Herald View: A flailing democracy, a failing State
Water cannons, barricades and tear gas are routinely used against peaceful demonstrators; but against armed and riotous mobs, the Haryana police appear as helpless as the security forces in Manipur
Contrary to the government’s incessant crowing, chest thumping and muscle flexing over the glory that is Bharat, the past few weeks have witnessed telltale signs of a frayed, failed or failing state.
Helpless governments have tacitly admitted their failure to maintain law and order, be it in Manipur, in Haryana or on a train to Mumbai. Not everyone can be protected, conceded the Haryana chief minister. Of course, the Manipur chief minister has had even less to say in over three months.
The responsibility for communal rioting in Haryana has been placed on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) by even BJP leaders, including the deputy chief minister of the BJP-ruled state. How did arms find their way into the hands of devotees in a religious procession, unless they were preparing for violence, they asked.
While the intuitive counter-narrative is that the Hindu procession was attacked first, such alleged provocations are hardly necessary in an increasingly lawless society, ruled by armed vigilante mobs.
Even mobilising a mob to instigate violence is redundant, as was chillingly brought home by a ‘lone wolf’ RPF constable who selectively shot dead three passengers, all Muslims, travelling in different coaches of a train, besides his Adivasi superior. He went on to say that Muslims would have to vote for “Modi and Yogi” if they wanted to live in India.
This hate crime was attributed to his ‘short fuse’ and mental health issues. The possibility of his being feted as a hero when he emerges from a short prison term can scarcely be dismissed, however. There were other such heroes in Manipur and in Haryana, waging a war against fellow citizens while the State looked on.
As in Manipur, ample evidence has emerged to indicate State complicity in fomenting communal violence in Haryana. Time and again, police squads have proven their ability to identify, restrain and detain even potential protestors; yet they look the other way from vigilante groups.
Water cannons, barricades and tear gas are routinely used against peaceful demonstrators; but against armed and riotous mobs, the Haryana police appear as helpless as the security forces in Manipur, who are stopped in their tracks, forced to release suspected terrorists and let civilians set army vehicles on fire.
The curious case of the prime minister going missing from Parliament amidst all this mayhem is intriguing. No prime minister in a democracy, except for Narendra Modi, appears to have the luxury of staying away while Parliament is in session.
But with no explicit provision mandating his presence, he gets away with this display of petulance or disdain. Whether the prime minister thinks it is a waste of his time is for him to say; but it is a sad commentary on the world’s largest democracy that its elected prime minister can stubbornly choose to stay away from Parliament. It should be unacceptable.
If he finally does make an appearance next week, it will be only because of the Opposition’s desperate no-confidence motion, moved despite the numbers being stacked heavily in favour of the government, and will likely beget yet another vicious and vituperative speech.
The working of both the houses of Parliament without his august presence, meanwhile, continues to baffle. The conduct of its presiding officers, who apparently are not required to record reasoned orders in writing, surely calls for scrutiny. The Lok Sabha’s speaker gave voice to his dismay at the conduct of its members and will reportedly stay away till they learn to behave. Yet he has no trouble with getting bills passed by voice vote, sans due discussion.
While there is no mandate for a minimum amount of time to discuss any piece of legislation—a flaw that urgently needs to be addressed—it is amazing that several important laws and amendments were passed in a matter of minutes during this monsoon session. The presiding officers seem untroubled by the Supreme Court’s concern about poorly drafted and poorly debated laws.
The latest set of contentious bills includes a forest conservation amendment, the Jan Vishwas bill, a national nursing and midwifery commission bill, a national dental commission bill and a bill to replace the ordinance nullifying the Supreme Court’s order that the elected government of Delhi must control its services and bureaucracy.
Were the provisions of these bills sound? The general public remains in the dark for some. Others clearly dilute federal principles and impinge on the role of the states. Several attack the interests of the people. All, in the process alone, brutally expose the weaknesses of Indian democracy in the 75th year of India’s independence.