Sovereignty and territorial integrity matter. Sans them, a society is nothing more than a permanent settlement vulnerable to upheavals. Likewise, armed forces and law enforcement agencies protecting the borders and upholding laws of the land within the borderline also matter. Besides social well-being, which is shaped by inter-personal relations, the above-stated elements safeguard the economic and financial well-being of the nation-state and its constituents. There is an ongoing debate whether India is a nation-state or a state-nation. The former implies a nation based on common heritage and ethnicity, while the latter implicit a state where multiple identities co-exist.
Reaching a consensus is difficult, given the abundance of intellectuals in India and their contrasting views. But the debate cannot undermine two main pillars of our social and economic well-being: sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The supreme law of the land, the Indian Constitution, envisages India as a multi-party democracy. For decades after independence from British Raj, the country ran on a single-party model. The electorate backed the Indian National Congress (INC), a group of activists turned into a party of politicians, for a long. The credentials were strong since the INC was a leading force when the British left. The political weight of leaders like Nehru, Patel, and others was heavy. Congress emerging as the only choice of the electorate for long was no surprise since history and, even contemporary politics in the world, tell us that any group that dominates during any nation’s journey to self-rule leads the polls for quite some time.
Over time, however, corruption seeps in. Vested interests take precedence over integrity and fairness. Too much power leads to bad governance, which fuels the social divide and widens the class gap. Promises of inclusive administration and fair distribution of wealth took a backseat. The sovereignty of the nation also suffered collateral damage. Foreign powers, which have and will always seek new territories to extract resources to further their financial well-being, sow the seeds of discontent by using soft and hard power.
The rise of the BJP traces its roots back to the same state of affairs in Indian politics. The then leading political party furthered the interests of one dynasty, and its leaders blindly swore allegiance to this model. The money meant for people never reached them, and when it did, a middleman that enjoyed impunity took a sizeable portion away. A former Prime Minister from the Congress conceded that corruption was rife and only a fraction of money allocated for welfare programs reached the poor.
What Advani attained through his Rath Yatras and dialogue with the electorate was a resurgence of interest in the sovereignty of India. There was a reason people flocked to his public meetings and voted for the BJP during the 80s and 90s. The party that prevailed when India achieved self-rule had turned into a family business enterprise. A democracy, however, can never run as a private entity. 2014 was a decisive year in the turn of events when the electorate overwhelmingly rejected dynasty politics. What followed was a near elimination of the Congress from all Indian states. 2019 Lok Sabha polls were near-unanimous approval for the BJP style of inclusive governance.
But, electoral politics can swing in any direction, and that is the beauty of it. Or, one can say that sharp-witted politicians use populist tactics that can appease voters but radically undermine the sovereignty of the nation. In Delhi and West Bengal state polls, the country witnessed the same brand of politics. The integrity of Indian politicians alone can now save the country from such a regressive and divisive style of politics.
Lately, a dominant face of the Congress in UP joined the BJP. A politician defecting to another party is not new. But what matters is the purpose behind such moves. Many senior leaders of Congress have cited extreme centralization of power in the party that weakens plurality and does not allow conflicting ideas to thrive even when they are in the public interest. That a former Prime Minister was a rubber stamp to the decisions made by the party chief is well aware. State units of the Congress party take directives from the high command in Delhi and from ministers to organization office-bearers. The high command makes direct appointments, which can frustrate those politicians that view politics as public service.
Despite widespread dissatisfaction, many politicians remain loyal to their parties due to old family ties or the clout of the central figure that appears too powerful to be dismissed. In their hesitancy, however, upright politicians cannot notice that the sovereignty of the nation takes a hit when a political party places self-interest over inclusive governance. Corruption not only results in the poor receiving a smaller portion of what is due to them, but it also weakens the military and law enforcement organizations because of paybacks and cuts sought by corrupt politicians and officials.
Consider these facts. Job growth in the world’s largest economy, the US slowed in April 2021 and, the number of jobless claims is still very high. In Canada, one of the wealthy nations, 68,000 became jobless in May 2021 and, the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent. Joblessness among Canadian youth is 16 percent. The only G20 economy that shrunk in the first quarter of 2021 was the UK. Prices are rising at a record pace in all these nations. True, India is also reeling from the economic downturn brought by the pandemic and, the people have lost jobs. But the government is taking measures like fiscal stimulus and increased public spending, and the RBI has also announced relief measures for small businesses.
The reason the BJP could not pull off polls in West Bengal nor performed as expected in the UP panchayat polls was a dent in the party’s image owing to the Covid crisis. But nations across the world are under stress. The only factor that has not led to a decline in approval rates of federal governments in these countries is the support of politicians to ruling governments cutting across party lines. In the US, for example, the debt to GDP ratio has reached alarming levels, but even Republican politicians have thrown their weight behind the Biden-led government. India has touched a 600 billion dollar milestone for foreign exchange reserves, but such feats rarely draw appreciation from opposition parties.
India, more than anything else, is reeling from a conflict of interests. And the sovereignty is being hit hard by these conflicts. Many politicians in opposition parties have the same nationalist ideology as the ruling BJP, but their reluctance is not allowing them to back the inclusive governance of the BJP. It is time they come forward, speak up and stand firm with the righteous.
(The article “Time is now for like-minded, upright politicians to back the BJP” published in ‘Organiser’)