It is amazing how the Congress and its government are always looking for loopholes to get through anti-democratic measures.
And succeed to an extent that encourages them to keep on trying. The party leaders have developed such a thick skin in the process that when caught, they brazen it out with blatant denials and offensive posturing.
The cover was blown off two major Congress back door initiatives in the past week. One was an executive order to set up the National Counter Terrorism Centre that gave powers to the Centre to virtually operate in the states in pursuit of terrorists without seeking necessary permission. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik took the lead in mobilizing seven Chief Ministers across the country to oppose the order, and to bring home the fact that this violated the federal principles of the Indian Constitution. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally had to step in and assure the Chief Ministers that their concerns would be taken on board, and the federal structure respected.
The other move by the Congress raised the hackles of the opposition parties as well as the Election Commission as it sought to give a statutory status to the Model Code of Conduct. This, in effect, would take the Model Code of Conduct out of the purview of the Election Commission and into the jurisdiction of the courts. As a result any violation of the Model Code of Conduct would not invite immediate punishment as is the case now, but could linger for months and years in the courts until a verdict was given.
This issue was highlighted by a Delhi newspaper that had got hold of a “secret” note to be placed before a meeting of the Council of Ministers. After the news was published, Union Ministers lined up to deny the move, in yet another travesty of the truth. It was apparent to all that the decision to bring in this change from the backdoor followed the confrontation that Union Ministers like Salman Khursheed and Beni Prasad Verma had with the Election Commission for violating the Model Code of Conduct. After brazenly confronting the Election Commission they had to apologise to the EC after public pressure built against them, and after the Chief Election Commissioner took the unprecedented step of writing to the President of India in protest against their attitude.
The decision to take away the powers from the EC to reprimand violators of the Model Code of Conduct clearly followed this, with the government backing its Ministers in seeking to make the Election Commission toothless. As it is elections mean violations, from the money spent to the unhealthy practices adopted by the political parties to lure the voters. The huge expense involved has placed the elections outside the scope of the common man, with muscle and money power determining the outcome.
Several Congress Ministers seem to have made confrontation with democratic institutions their business. Their loud and brash approach to cover back door policies has been generating resentment and anger. More so, as in the process, the government has through a series of measures sought to shrink the already limited democratic spaces available to the people of India. Land acquisition is justified, partisan mining rights to a well knit mafia is encouraged, even as the government intrudes into the personal space of the individual.
The India US civilian nuclear energy agreement was perhaps a landmark in perfecting this politics of halt truths and brazen attack on dissenting voices. Here the otherwise quiet Prime Minister took the lead, and encouraged the Congress and its allies to adopt any measures possible to get the agreement through Parliament. This was done in a manner that many Parliamentarians today admit gave a big fillip to corruption as votes were allegedly bought for cash, although at the end the government was unable to completely bypass the opposition to this deal within Parliament. And the Nuclear Liability Bill necessary to help implement the agreement was eventually passed with clauses that were not acceptable to the US.
The point being made is that the Congress would do well to appreciate and respect Indian democracy and realize that there is a certain intelligence and awareness that it must recognize. Chief Ministers are able and capable individuals, and as Patnaik has shown, astute enough to be able to read between the lines. There is a certain spirit of democracy that defines the underbelly of the Indian state, with the regional parties who have been voted to power by a clever electorate possessive of their space, and of federalism. Similarly the Election Commission under a honest Commissioner is not going to allow itself to be trampled upon, more so as it is at the very fulcrum of democracy and is required to uphold the Constitution of India and the law.
These deals and half deals might help the leadership in managing the Congress party, and the government even, but these have to be resisted if they eat into the strength of institutions and weaken democracy. The voter who does not have as wide a choice as he might like in selecting a good candidate and a even better party when he goes to the polls, is still very possessive of the ballot and certainly not supportive of those who are seen to be undermining it. Salman Khursheed might think that his demand for reservation for Muslims would have won him and his party the minority vote in Uttar Pradesh, and the confrontation with the EC might have won him new respect, but the results might just surprise him. The people have, over and over again, demonstrated through the ballot that they are with those on the right side of the law, and not those who are seen as threatening the tenets of democracy.