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An urgent need to revive Consensus Politics

AUGUST 07, 2023

By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor

INDIA is going through an unprecedented, internal war over I.N.D.I.A. (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance). I.N.D.I.A. is much more than the name for the 26-parties Opposition Alliance formed to contest 2024 Lok Sabha elections. It represents the Opposition's Idea of India (IoI).

The Opposition has pitted its IoI against BJP's IoI. The bitter political war over different perceptions of I.N.D.I.A. has inflicted collateral damage to the Constitution-enshrined name for the country.

The whole world is thus naturally looking at India with bewilderment and shock. There is no parallel in the world where dominant leaders in a country suddenly developed pangs of guilt over its very identity as colonial baggage.

Assam Chief Minister and PM's key lieutenant, Himanta Biswa Sarma, was the first BJP stalwart to flag name 'India' as a colonial legacy. Immediately after I.N.D.I.A. hogged limelight on its launch on 18th July 2023, Mr Sarma tweeted: "Our civilisational conflict is pivoted around India and Bharat. The British named our country as India. We must strive to free ourselves from colonial legacies. Our forefathers fought for Bharat, and we will continue to work for Bharat." (See inset/box on Renaming India.)

A few hours before unveiling of I.N.D.I.A., Prime Minister Narendra Modi dubbed the Opposition's meeting at Bengaluru as a gathering to promote corruption.

Mr. Modi resurrected Vajpayee-era National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with a new spin: " NDA has always believed in the 'Coalition of Contributions' unlike the Congress-led 'Coalition of Compulsions '."

As put by him, "NDA today stands for N-New India, D-Developed Nation and A-Aspiration of people and regions." The 38-parties NDA resolved to contest 2024 Lok Sabha polls under the leadership of Mr. Modi.

According to Rahul Gandhi, "The fight is about two different ideas of India...This is a fight between the idea of India and the idea of the BJP …"

Addressing a joint press conference of Opposition parties, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly asked: " NDA, can you challenge INDIA? BJP, can you challenge INDIA? "

According to Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, " this is a very important meeting for the purpose of saving the democracy and Constitution and in the interest of the people of this country, we have come together, discussed various points and with one voice, people supported the resolution ."

At a series of subsequent events, Mr. Modi mocked I.N.D.I.A. [the acronym given by/for the 26 parties opposition alliance] without realizing how his criticism would be perceived by other countries. Addressing BJP MPs, he reportedly stated " East India Company, the Indian National Congress, and the Indian Mujahideen and the Popular Front of India also had India in their names ."

At a public rally, Mr. Modi noted: "Using the acronym 'INDIA' the Congress Party yet again with its allies intends to loot the country." He added : "It was during the same Congress regime that organizations like the SIMI and the PFI with anti-India agenda have flourished ."

In this unfolding Mahabharata of mine (BJP's IoI) versus yours (I.N.D.I.A.'s) for Delhi Throne, the third version IoI stands derailed & junked. Call it Our idea of India (Our IoI). Take it as every Indian's IoI. Its sincere & comprehensive implementation can usher in happiness, peace and prosperity for all Indians.

'Our IoI' is spread over several consensus documents finalized in Parliament & at other platforms such as Inter-State Council (ISC), a constitutional entity. One such document, the most crucial one, is the Agenda for India (AFI). It emerged from golden jubilee session of both houses of Parliament to mark 50 years of Independence.

AFI was unanimously agreed and signed by MPs of all parties on 1 st September 1997 after passionate discussion spread over a few days. There is persisting conspiracy of silence between NDA & I.N.D.I.A . because AFI cannot help politicians garner votes.

The key elements of AFI are: 1) "Vigorous national campaign" by all political parties to "combat economically unsustainable growth" of population, 2) Universal primary education by 2005; 3) Making scientific temper as the platform for national development 4) Transforming citizens as equal partners in all spheres of national endeavour and not merely as beneficiaries of government schemes; and 5) Ending criminalization of politics .

Other major components of AFI are: 6) Dignified conformity by MPs with Parliamentary Rules; 7) Making Parliament an effective instrument of change and to strengthen democratic values and principles 8) Enhancing the accountability of Government towards the people through the oversight of Parliament; 9) Meaningful electoral reforms to make legislatures balanced and effective instruments of democracy & 10) Prudent management of economy.

Another forgotten 'Our IoI' document is titled 'Blue Print for Action Plan on Good Governance,' comprising 139 initiatives. This was unanimously agreed by the Centre and States constituting political consensus during June 2005 at ISC.

A few vital elements of action plan relating to judicial reforms are 1) Simplification of entire chain of procedures in criminal & civil cases to "drastically cut down delays and costs", 2) Reducing court arrears on priority basis by working out judge-case ratio and 3) Chief Justices Conferences' resolutions " shall receive the attention at the highest levels in the governments".

In the realm of economic reforms, The Blueprint envisages: 1) Assuring to investors the dynamism and efficiency in overall governance, stability in rates of taxation and tariff rates in tune with other developing countries; 2) Improving Tax / GDP ratio of Centre and States and 3) Enhancing internal resources of States' PSUs, implementing power sector reforms and reducing the burden of contingent liabilities on State budgets .

Yet another document that fits in 'Our IoI' is the resolution unanimously passed by Parliament during May 2012 to mark 60 years of first sitting of Parliament. Both houses of Parliament passed identical resolution to "solemnly reaffirm our total and binding commitment to the ideals cherished by our founding fathers." They resolved: "(a) To uphold and maintain the dignity, sanctity and supremacy of Parliament; (b) To make Parliament an effective instrument of change and to strengthen democratic values and principles; (c) To enhance the accountability of Government towards the people through the oversight of Parliament; and (d) To rededicate ourselves completely to the sacred task of Nation Building ."

'Our IoI' is also reflected in Mr. Modi's utopian Idea of India espoused during January 2004. A few crucial elements of this IoI are:

"Truth Alone Triumphs"; "Let good thoughts come from everywhere - from all the world" ; "All Spiritual Paths are treated Equally"; "Happiness lies not in the desire for state, or material, nor the desire for Heaven, nor reincarnation; Happiness lies in dousing the pain and suffering of all living beings"; "Where Women are honoured - There Divinity blossoms; Where They Are dishonoured - All Action Remains Unfruitful."

One can dig out more such documents that articulate 'Our IoI'. What the ruling parties at the Centre and the States lack today is the political will to bridge the gulf between intent and action & between preachings and practice.

What is more worrying is the deepening of the divide between the BJP and the Opposition. Both need to look for common meeting ground that was often visible under the leadership of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and later during under A.B. Vajpayee.

It is here, apt to recall the Opposition-moved resolution on 2002 Gujarat riots which was unanimously passed by Rajya Sabha after exhaustive discussion in which both Mr. Vajpayee and Deputy PM L.K. Advani participated.

The resolution titled 'Motion on Persistence of Violence in Gujarat' stated: "That this House expresses its deep sense of anguish at the persistence of violence in Gujarat for over six weeks, leading to loss of lives of a large number of persons, destruction of property worth crores of rupees and urges the Central Government to intervene effectively under article 355 of the Constitution to protect the lives and properties of the citizens and to provide effective relief and rehabilitation to the victims of violence."

After this, Rajya Sabha Chairman observed: "This Motion agreed to by the Opposition and the Government is a testimony to the spirit of accommodation,

adjustment and the resilience of our democracy. I have every hope that this common voice will help strengthen the confidence of the people in our democratic institutions."

Such 'Our IoI' initiatives have been missing for years due to abandoning of consensus politics. Why a motion on the lines of 2002 motion on Gujarat cannot be passed in Parliament on Manipur? The primary responsibility for arriving at a consensus lies with the Union Government and ruling party-nominated heads of legislatures.

BJP should introspect over this. Let it ponder over its own forgotten wisdom contained in 1999 manifesto. It says: "Governance must become unifying, not divisive, in its practice. It is this mindless manner of the domination of the majority that has led to bitterness, hostility and confrontation – and has even made the opposition and ruling parties like permanent adversaries. This destructive trend of politics of negativism and political untouchability which has distorted our body politic in the last few decades calls for an immediate corrective. We will, therefore, strive to develop national consensus on all major issues confronting the nation by involving the opposition parties and all section of society in dialogue..."

An Unfulfilled Quest

"India that is Bharat' is a strange name,” observed Seth Govind Das in the Constituent Assembly (CA) during November 1949.

Like him, other CA members too voiced their reservations over this. H.V. Kamath, for instance, felt that "India, that is, Bharat, is a clumsy one .” He stated in CA during September 1949: "I do not know why the drafting committee has tripped .”

A few CA members suggested that Bharat should precede India in the phrase ‘ India, that is, Bharat '. This amendment to draft constitution was put to vote in CA. The motion was, however, negatived.

Notwithstanding this, the issue of name change has been raked periodically, both within and outside Parliament.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma 's attempt to project conflict between names ‘ India ' & ‘ Bharat ' is contrary to what is enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Part I of the Constitution says: "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States .” The Name Bharat is, however, not mentioned in Preamble, which begins with " WE, The PEOPLE OF INDIA ....”

The name India is derived from name Sindhu (Indus River) that figures in Rig-Veda. The name India has been used in foreign languages/literature for many centuries. Historians have traced the first usage of name ‘India' in Greek language during B.C era.

It is, thus incorrect to belittle name ‘India' and identify it as Raj Era legacy. More important is that this negativism puts in doubt the collective wisdom of the CA members including Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

What Mr. Sarma, perhaps, is unaware of, is that Modi Government has defended status quo and ruled out amendment to the Constitution during its first tenure.

In 2015, the government told the Supreme Court that the country does not have to be called ‘Bharat' instead of ‘India'.

Modi Government also articulated its stance while ruling out amendment to Article-1 of the Constitution in its reply to a Lok Sabha question dated 13 th August 2015.

Way Back in 1972, Indira Gandhi Government too ruled out change in Constitution to make 'Bharat' as sole name of the country.

The present regime has, thus followed the stance taken by all preceding governments.

Now that the name ‘India' has been attempted to be tainted, would Modi Government amend the Constitution to make Bharat as the country's name for Amrit Kaal, which, incidentally, has recently been renamed as Kartavya kaal?

 


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