By Amulya Ganguli
It is now almost certain that the BJP will return to power, but not with a majority of its own, which will make it head a less close-knit coalition than at present.
Given such a scenario, it is worthwhile speculating on its post-poll policies. For a start, the party will have to either drop or moderate some of its hardline postures, especially with regard to Kashmir.
Considering that Nitish Kumar recently reiterated his opposition to the abrogation of Article 370, it is more than likely that the BJP will have to drop its current insistence on scrapping it.
It is also possible that the BJP’s new and old coalition partners will question the Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to ban civilian traffic on highways in the valley on two days of the week.
There is little doubt that the new allies, whether it is the Telangana Rashtra Samithi or the YSR Congress or the Biju Janata Dal, will be more assertive in pressing their points than existing allies like the Janata Dal (United) or the Lokjanshakti Party.
The reason why they are likely to be more insistent is not only the BJP’s lack of a majority of its own (unlike the present), but also the fact that the new allies will have one eye on their domestic constituencies in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha where they cannot afford to alienate the minorities or the Hindu liberals.
If the BJP’s old partners like the Janata Dal (United) and the Lokjanshakti Party have been relatively quiescent, except at the time of bargaining over tickets, the explanation lay in the BJP’s majority and their own weakened position vis-à-vis the “secular” camp.
In contrast, the new allies will be in a better position to flex their muscles, knowing full well that the BJP will not have the political clout in the House to ignore them.
The new set may also calculate that there may well be another general election in a few years’ time since a coalition which has been cobbled together to secure a slender majority cannot be a stable one.
As a result, there may well be a reshuffle of the various parties at the national level in order to evolve a new arrangement with the Congress as a nodal point in case it touches the 100-seat mark.
However, Kashmir is not the only issue on which the BJP will face questions from its new friends. Matters like the recourse to the colonial-era law on sedition or the amendment of the citizenship law, which differentiates between Muslims and the members of other religious communities are also like to be raised by the new members of the government.
There is a belief among political observers (though not generally among the ordinary people) that India is a calmer place under coalitions even if they are short-lived.
The perils posed to the democratic system by a party enjoying majority support were first seen in the Emergency of June 1975-March 1977.
Even Rajiv Gandhi’s massive majority of 415 MPs saw an abortive attempt to muzzle the Press by enacting the Prevention of Objectionable Materials Act.
There hasn’t been any overt attempt to subvert the Constitution or throttle the media by the present dispensation.
But it has succeeded in creating an aura of fear and despondency, especially among the minorities, by fanning the Bajrang Bali versus Ali or Bharatpur versus Khanpur divisive sentiments which make a mockery of the country’s multicultural ethos.
The ingrained anti-Muslim worldview of the RSS, the BJP and their rabid affiliates has found free play under the present-day rulers via the lynching of suspected beef-eaters and cattle traders and other forms of harassment and intimidation such as the gharwapsi and love jehad campaigns.
If the BJP’s new friends are able to curb some of these excesses, it will confirm the belief that a single-party government in this country provides a licence to ride roughshod over democratic and even civilizational norms.
It is worth noting that even Mamata Banerjee’s one-party government has developed authoritarian tendencies, using the police and the party cadres to scare her opponents away from contesting panchayat elections.
It was only in the immediate aftermath of Independence when the ruling party comprised highly regarded individuals that a one-party rule was expected to be fair and dispense justice.
But the Emergency of 1975 shattered that dream. It is not surprising that the enfant terrible of that period, Sanjay Gandhi, regretted that his mother called for the elections. Had he been in charge, no elections would have been held for 20 years or so, he told the journalist, Kuldip Nayar.
The saving grace, therefore, remains the holding of elections (though not at the panchayat level in West Bengal) and the Supreme Court (though not always the lower courts). The Election Commission and the Supreme Court are the only reliable safeguards, therefore, against arbitrary rule. (IPA Service)