An avoidable fiasco

An avoidable fiasco

By THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN | 23 April, 2016

The slap on the wrist of the NDA government that was delivered by the Uttarakhand High Court was avoidable. The BJP does not appear to have learnt any lessons from Bihar, where a winning hand in the electoral sweepstakes was ruined by the way in which Jiten Ram Manjhi was wooed and won by the BJP from the JDU. Thereafter, the impression was allowed to grow that Manjhi would be the Chief Ministerial pick of the NDA, something that few voters in Bihar were comfortable with. The downplaying of former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi (who deserves much of the credit for the performance of the JDU-BJP coalition government before the partners separated in 2013) added to the confusion about who would run the state, should the BJP win the polls. In the case of the RJD-JDU coalition, all doubts were laid to rest by Lalu Yadav declaring on multiple occasions that Nitish Kumar would continue to head the administration of the state, even should the RJD secure more seats than the JDU, which finally happened. Voters in Bihar were uneasy at the lack of clarity on the BJP’s choice of a Chief Ministerial candidate, and preferred to go along with Nitish Kumar, even if this meant voting for the RJD as well. As for Manjhi, he proved a drag on the BJP’s prospects rather than giving a lift to the party’s chances of coming to office in Bihar, a state which has contributed more than any other bar Uttar Pradesh to the majority enjoyed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha. In Uttarakhand, not only were defectors from the Congress wooed and won over (in a repeat of the Manjhi episode), but there were coy hints that one of the nine rebel Congress MLAs may be made the CM, something repugnant to the people of Uttarakhand. The entire fiasco has brightened the chances of Harish Rawat returning to office as CM in the coming Assembly elections.  The law is that the Speaker has a decisive say in the matter of who is a defector and who not, and Govind Singh Kunjwal has remained loyal to the Congress, ruling that the nine have lost their seats in the Assembly as they did not have numbers sufficient to bypass the provisions of the law on defections, which stipulates that at least a third of the effective strength of a political party needs to defect to avoid losing their seats in the legislature. Given the law, it is unlikely that the nine will get any relief from the courts, and indeed, the Uttarakhand High Court has been caustic in its remarks. Chief Justice K.M. Joseph made it clear that the action of the NDA was contrary to the law as affirmed by the Supreme Court in multiple judgements. This ought to have been as clear to the law officers of Government of India as they were to the High Court bench that heard the case brought to its attention by CM Harish Rawat on 28 March. The BJP needs to keep in mind that tens of millions of voters decided in favour of Narendra Modi because of his reputation while CM of Gujarat for honesty and fair play. By going in for tactics that smack of the “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” politics of the past, the BJP is doing damage not only to itself but to its tallest leader, who as Prime Minister of India has done such an outstanding job in enhancing the global stature of India. Short cuts usually lead to dead ends, and the lesson of Bihar and now Uttarakhand will hopefully give pause to those in the BJP who are dismissive of Mahatma Gandhi’s dictum that “means are after all everything”. A narrow focus on ends will lead, in this time of an alert citizenry, to the sort of fiasco that has been so embarrassingly visible in Uttarakhand, where the BJP has boosted the election prospects of Harish Rawat the way they did that of Nitish Kumar in Bihar through the engineering of defections.

 

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