Herald View: One nation, many states
Try saying ‘ONOE’. What you hear will convey a fair sense of what we make of the idea
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s faith in democracy, plurality and federalism has always been suspect. Its ideologues M.S. Golwalkar and Deendayal Upadhyaya made no secret of their fascination with ‘Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Pradhan’ (one nation, one law, one symbol, one leader).
Ever since 1998, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister, heading a coalition government of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the BJP has campaigned for ‘one nation, one election’ (hereafter ONOE).
It was also a feature of the party’s manifesto in 2014, when the Modi government first came to power. But it didn’t at the time have the brute majority in Parliament to steamroller all dissent, all opposition, anything that stood in the way of their Holy Grail equivalent—a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Try saying ‘ONOE’. What you hear will convey a fair sense of what we make of the idea. We like to think it’s not just us, that despite everything we have seen in the past 10-odd years, most of India (or shall we now say ‘India, that is Bharat’, to respond to the new aggravation of the week) is not a fan of the Sangh’s brand of monoculturism.
There are several reasons to oppose ONOE: philosophical ones and hard-nosed tactical ones too, but more on that presently. The reason why their commitment to ONOE has taken on an ominous ring in the current context is that we have enough and more evidence of what the BJP will do with the majority it currently has in Parliament.
We also know how they have slowly defanged all institutions designed to counterbalance overweening ambition in any arm of the State. We know they will test—and enforce—any change that will prolong their hold on power, so that they can get on with their unfinished agenda.
That agenda, to spell it out one more time, is to reconstitute India in their Hindu supremacist mould—and they are now in a hurry, presumably because they fear the political wind may be turning. The BJP and the Sangh will use the parivar’s slash-and-burn arsenal to get at the Opposition, and the recent G20 invitations that went out in the name of the ‘President of Bharat’ and the ‘Prime Minister of Bharat’ may have something to do with I.N.D.I.A., we think.
To return to ‘oh no’, er, ONOE: who knows what Tughlaq is thinking, but on the face of it, the new ONOE development is a recently constituted parliamentary committee, headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind, to consider the wisdom and feasibility of one election. Is that a dog whistle? You’ll have to ask the mad emperor, but many TV anchors and some political commentators are wondering aloud if this is the new ‘masterstroke’ on the agenda for the special session of Parliament convened on 18 September.
They are also making much of the fact that this special session has been convened on the same day (18 September) that Draft Article 1 of the Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly back in 1949. In case you’re wondering why that is significant, Article 1(1) of the Constitution begins with the words: ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States’. So, we are all agog to find out if we are about to jettison the name INDIA, simply to spite the new Opposition alliance.
But we can all quietly agree that these momentous changes can’t wait and require a special session. We can also keep wondering what the agenda for this special session is till ‘Ek Pradhan’ deigns to tell us. Coming soon to your TV screens surely, though in the absence of real information, we were idly wondering if this ‘masterstroke’ will also be delivered at 8 p.m.
Before we go away for another week, to possibly comment on another ‘masterstroke’ when we return, let’s just repeat here the words of Article 1(1) of our once-sacred Constitution: ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States’.
To us that sounds like: India/ Bharat, even by another name, is a ‘Union of States’, which is to assert the federal design of our Constitution, to articulate the guarantee that the states will have the elbow room to set their own policy agendas with a fair degree of autonomy.
The fundamental reason why the idea of ‘One Nation One Election’ is wrong for a ‘Union of States’—and the cost- and time-saving arguments made in its favour specious—is that a single election will inevitably focus attention on the Centre, and by that token turn the state assembly elections into a meaningless charade.