Many a time, history repeats itself.
It appears that in the second term of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, history is in fact, repeating itself, especially if the present scenario is compared with the situations of the post-1971 general election.
Indira Gandhi became Prime minister on 24th January 1966, after the untimely death of then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. In fact, Indira Gandhi was chosen as Prime Minister by the then Syndicate members headed by the veteran Congress leader, K Kamaraj. The Syndicate, whose other main members were Atulya Ghosh, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, S. Nijalingappa, S.K.Patil, and Biju Patnaik was a very strong and influential group which originated in the early sixties to give an answer to the question “Who after Nehru?”
Moraraji Desai was the natural heir to Nehru because of his seniority. But the Syndicate chose Shastri over Desai sensing Mararaji’s independent viewpoint. Nonetheless, L.B.Shastri outgrew the Syndicate because of his astute politics and 1965 Indo-Pak war. That’s why the Syndicate gave prominence to Indira Gandhi who was in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet. Often, Shastri felt uncomfortable about the way Indira Gandhi handled the political situation (or say acted on the behest of the Syndicate). That’s why they chose Indira Gandhi as the successor, ignoring Morarji Desai once more.
The organisation must have thought Indira Gandhi would be a ‘Gungi Gudia’ (dumb doll) who would dance to the tune of their music. But Indira Gandhi soon asserted herself and created her own coterie. The differences between Indira Gandhi and the Syndicate eventually reached a point of no return, when in the 1969 Presidential election, Indira Gandhi openly campaigned against Congress’s official candidate, N.Sanjiva Reddy.
Indira Gandhi appealed for a ‘conscience vote’ indirectly asking the Syndicate to support independent candidate V.V.Giri. As a result, Sanjiva Reddy was defeated, following which, then Congress President and Syndicate member S.Nijalingappa expelled Indira Gandhi from the Congress party. This resulted in a vertical split. Indira Gandhi led Congress became Congress (R) and syndicate led Congress became Congress (O) which was recognised as the original Congress party. However, most Congress MPs and MLAs had joined the Indira Gandhi led Congress (R). It became a minority government in 1969, although not challenged by the opposition for a vote of confidence.
In the 1971 general election, the Indira Gandhi led Congress (R) registered an impressive win, getting 352 seats, and completely decimating the Congress (O). That was a period when there was no strong opposition to Indira Gandhi in a real sense, especially after the annihilation of the Congress (O). Indira Gandhi took some historic and bold decisions, such as Bank nationalization in 1969 and Privy purse abolition to the run-up to the 1971 general election.
In fact, in September 1970, Indira Gandhi brought the amendment to abolish privy purse which was passed in Lok Sabha but defeated in Rajya Sabha by just one vote. However, this impressed the general public of India who supported Indira Gandhi and her party Congress (R) and Congress (O) along with others were considered as pro-Kings and pro-elites.
The bottom line is that Indira Gandhi became a strong leader post the 1971 general elections with technically no opposition at all. That’s the time when the deep state Congress was rooted and Indira Gandhi started controlling almost all institutions (Constitutional and otherwise). In 1975, she imposed an emergency, post her disqualification by a court, declaring her election as void. Indira Gandhi became dictatorial just because of a lack of opposition or opposition unity. ‘Democracy best served by strong and credible opposition’ was non-existent post the 1971 general elections.
The 2019 general election has resulted in a similar situation. Narendra Modi retained power with a larger mandate (303 seats). The opposition, despite a lot of alliances (compatible or incompatible) completely decimated. Parties like TMC and BJD which were not affected by the Modi wave in the 2014 general election got seriously bruised in the 2019 general election, whereas the BJP performed impressively, intruding into their den. In UP, SP and BSP allied, although their alliance was incompatible. The decimation baffled many political experts. The ‘Left’ was crushed in Kerala by the Congress, whereas the Congress was decimated in the rest of the country.
The similarity between 1971 and 2019 is interesting. Indira Gandhi came after taking historic decisions like ‘privy purse abolition’ and ‘Bank Nationalisation’ whereas Narendra Modi retained power for his muscular diplomacy and Balakote strikes. In 1971, the opposition was weakened and frustrated, and at the present time, the opposition also seems directionless and disintegrated. Like Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi too is a very strong leader.
The question is, are we heading towards a repetition of history? Will the Narendra Modi-led government establish a deeply rooted BJP state, undermining the institutions? If not an official emergency, will Narendra Modi opt for an undeclared emergency?
Let me be frank here. I am an admirer of Narendra Modi. But admiration is not subordination or Bhaktology (blind support). Thus, although I like Narendra Modi’s leadership, my priority is democratic values. There are some events which are alerting me of possible dangers in coming days, although I may be horribly wrong in my speculation. But then there are some disturbing signs.
The Government has already passed the ‘RTI Amendment Act 2019’ in Lok-Sabha and, I believe, they definitely will pass it in the Rajya Sabha, with the help of TRS, BJD, and YRSCP members. If you go through the amendment then you will find that this is intended to undermine the integrity of the office of Information Commissioner as well as to defeat the spirit of RTI revolution.
This is a first to contradict Narendra Modi’s claim of transparent government. Then there are other signs too. Ten Congress MLAs in Goa merged with BJP making the minority government into an absolute majority government.
Four of six Rajya Sabha MPs of TDP merged with BJP. One SP Rajya Sabha MP resigned to join BJP. The Karnataka government, although incompatible in nature, collapsed on 23rd July 2019 because of a rebellion of Congress and JDS MLA triggered by BJP.
There is speculation that MP and Rajasthan may follow the Karnataka way of power-shift. Some of my friends even guess that Captain Amarinder Singh, Punjab CM may join the BJP along with his supporting MLAs because of controversy, where Siddhu is getting all the support from Congress high command (read the family). In Bengal, there’s a race of TMC and left cadres to join BJP.
Well, all the above may be simple politics, but somewhere it alarms my mind. Narendra Modi gave the impression that he is different and will follow a different kind of politics. All such antics were known as Congress tools. If the present BJP government is using those in letter and spirit then the future might be dangerous.
I would like to alert Bhaktas with only one proverb. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Corruption doesn’t mean earning money in dubious ways. It also means undermining institutions, using wrong means for power-grabbing, undermining democratic values and decorum, etc. for the selfish interest of accumulating political power. Absence of strong and credible opposition at this juncture may motivate even a leader like Narendra Modi to have absolute power akin to a dictator.
At the same time, I would alert Narendra Modi that India is a unique country where democracy thrives due to its people. Indira Gandhi imposed emergency, taking over all Constitutional Institutions, she even tried for a committed judiciary. All other nations with such a powerful system could have lost democracy easily. But then, it’s the people of India who thwarted all such efforts by an all-powerful Indira Gandhi within 19 months.
Narendra Modi must realise that the people of India are the main foundation behind its vibrant democracy. No doubt, they love Modi at the moment, but then Indian people are not fools. The moment the people realise that Modi is misusing the popularity and power to grab absolute power, then no party or government however powerful will sustain for long.
Once again, I reiterate that my assumptions may be very wrong and farfetched. Yet, there’s a doubt in my mind. If Narendra Modi wants to be one of the greatest leaders/visionaries of this vibrant democracy, then he has to take care of our concerns and restore trust among us, else history will repeat itself and the end result will be the same. Hopefully, the Narendra Modi led BJP will take note of this article and my concern.