historian A.J.P.Taylor has written so perceptively in my opinion (Hitler’s seizure of power, in the book, From the Boer War to the cold War, Essays on the Twentieth Century Europe, Hamish Hamilton) that Hitler seized power in Germany through democratic means only. It took him nearly 10 years, from 1923 to 1933 (on 30 January 1933) to capture power and contrary to popular belief Hitler didn’t emerge a dictator overnight and there were several obstacles to him under the German Constitution, there were Presidents, multiplicity of parties, Nazis never received more than 37 per cent vote and more importantly, every German government after 1918’rested on a coalition’. The multiplicity of parties were all well-rooted ones in different ideologies, social democrats, communists, nationalists and the Roman Catholic Centre party, a sectarian party. the middle class liberal parties faded and disappeared. Hitler when he became chancellor was a ‘leader of a minority’. He established his dictatorship because of the lack of any single party’s majority. The 25 pages of Taylor’s essay in a model in dissecting history and political intrigue that marked the rise of Hitler and I would recommend it seriously for compulsory reading for all lovers of democracy and India.
There is every ingredient we notice in today’s democratic politics in Delhi, there is intrigue, there is uneasy coalition among partners, there is sectarianism of a more dangerous variety, given the international and regional context of religious terrorism, the extreme right parties pitching for extremism of one kind or other, there is also a political class(“A country with a long constitutional history develops a political class, politicians learn to indulge in political intrigues”) and we find that when elections come, as they are now regularly, there is a desperate seeking of allies with no coherent policy perspective at all, all try to jostle for political space, come what may! This is the most dangerous situation.
PM’s views and exhortations don’t sound convincing.
Harish Khare, The Hindu’s Delhi pointsman, writes “Can the UPA project be salvaged? April 25,2007).The burden of his argument is that the PM is becoming irrelevant everyday. The PM exhorts the all India servicemen, AS officials to develop a “national outlook” but just a few days before a high profile former Secretary to the former Cabinet secretary and former Private secretary to the Prime Minister B.G.Deshmukh writes an article asking the Nationalist Congress party not to join the Indian National Congress! This is advocated for getting Maharashtra the best advantages, also for Sharad Pawar, the best terms, possibly a chance to become the PM, in the changing circumstances!
Says Khare “There is a widening gap between the PM and 10, Jan path. So, even the Cabinet Ministers don’t take directions from the PM but from the party President only. What sort of coalition government it would make? The coalition partners continue to function as Cabinet ministers and also work assiduously nursing their ambitions to become the next Prime Ministers! The PM was not wanted in the UP elections, though he put up a token appearance. Such is his mass appeal! This is the first time a Prime Minister finds himself so isolated.
So, says Taylor:” The German example shows the remedy could be worse than the disease, as it indeed proved. General elections may provide a solution when they are contested by two strong parties”. The point is that there could be new circumstances, new challenges, even an economic crisis, the Great depression of 1929 added to the rise of Hitler. An economic crisis could suddenly change the perception of people; they might turn to a leader who promises the moon, an immediate solution. That was what happened in Germany too. Hitler and another, one an intriguer, Hitler, the greatest demagogue “gambled on Germany’s distress”.
Hitler entered government in a coalition. Given our parliamentary behaviour there is much cause for worry. “proroguing parliament, proclaiming an emergency, and govern by decree” all sound ominous words today, but they were all bandied about then, the situation demanded such alternatives.
In fact, the almost day- by-day narration of events reads like a current visualisation of a similar crisis in any modern democracy. Such is the chilling effect in the perceptive historian’s ringing words and phrases. “The voters alone gave Hitler’s dictatorship its legal character”(page 357).”It had taken Hitler four years to destroy legality in Germany by legal means”(page 358).
So, what chance for Indian democracy to remain strong enough and march forward?
I am plainly not so sure, not so sanguine enough!
First, there are so many distortions in the current complexion of the coalition politics. The coalition politics is seen more as a mutual convenience with no regard for any shared beliefs in the great principles of governance under the Constitution. Second, there is the issue of political legitimacy. It is here we have to feel worried. No pretence of immediate convenience can hide the fact of many of the politicians in the Cabinet haven’t earned their legitimacy through legal and ethical means. Third, there is the credibility of the political parties. Any sectarian, regional extremist party that is bent upon just sharing power for the sake of power and have no stake in many nationally-sensitive and pan-national issues, be it sharing the river waters or taking an all India perspective be it OBC quota or committing to a well-defined economic reforms agenda is to work at cross purposes only. These allies could ditch the mother ship at any time when there is even the slightest suspicion of danger to their existence. This was what happened for the Moariji Desai Cabinet under the Janata rule. This sort of uncertainty seems to be haunting the present coalition dispensation.
We Indians are not yet mature enough to deploy the formidable jargon that comes easy and natural for such seasoned thinkers and writers like Taylor. Yet, we have to have some serious introspection. The President of India has well-said that the country is larger than the individual. But then this is easily said than lived up to. Any top leader or politician in India, to aspire for high office, must have the qualifications and credibilities. Such qualities come only to those who have the high calibre of political experience, high capabilties of perceptions and the needed gravitas. But today, the scenario is different. Too many lightweights for too long lording over the world’s largest democracy are a bit too much, to say the least. Gracefully making way for others who can bring in a high political and ideological perception is the first requisite. A great vision comes from hard striving, not through prepared speeches! The CV of the person concerned would show it off.
High Constitutional issues call for high moral calibre, strength of character and a sense of intellectual vigour.
Simply sticking to office, by virtue of others’ gratis is not the way to strengthen Indian democracy or lend legitimacy to the political values.
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