Sunday 20 August 2017 News Updated at 01:08 PM IST
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A democracy-mukt Bharat - Deccan Herald
A democracy-mukt Bharat
Sukumar Muralidharan,
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Patna: Bhartiya Janta Party supporters celebrating after Nitish Kumar-led NDA government formation in Bihar, in Patna on Saturday. PTI Photo
Beyond the obvious inferences, the cash seizures from Karnataka Energy Minister D K Shivakumar’s premises, if as depicted by the BJP, point to the failure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature policy of combating illicit currency hoards. If the tax authorities are indeed the source of these figures, they deserve compliments for an efficiency that even the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has with all its resources been incapable of.

Just days before the raids on Shivakumar’s premises, the Modi government suffered serious embarrassment in Parliament for being clueless about the impact of demonetisation of high-value currency notes last November. The RBI was still counting the number of notes that had flowed back into the banking system, and there was renewed speculation about a purely political motive for the decision. After all other explanations collapsed, one of the few that survived was that the intent of demonetisation was to trash the cash hoarded by rival parties before crucial state Assembly elections early this year.

The suggestion would seem outlandish except for the growing evidence of the lengths to which the BJP could go. In raiding Shivakumar’s premises, the tax authorities engaged the services of a central paramilitary force, normally only summoned to action on the explicit request of state authorities. This was a clear violation of convention and an affront to federal principles, but the BJP seems to have no time for such niceties.

"Parliament to panchayat” is the slogan that sums up the strategic vision Modi and his principal lieutenant, BJP president Amit Shah, have forged. It reflects their belief in the BJP’s manifest destiny to emerge as India’s eternal ruling party. Every available trick could be used in this mission, to break down possible resistance.

Monetary reward is the first recourse, though the Opposition could even in its feeble state, neutralise this strategy in limited areas. In those situations, the coercive power of the official agencies comes into play. Events spanning Gujarat and Karnataka over the recent days, have laid out this bag of tricks for public display.

Ahmed Patel, the powerful adviser to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is up for re-election to the Rajya Sabha and would normally have no reason for worries, given the party’s existing strength in the Gujarat Assembly. But Shah holds him responsible for the brief imprisonment he suffered on allegations of ordering a number of custodial killings while a minister in the Gujarat Cabinet. Patel’s defeat would, moreover, be just the powerful message that Modi and Shah need to send when state Assembly elections are due later this year, that the Congress is into its death spiral.

The plan was flagged off by Shankarsinh Vaghela - a defector from the BJP - leading a bloc of Congress legislators out of the party late in July. In a clear crisis, the Congress mustered the resources to corral 44 Gujarat legislators in a venue near Bengaluru. Shivakumar reportedly led the operation and the vendetta was swift and certain. The political fallout will undoubtedly have a bearing on the state Assembly election in Karnataka early next year.

With Himachal Pradesh due to go to polls later this year, a case of disproportionate assets filed against Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh in March conforms to a pattern of targeting likely impediments in the BJP’s march to absolute power.

An early effort to transform a numerical disadvantage in Uttarakhand into a legislative majority was thwarted by judicial intervention. The chief justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, who presided over that verdict, has since by coincidence or otherwise, been reportedly denied a nomination to the Supreme Court.

Quick political reflex

In recent elections to the Goa and Manipur Assemblies, the BJP turned in worse performances than the Congress. But with quicker political reflexes and the deployment of a familiar bag of tricks, it managed to form the government by winning over smaller regional parties.

Delhi and Bihar, where the BJP faced overwhelming defeats, have witnessed similar stratagems. No fewer than 13 legislators of Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party have at one time or the other been arrested on charges ranging from falsifying educational credentials to rioting to domestic violence. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s office was raided by the CBI and his principal secretary, a senior civil servant, was jailed for a month on charges stemming from an earlier tenure in the state secretariat.

Bihar is where the BJP’s strategy has achieved its most notable victory. In 2015, when Nitish Kumar had nowhere to go after breaking off ties with the BJP, he embraced Lalu Prasad, seemingly unconcerned with his dynastic claims and questionable acts during his past political life. Once enthroned as chief minister, Nitish had begun growing uneasy but needed a reason to return to the BJP fold. A number of fresh corruption charges against Lalu and his family provided him exactly that.

The BJP’s older strategic vision was gradualist: it would assemble back the splinters as the rickety social alliances built by the Congress through the Nehru-Gandhi years fell apart. The resultant assemblage would be complex, but different in having no place for the principal Indian religious minority, except on terms vastly different than those granted by the Congress.

When it seemed that the BJP was set decisively on the pathway to a permanent lease in power, the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat during Modi’s first few months as chief minister, eroded the trust of its allies. This factor fused with the economic vulnerabilities of various classes the BJP had neglected to put the Congress back in power at the Centre for 10 years. Opportunity for the BJP came again in 2014 and the party now seems determined to close down even the slightest possibility of losing power. From filling in the spaces vacated by the Congress, the BJP’s vision of a "Congress-mukt Bharat” now seems focused on destroying all Opposition. If inducement once had a place, the current strategy seems to rely almost exclusively on coercion and unsubtle threats.