BJP resorts to crude habits in Goa, Manipur
By negating the electoral result in these states, Modi has shown that he is not above a dubious sleight of hand to oust an opponent.
By "stealing" the governments of Goa and Manipur from the Congress, the largest party in these states, Narendra Modi can be said to have begun his post-poll tenure on the wrong foot.
The act of larceny, as Congress leader P. Chidambaram has alleged, is all the more unfortunate since the Prime Minister promised in his victory speech after his party's 'akalpaniya' or unimaginable victory in U.P. that he will not do anything with a bad intention.
However, he added that he could make mistakes. It is possible that the horse-trading which he must have sanctioned in Goa and Manipur to negate the electoral outcome was an error. As Modi said in his speech, an election result is an 'aadesh' or order from 'janata janardan' or hoi polloi.
The aadesh by the Goa and Manipur voters was that the BJP should sit in the opposition since it had conceded the first place in the two legislatures to the Congress. An acknowledgement, however, that the electoral verdict in the Assembly polls was actually 3-2 in Congress' favour would have punctured BJP's hauteur. Hence, the alacrity it displayed to overturn the results in Goa and Manipur.
Yet, it would have only enhanced Modi's prestige if the BJP's spin-doctors hadn't disturbed the popular verdict. Now, by negating the electoral result, Modi has shown that he is not above a dubious sleight of hand to oust an opponent. The slightly embarrassed, shame-faced appearance of the party spokesmen when defending the government's decision told its own tale.
Such crude acts were the hallmarks of previous regimes as when several Congress state governments were summarily dismissed in 1977 by the Janata Party after it assumed power at the Centre. Then, to pay Charan Singh (for it was said to be his idea) back in his own coin, Indira Gandhi oversaw a similar ouster of the Janata Party governments in the states after she came to power in 1980.
However, in 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, he refused to emulate the cynicism of his mother and Charan Singh, who was a former Congressman and did not disturb the non-Congress state governments. Rajiv also discouraged defections. It was for this reason that he came to be called Mr Cleaner. V.P. Singh was earlier known as Mr Clean.
It is another matter that only three years later, Rajiv became embroiled in the Bofors howitzer scandal which led to his downfall in 1989, but in his time, Article 356 was used only six times to dismiss state governments compared to the 17 occasions when it was applied by Morarji Desai's and Charan Singh's government in 1977-80 and 16 times by Indira Gandhi between 1980 and 1984.
This Constitutional provision is hardly used these days because of the infamy it has acquired as a result of its earlier misuse. But similar attempts to undo an election result are continuing, as the Goa and Manipur episodes show. There was no need, however, for the BJP to indulge in these shenanigans. It had just won a massive victory in Uttar Pradesh which made Chidambaram admit that Modi had become the most dominant personality of the present times.
It is now almost certain that BJP will win in 2019, which is why Modi mentioned 2022 as the year when his project for a new India will be accomplished. But it will not be "new" if sleazy methods are used to grab power. Economic development alone cannot be the basis of the newness. It is no less important for the government to emphasise the moral side of its rule.
India has long been deficient in these aspects. While the economy has suffered because of what former Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan called "crony socialism" as a result of the earlier over-dependence on the public sector at the cost of the private sector and the political preference for doling out subsidies instead of boosting growth, the country's moral compass has not been very steady. Currently, it is in the 79th position out of 175 countries where corruption is concerned.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, the assets of the Manipur MLAs had increased by 65 per cent in the last five years. In Goa, the percentage is 50. Evidently, the impact on the assets of the latest incidents of floor-crossing will be known after a few years. Since it is unlikely that their value will be reduced, it is evident that Modi's efforts to cleanse the system of political funding by restricting cash donations and issuing election bonds will not make much headway if MLAs are persuaded to switch their loyalties.
By muscling its way into the corridors of power in Goa and Manipur, the BJP has given the Congress a talking point. If the BJP didn't intervene in the process of government formation, the Congress might have succeeded in coming to power, but it would not have been a stable arrangement because of the party's dependence on fickle allies. Now, the BJP will have to keep looking over its shoulder to see if anyone is trying to pull the rug from under its feet. As a result, the glory of its U.P. victory will be diminished.
(The writer is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)