All for One: The BJP's contempt for federalism

The arrest of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is an attack on democracy, but it is also of a piece with the BJP’s distrust of federalism, writes Aakar Patel

A protest against the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal, in Bengaluru on 22 March (photo: PTI)
A protest against the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal, in Bengaluru on 22 March (photo: PTI)

Aakar Patel

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest before the elections will be seen as an attack on democracy, which it is without doubt. It is also of a piece with the BJP’s distrust of federalism. Down the years, but especially after the linguistic states were formed, the party wanted federalism and the entire edifice of states in India to be abandoned in favour of a single legislature and, given that we were in a Parliamentary system, a single leader.

In an essay he wrote in 1956, reproduced in his book Bunch of Thoughts, RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) head M.S. Golwalkar writes: 'Then came our present Constitution converting our country into a number of almost distinct units each with a ‘state’ of its own and all ‘federated’ into one ‘Union'… When one pauses to think of the conditions in which makers of this Constitution lived when they framed this Constitution one sees that the atmosphere then was extremely congenial to the formation and evolution of a Unitary State — One Country, One Legislature, One Executive Centre running the administration throughout the country — an expression of one homogeneous solid nation in Bharat or what remained of it then.

'But mind and reason of the leaders were conditioned by the obsession of ‘federation of states’ where each linguistic group enjoyed a ‘wide autonomy’ as ‘one people’ with its own separate language and culture.'

'There is no recognition of the idea of Bharat Mata, our sacred motherland, as enshrined in the hearts of our people. According to the first para of the Constitution “India that is Bharat will be a Federation of States”, i.e. Bihar Mata, Banga Mata, Punjab Mata, Kannada Mata, Tamil Mata, are all put together to make Bharat Mata. This is ridiculous. We have thought of the provinces as limbs of Bharat Mata and not as individual mothers. Therefore, our Constitution should be Unitary instead of Federal.'

With such hostility to the provinces, even if it has gone mostly unnoticed, it should not surprise us that chief ministers are not seen as legitimate even if they are elected. The BJP can hold on to the position, at least justifying it to itself, that we are a democracy and that elected chief ministers can be jailed without conviction.

After 2014, this ideological attack on federalism has manifested itself in several ways:

  • the use of Union agencies to intrude into ‘law and order’, ostensibly a state subject;

  • the ending of states’ right to tax with GST and their total dependence on the Union’s largesse;

  • the call for 'one nation one election’, which privileges the Union over all the rest;

  • the Union government’s attack on Opposition governments and leaderships in Bengal, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Telangana and Delhi.

These attacks have included arrests, denial of allocated funds and constant intrusions.

He continues under the subhead 'There Is a Remedy’:

'Towards this end, the most important and effective step will be to bury deep for good all talk of a federal structure of our country’s Constitution, to sweep away the existence of all ‘autonomous’ or semi-autonomous ‘states’ within the one State viz., Bharat and proclaim ‘One Country, One State, One Legislature, One Executive’ with no trace of fragmentational, regional, sectarian, linguistic or other types of pride being given a scope for playing havoc with our integrated harmony. Let the Constitution be re-examined and re-drafted, so as to establish this Unitary form of Government.'

The second source we have for the hostility to federalism and Article 1 of the Constitution is from Deendayal Upadhyaya. Article 3 of the BJP's constitution says 'integral humanism' shall be the basic philosophy of the party.

Integral Humanism is the name given to a set of four lectures Upadhyaya delivered in Bombay between 22 and 25 April 1965. What follows is a quotation from the third lecture, headlined 'Constitution Cannot Be Arbitrary’.

Upadhyaya writes: "Is the constitution too, not subject to some principles of a more fundamental nature? We have a written Constitution, but even this written Constitution cannot go contrary to the traditions of this country. In as much as it does go contrary to our traditions, it is not fulfilling Dharma. That Constitution which sustains the Nation is in tune with Dharma.

This is untenable in democracy and we can see the tension having built to bursting point. This is the background to the arrest of Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, and other ministers before that, of Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren last month, and the jailing of Telangana leader K. Kavitha this month.

It shows the contempt the government has for the Opposition and for democracy, the disregard it has for the judiciary and the extent to which it can go to secure its interests over those of the country. The question is: what is to be done to resist the twin thrusts of the BJP’s ideology, majoritarianism and a strong centripetal instinct against federalism?

The internal mechanisms of opposing authoritarianism have never worked well in India, including during the Emergency. Jayaprakash Narayan was an exception, but one wonders what he might have achieved in an era of ED and CBI.

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