Clash of ideas: States say ‘no tres­pass­ing’

Deccan Chronicle - - EDIT - Shikha Muk­er­jee

The po­lit­i­cal cost of putting up with na­tion­al­ism, re­de­fined in nar­row Hindi-Hin­dutva chau­vin­is­tic terms by the BJP govern­ment in its role as benev­o­lent pa­tri­arch, has boiled down to a straight con­fronta­tion with the other side — that is parochial and para­po­lit­i­cal loy­al­ties. In this fight, states like West Ben­gal and Ker­ala have de­clared tres­passers will be pros­e­cuted!

The cat­e­gori­sa­tion of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for leg­is­la­tion in the Con­sti­tu­tion puts wil­ful en­croach­ments of the power of states by pushy cen­tral­is­ing gov­ern­ments in New Delhi in the wrong. There­fore, bans like the cow slaugh­ter notice by the Naren­dra Modi govern­ment (which has been stayed for four weeks by the Madras high court) is a breach and a vi­o­la­tion. It is mys­ti­fy­ing why the Modi govern­ment de­lib­er­ately chose to tread on the pow­ers of states. There are enough satel­lites on con­sti­tu­tional clauses cir­cling around the BJP who could have warned it of the con­se­quences of tak­ing on the states in a le­gal-po­lit­i­cal fight. It was a gift on a plate to re­gional par­ties and a boost to the resur­gence of parochial­ism in In­dian pol­i­tics.

As a coun­ter­vail­ing mea­sure, quot­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion and warn­ing off ag­gran­dis­ing Hindi-Hin­dutva chau­vin­ism seems an ob­vi­ous re­sponse in places where his­to­ries, cul­tures and there­fore pol­i­tics is dif­fer­ent from that of the BJP’s beef-ban­ning fortresses. Nei­ther Ker­ala nor West Ben­gal can al­low a ban that hurts sen­ti­ments, in­jures busi­nesses and desta­bilises the sub­stan­tial com­mu­ni­ties for whom cow slaugh­ter and beef-eat­ing are kosher. Even the BJP, work­ing over­time in Megha­laya to craft an elec­tion win in 2018, can’t af­ford the lux­ury of pre­tend­ing to be blind or sub­mit­ting to the en­croach­ments of the Cen­tre on ban­ning cows from slaugh­ter, be­cause it would alien­ate the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion and there­fore jeop­ar­dise its larger agenda of a foot­print across all re­gions in In­dia.

A Cen­tre ver­sus states bat­tle is in­evitable as the pol­i­tics of co­op­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism has mor­phed into a central is ing homo ge ni sing jug­ger­naut with very old chest­nuts be­ing pulled out to bol­ster the BJP’s mis­sion of uni­fy­ing In­dia in the image of its founders, how­ever dif­fer­ent that is from the idea of the na­tion as crafted by the found­ing fa­thers of Free In­dia. The rein­tro­duc­tion of Hindi as the lan­guage of of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion was the first chestnut that en­tirely pre­dictably pro­voked very neg­a­tive re­sponses from Tamil Nadu and pushed the Ma­mata Ban­er­jee govern­ment to make Ben­gali a com­pul­sory lan­guage in all schools in West Ben­gal. The BJP should have known bet­ter, as it fanned the em­bers of parochial and pri­mor­dial at­tach­ments.

It is al­most pos­si­ble to see hubris in the ban on cow slaugh­ter. As nec­es­sary as it was for the BJP to bind the Hindu vote to it­self in the strate­gies it adopted to win the Ut­tar Pradesh elec­tions by ag­gres­sively cam­paign­ing on its Hin­dutva agenda, and us­ing the success to force­fully en­gage in states where it has no base, the party ought not to have mis­cal­cu­lated on how far it should go in un­rolling its ho­mogenised In­dia blue­print.

Mis­tak­ing the de­feat of re­gional par­ties and the BJP’s un­prece­dented ad­vance in states like West Ben­gal, where it emerged as the sec­ond largest party in terms of votes af­ter Tri­na­mul Congress in the re­cent Con­tai by­elec­tions, or even the suc­cess­ful rallies it or­gan­ised in Nax­al­bari and inside Ms Ban­er­jee’s Bhowa­ni­pore con­stituency for co­matose parochial­ism in­di­cates that iden­tity and sen­ti­ment as pri­mor­dial at­tach­ments are loaded ideas that can be used as much by par­ties like Tri­na­mul Congress as by the BJP in Megha­laya.

Be­tween hard­core pol­i­tics of the kind where national and re­gional par­ties col­lec­tively de­cide to work on find­ing a can­di­date for the forth­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and para­pol­i­tics of lan­guage and food, a new po­lit­i­cal space may be open­ing up that will chal­lenge the BJP’s skills on play­ing with sen­ti­ment and run­ning a govern­ment in a plu­ral and di­verse democ­racy. The BJP’s strengths may have grown since 2014 at the ex­pense of re­gional par­ties and the Congress and CPI(M) in West Ben­gal, but that doesn’t mean the as­pi­ra­tions that un­der­lie their ex­is­tence have lost their ap­peal and al­to­gether dis­ap­peared.

It is there­fore com­mon­sense that Ms Ban­er­jee met Prime Min­is­ter Modi to talk about devel­op­ment and the Ganga ero­sion prob­lems af­ter work­ing to or­gan­ise an Op­po­si­tion meet­ing in New Delhi to find an al­ter­na­tive can­di­date for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, or rather an al­ter­na­tive to the idea of a Sangh loy­al­ist tak­ing up res­i­dence on Raisina Hill, then join­ing her sworn en­e­mies in West Ben­gal and Tripura like the Congress and CPI(M) for lunch at So­nia Gandhi’s in­vi­ta­tion. Ni­tish Ku­mar did much the same, though he stayed away from the lunch, but came to New Delhi to lobby with Mr Modi for money.

The flex­i­bil­ity re­quired to han­dle the con­tra­dic­tions in con­tem­po­rary In­dian pol­i­tics is sum­marised in West Ben­gal Congress leader Ad­hir Chowd­hury’s com­ment: “The fight within Ben­gal’s po­lit­i­cal premises is a sep­a­rate is­sue from the di­a­logues be­tween two par­ties at the Cen­tre.” By meet­ing Mr Modi, nei­ther Ms Ban­er­jee nor Mr Ku­mar has taken him and the party he leads off the list of key po­lit­i­cal ri­vals in their states. In­stead, they have taken on Mr Modi in claim­ing own­er­ship of the devel­op­ment agenda. The third an­niver­sary spiel that the BJP means devel­op­ment and a rup­ture with the past fail­ures to de­liver devel­op­ment to the masses was con­tested by Ms Ban­er­jee via the Ganga ero­sion is­sue and Mr Ku­mar by con­nect­ing to Bi­har’s his­tory of forced mi­gra­tion to Mau­ri­tius.

In weapon­is­ing food and lan­guage, the BJP has stirred up one kind of sen­ti­ment. The one na­tion-one thought strat­egy is dif­fi­cult in a fed­eral polity with as many dif­fer­ences as ex­ist in In­dia. West Ben­gal, Ker­ala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Megha­laya, Na­ga­land, Mi­zo­ram and Jammu and Kash­mir are some of the ex­cep­tions, as is Tamil Nadu on the lan­guage is­sue. Di­vi­sions can be made to work for elec­toral ends, as Ms Ban­er­jee suc­cess­fully demon­strated by her ap­peals to the Mus­lim com­mu­nity and the hill tribes of Dar­jeel­ing and the Dooars, or the BJP has done in Ut­tar Pradesh. Di­vi­sions can also be made to work where the Con­sti­tu­tion has cre­ated sep­a­rate spa­ces for states and the Cen­tre. In a se­ri­ous con­fronta­tion, the play of con­tend­ing sen­ti­ments will be un­pre­dictable and risky as it could turn into an en­gage­ment of old parochial and pri­mor­dial loy­al­ties against a newly-minted ho­mo­gene­ity. The writer is a se­nior jour­nal­ist in Kolkata

In weapon­is­ing food and lan­guage, the BJP has stirred up one kind of sen­ti­ment. The one na­tion-one thought strat­egy is dif­fi­cult in a fed­eral polity with as many dif­fer­ences as in In­dia.

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