IN A multi-national federal union such as the Indian Union, the states have ceded a lot of self-governing power to an external entity, erroneously called the centre. This centre appoints the chief election commissioner, who heads the Election Commission of India. Since people of states have ceded power to the centre in trust, including the power to hold state elections via the Election Commission of India, when this office become politicised, it is a matter of grave concern. Because, a biased Election Commission of India will help the centre and the party in power in the centre, in the union parliament and state assembly elections. This subverts democracy and takes away sovereignty from the people themselves.
A biased Election Commission is the sign of a banana republic. From the recent signals being sent by the Election Commission of India and its chief election commissioner, there are good reasons to believe that the Indian Union is on the way to become exactly such a banana republic. But unlike the original banana republics, the consequences of the banana-ness is very high in the Indian Union because this means the enslavement of 1.3 billion people by undemocratic schemes initiated by New Delhi. The present Delhi regime is moving ahead in full steam to destroy one public institution after another — institutions that symbolise the contract of trust between the citizens and the state. The whole world should take notice.
The elections of Gujarat are due this year. This is Indian Union prime minister Narendra Modi’s native state. This man’s rise to the BJP’s leadership and Indian Union’s prime ministership has been aided by two key crutches — one, his role during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and, two, his touting of Gujarat being a ‘model’ which served as a testament to his ability to govern and do welfare. This time around, the BJP is not on its strongest wicket in Gujarat. It might still win, but the over-selling of the ‘Gujarat model’ (shown to be completely fraudulent when you look at human development index, women’s empowerment and hunger data and not Adani-Ambani-FICCI-CII endorsements) has meant that the credibility of the union government’s chief hugely depends on a convincing win in Gujarat.
Here ‘convincing’ would naturally mean the BJP has to do better than it did last time in the Gujarat assembly elections when it used to be a state election and not poster-boy state in the run-up to and after the Modi prime ministership. That scenario seems tough and thus the BJP has been using the Election Commission of India to serve its own interests. When the ECI becomes partisan, this destroys the very basis of democracy. Indira Gandhi’s regime, another ‘strong-leader’ quasi-dictatorship, saw such fundamental erosion of democratic rights of people and democratic character of the state. Under the BJP’s Modi, a similar move is being on all fronts. These are extremely dark times.
The election dates of Gujarat were supposed to be announced by the Election Commission of India along with the dates for the elections in Himachal Pradesh state. This was widely expected as according to previous conventions. But this did not happen. The game was clear to everyone. The BJP was on a bit of a backfoot in Gujarat on various economic downturn issues and the noises were not good. If the polls dates were announced then, the model code of conduct would have set in. That would have put a stop to stop-gap election time sops and project announcement to do last-moment hoodwinking. The union government would be announcing projects in Gujarat and then only the Election Commission of India would announce dates. Thus, the ECI as an institution would have been into a joke and like the Reserve Bank of India, another quasi-independent state institution, would have become an extension of the ruling party, in general, and a servant of Narendra Modi, in particular. As subsequent events showed, this is precisely what happened. A bullet train project was announced between Mumbai (where Gujaratis own business) and Ahmedabad (the biggest native town of Gujarat) — a project worth Rs 1,10,000 crore.
That is more than the double of the total annual budget of West Bengal being invested in a high-speed railway project between two cities connected by multiple flights, regular buses and fast trains in which 40 per cent of seats go vacant. This is not some bullet train project. This is a subsidy to the BJP election fund in Gujarat by the public revenue and tax from mostly non-Hindi state citizens. It is a scandal. And Delhi media clapped. Because a certain set of cronies very pally with the BJP owns most of Delhi media. That is how sleazy and cynical this gets. And Narendra Modi announced various new projects in instalment after instalment in the days after the Himachal Pradesh poll date announcement and much of this is to be paid for by union government funds. Modi visited Gujarat twice in two weeks while he did these announcements, including even the smallest of projects, thus reducing the absentee prime minister of the Indian Union into a full-time block level election campaigner. The desperation and anxiety of the BJP showed. And the Election Commission of India played in tandem. Only after this elaborate farce had been acted out that the Election of Commission of India announced the Gujarat poll dates, even when major opposition parties had been making noise about the motive behind the delay in announcement.
Highly worried about the elections that would be held under the control of such an ECI, the Congress(I) party asked for a paper train for vote verification by voters. The ECI refused. Any institution interested in transparency would have cooperated. The refusal was ominous. This went to the courts and the courts ordered that a paper trail be kept. But this is just one instance. Because one has no clue about the ways an election can be fixed and thus one is in the dark about how to stop all those ways in such a partisan context. The ECI does no’t seem to care about its public reputation and seems to value much more its loyalty to the powers that be. All states must look closely at what this ECI potentially represents with the BJP trying to use its funds to get into various non-Hindi states, given that assembly elections in those non-Hindi states happen under the control of ECI. The citizens of the Indian Union are staring at the hollowing out of another state institution but the political party of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan.
Now let me get to something, which may be incidental or sinister. The present chief election commissioner of India Achal Kumar Joti had a previous boss till 2013. His name was Narendra Modi. Achal Kumar Joti, the chief election commissioner of India, was the chief secretary under Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat. And this happens to be the first Election Commission of India in many decades against whom a charge of such explicit bias has been raised. Thus, when the union parliamentary election happens in 2019, with these elements in charge of running it, there must be extreme vigilance for peaceful and fair transfer of power is at stake — with the fate of 1.3 billion on the hook. It does not stop with the former chief secretary of Gujarat. His boss was Narendra Modi, prime minister of Gujarat. His party BJP’s president is fellow Gujarati Amit Shah. The Reserve Bank of India has seen huge erosion in trust because of its blind execution of Narendra Modi’s directives because a hand-picked governor and a Gujarati, Urjit Patel now the RBI head.
The five richest people in the Indian Union are all Gujarati — who make huge sums in crony deals, crony commodity contracts, crony supply contracts and such other well-crafted loots of public money. Those who have taken most money from government banks and have not given it back, among these worst defaulters, Gujaratis dominate the list. I am not saying that it is a racial issue. I suggest that a certain mafia clique has taken over and these patterns are just a scene of how deep is the rot and how predictable is the pattern of the rot.
Garga Chatterjee, an Indian brain scientist at MIT, writes columns from Kolkata for newspapers in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
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