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Hitting below the belt in poll season

Central investigation agencies and Governors being used to weaken the Opposition’s will to fight

Hitting below the belt in poll season

At loggerheads: Tamil Nadu is witnessing a faceoff between CM MK Stalin (right) and Governor RN Ravi. PTI



Julio Ribeiro

CAN you blame the Prime Minister if voters give him credit for the superb performance of the Indian cricket team in the ongoing World Cup? I would not. But if the Enforcement Directorate (ED) shows its true colours and leaks unverified information against a popular Chief Minister like Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel just before the voters in that state wend their way to the polling booths, that would be called ‘hitting below the belt’. Boxers get disqualified if their blows land below the belt of the opponent. Why then is it permitted during elections, which have almost entered the category of a blood sport?

The double-engine governments, of course, do not require class monitors. They know what they have to do.

The Congress has sought the intervention of the Election Commission of India. That august body is making efforts to rebuild its good name, which was in danger of being obliterated. Recently, it has acquired the spine to question Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. But I doubt if it will find the law on its side in this distasteful matter.

The ‘caged parrot’, the CBI, has been replaced by a puppet on strings. The power of appointment has served the party in power well. The Delhi Chief Minister has been served with a notice in the liquor policy case, which has succeeded in keeping some important AAP leaders in limbo. It is a novel method of dispersing political opponents and it has certainly marred AAP’s ability to give the poorer sections of Delhi’s population quality education at the school level and quicker access to medical help at the mohalla level.

The BJP was touted as the ‘party with a difference’. We thought it signified better governance, but instead we got the electoral bonds to finance political parties in place of the crossed cheques that electoral trusts established by corporates would issue transparently to various parties operating in the vicinity of their factories.

Another step the BJP took to ensure an ‘Opposition-mukt’ polity was to literally release ‘tigers’ in the form of Governors and Lt Governors on hapless Opposition parties. The most recent example is of one of my own tribe (the Indian Police Service), who sits in the gubernatorial chair in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. Governor RN Ravi has forced even a dyed-in-the-wool politician like DMK’s MK Stalin to approach the Supreme Court, pleading to be allowed to function like BJP governments in the Hindi heartland.

Non-cooperation of Governors with Opposition-ruled parties was not so common before 2014. Reports of such adversarial contests have been recorded in an alarming degree from Punjab, West Bengal, Kerala and Telangana. The double-engine governments, of course, do not require class monitors. They know what they have to do.

The Supreme Court has never been assailed by so many complaints against Governors. When it was asked to adjudicate the Tamil Nadu imbroglio, I sensed a sense of fatigue in the Chief Justice’s remarks in the court. He asked the parties why they could not sort out their differences keeping the Constitution in mind. But the contestants are not bothered about the Constitution. One wants to install a ‘double engine’, while the other thinks that a ‘single engine’ is more appropriate for the people. There is, subsequently, no meeting point and rapprochement is not likely to happen. Incidentally, a ‘single-engine’ government is permitted by our Constitution.

Delhi has a governance system under which babus take policy decisions. The government elected by the people has no real role to play. In the union territory of Puducherry, the Centre installed an old colleague of mine from the police service as Lt Governor. She gave the Chief Minister a rough time till he was voted out of office.

The use of Central investigation agencies and Governors to weaken the Opposition’s will to fight and thereby get re-elected to high office is accompanied by the targeting of the hearts and minds of Opposition legislators en masse to form double-engine governments. Had that resulted in improved governance, all sins would have been forgiven. But that does not happen. On the contrary, the temptation to indulge in corruption is reinforced!

It is clear that the route to power has been mapped out. First ensure emasculation of Opposition parties by setting the ED, the CBI, the NIA, et al, on their tails. If they win the elections even after the investigating agencies have dug their teeth into them, go for mass defection of elected legislators of Opposition parties by the lure of office so that double-engine governments are installed in the states. If the difference in numbers is not conducive to a takeover, release Governors or Lt Governors to make the government in question impotent.

This plan will backfire when the voters see through the game. That is what the ruling party, which is working according to those plans, should worry about. Even the poorer sections of the populace have cottoned on to what is being perpetrated. They are beginning to realise that jobs will not be forthcoming through such machinations and that their present lot of poverty and deprivation will end only if those who have benefited greatly from the right-wing policies invest their money in creating jobs. But that is not happening.

In the meantime, the government is changing laws to give itself the last word on appointments in the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other centres of higher learning. If the autonomy enjoyed by these institutions is taken away, the standing of these IIMs and others in the job market will diminish. This will force bright students to seek avenues in foreign universities. But then the students, besides being bright, will also have to be well-heeled, which puts the poorer sections at a disadvantage.

#Chhattisgarh #Cricket #Enforcement Directorate


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