When one is less than zero  

Who’ll tell the Emperor that a nation prospers when it has an abundance of choices? Of ideas, products, individuals, processes...

People are queuing at a polling station to cast their votes in West Bengal's panchayat elections (Photo: Getty Images)
People are queuing at a polling station to cast their votes in West Bengal's panchayat elections (Photo: Getty Images)

Avay Shukla

I really don’t have much to do in my Himachal village these days, other than watch things sliding down the slopes — roads, houses, trees, mountain sides, cars and the occasional unwary tourist from Kotkapura. It’s all getting a bit monotonous.

But the upside is that it gives me plenty of time to reflect on our current political shenanigans, particularly the new mantra of ‘one nation, one election’, which is the latest orgasmic trigger for our news channels. And, in the best traditions of the WhatsApp gods, I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you, even as your finger hovers over the delete button.

I find the whole idea a bit retrogressive, for it takes us back 50 years and undoes all the intellectual and material progress we have achieved since then.

Back then (I’m talking of the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s), it was ‘one nation, one everything’: One nation, one political party (Congress). One nation, one prime minister (Nehru). One nation, one car (Ambassador). One nation, one cooking oil (Dalda). One nation, one soap (Lifebuoy). One nation, one TV channel (Doordarshan). One nation, one footwear (Bata). One nation, one Olympic medal (hockey).

Today, on the other hand, we have a million different options, achievements, products and interests for each of the items mentioned above, and the country is infinitely better off for that. You get the point, I hope. A nation prospers when it has plenty of choices—of ideas, products, individuals, processes.

This is what Gandhiji referred to when he spoke about a house with many windows, letting in many breezes, creating the diversity, amalgam and synergy that defines a progressive nation. But today’s talk of Oneness in just about everything—one language; one religion; one leader; one syllabus; one ideology; one Civil Code; one culture; one history—is a stultifying regimentation of all our energies, intellect, aspirations, diversity, and is reducing us to unthinking automatons.

That may suit a particular political ideology but it destroys the very soul of a country. The ‘one nation, one election’ theory (ONOE, better known as oh, no!) drives us further in that direction. The appointment of a former President of India, no less, to head a committee only reinforces the truth about the high unemployment rates in the country.

We had gotten used to re-employment of former judges, bureaucrats and politicians to keep the wolf from the door, but a president takes the cake! His report (if it is written by him, that is, and not by N.K. Singh or Harish Salve) will now be scrutinised and commented upon by an under secretary, approved by a secretary and accepted by a minister—all worthies whom he probably appointed in the first place.

I cannot conceive of a more preposterous situation, but I can understand where all these zany ideas are coming from. What else can one expect when the government is practically being run by another bunch of re-employed persons? As Marie Antoinette would have said, if she had not lost her head at an inopportune moment: If you can’t give them employment, give them re-employment.

And all this talk of saving money (Rs 60,000 crore was reportedly spent on the elections in 2019) is pure balderdash. It is also anti-poor. For elections are the only effective means of transferring wealth to the poor in India, since the government has failed miserably to do so by any other means.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 430 out of 521 sitting MPs in the current Lok Sabha are crorepatis (multi-millionaires), their political parties are flush with thousands of crores more. Elections ensure that some of these monies are recycled back to the people from whom they were extracted, by means fair and foul.

This redistribution is a good thing, and therefore, the more elections, the better for the common man! On this ground alone, this ‘one nation, one election’ nonsense needs to be trashed forthwith. I must, however, admire the BJP’s sheer persistence in persevering with an idea whose time has not come.

Methinks someone in the party who is still capable of reading books must have read the story of King Bruce and the spider, of how the arachnid’s persistence in building its web against all odds inspired the Scottish king to wage a battle against the English king for a seventh time (after losing six times), and finally winning.

Once this fable was conveyed to the éminences grises of the party, it was only a matter of time before Mr Kovind was hauled out of the moth balls and onto the Committee. For this ONOE issue has already been examined at least four times in the past by two Law Commissions, the NITI Aayog and a standing committee of Parliament—and shelved.

What is the need to persist with it yet again? Just to show that if a spider can do it, so can I? There appears, however, to be a pattern in this seeming madness. Lacking the numbers to amend the Constitution in its own image, the strategy appears to be to do so by a thousand executive cuts—Article 370, draconian laws to curb free speech and dissent, disregard of court rulings, bulldozer justice, ‘othering’ certain communities, ONOE, renaming the country…

Bleed the Constitution slowly till the life ebbs out of it and there’s nothing left to amend. Diabolically clever, isn’t it? We invented the Zero. Now we are re-inventing the concept of One. A far cry, indeed, from what we were once—one nation, many Indias.

(Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer. He blogs at avayshukla.blogspot.com)

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