Mamata’s Call for United Front: Can Democracy be saved in India?

opposition unity

As West Bengal Elections are on (April 2021), the heat of campaigning of the two major contenders, Trinmul and BJP has raised the political temperature in the state. BJP has put in all the power at is command for the campaign. Its affiliate organizations, the other groups which belong to its ideological cabal, are fully active at various levels. To cap it all the Election Commission has shown its partiality times and over again with the EVM machines being carried in the vehicles of BJP candidates or their relatives.

It is in the midst of all this that Mamata Bannerjee, the two time Chief Minister of WB has written a letter to ten major opposition parties in including Congress, RJD, Samajwadi Party, NCP, DMK and Shiv Sena among others. The content of the letter are sharp and all those political parties which want the democracy to be preserved and Indian Constitution to be upheld need to take a serious note of this.

She writes about the need for “united and effective struggle against the BJP’s attacks on democracy and the constitution” and “presenting a credible alternative to the people of India. Her letter in a way sums the highlights of BJP rule “misuse” of the office of the governor, central agencies like the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, “withholding” states’ funds, “disbanding” bodies like the National Development Council and Planning Commission, using money power to topple non-BJP governments, privatization of “nation’s assets” and “deterioration” in the relations between the states and the Centre…The BJP wants to make it impossible for non-BJP parties to exercise their constitutional rights and freedoms. It wants to dilute the powers of the state governments and downgrade them to mere municipalities. In short, it wants to establish a one-party authoritarian rule in India…What the BJP has done in Delhi is not an exception. It is increasingly becoming the rule”. She highlights the points which enumerate as to how the Centre is “creating problems for elected governments”.

What she has written is a sample of the erosion of democratic values and the worsening plight of the people all round. During last over six years, the country has seen the reckless demonetization putting so many lives in jeopardy, raising unemployment and a decline in the economic conditions of average people. The GST implementation has its own share of problems adding to the woes of traders among others. The way lockdown was imposed due to Covid led to migration of lakhs of urban workers to their villages. The tale of their tragedy is beyond words.

The passing of CAA, NRC added on to the miseries of religious minorities. The massive protests came up in the form of Shaheen Baug movement, which sprang up all over the country. The Delhi violence reminded us of deepening communal divides.

The plight of farmers after the three Corporate inspired laws has led to the biggest and so far most impactful agitation by farmers. The central Government is ignoring the demands of farmers, who have demonstrated their solid opposition to these laws. Rising prices of commodities; petrol-diesel in particular; has their own adverse impact on the condition of the average people.

During this period in the din of propaganda of Vikas (development), India’s development indices are slipping down at rapid pace. The organization monitoring democratic liberties ‘Freedom House’; whose annual reports are an important index; downgraded India to “partially free democracy” from – a ‘free democracy’. The ‘Varieties of Democracy’ (V-Dem) Institute, based in Sweden, said categorically: “The world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy.”

Global Hunger Index 2020 report has placed India at 94th position among the 107 countries studied, much behind Bangla Desh, Nepal and Pakistan. India has been ranked 139 out of 149 countries in the list of UN World Happiness Report 2021 released recently. The rise in unemployment is unprecedented.

Academic Thomas Blom Hansen in his book ‘Violent Heart of Indian Politics’ argues that there is “the emergence of a decidedly non-liberal form of democracy,” which explains why police attacks against Muslims and lower-caste men and women go unpunished.”

What Mamata has written needs a serious attention as institutions which are meant to protect our Constitution seem to be in disarray. The autonomy of many institutions has been seriously questioned. The influence of the BJP associates who are part of the progeny of sectarian nationalism is visible all around. The future of Indian democracy is at stake, while the material conditions of average people are declining more or less parallel to the increase in economic clout of couple of Corporate Houses.

At this point of time state is no more just authoritarian it has become an elected autocracy. The foot soldiers and vigilantes are going hammer and tongs with full assurance of state protection. At this point the elements in different non BJP parties need to delve a bit deeper in their thinking, going beyond their own political gains and think about protecting the democratic ethos. BJP has perfected its electoral machinery duly helped by lakhs of Swayamsevaks and associates. Is it not the time for opposition parties to put up a united front? The analysis by a section of left that it is mere authoritarianism so we will not ally with other bourgeois parties seems to be too doctrinaire, mechanical and is blind to the realities staring us on the face.

Many regional parties have their local interests. It seems that at the moment the larger picture is very important. The degree of hate against religious minorities and rising violence against dalits, adivasis and women are a warning signal to the values of equality, fraternity in our constitution. The need for a democratic front upholding pluralism and affirmative-protective action for weaker sections of society is a must at this point of time. In the past some attempts have been made to bring together diverse political parties on a single platform. Those efforts need to be picked up again without any sense of ill will or biased appraoch.



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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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