Need for a strong Oppn

History is impish in the patterns and parables it presents. It is like the rear-view mirror of your car. To know where you are and to go forward, you have to glance backwards as well.

Our present plight vis-à-vis the political establishment is not unlike that of the American colonies before the Anglo-French treaty of 1763 in their regard. Till then, the French had a colonial presence in North America. The situation was triangular: the natives, the English and the French. ‘Natives’ included the settlers and ethnic Indians.

So long as the French were in the picture, the English crown had to be circumspect in dealing with its American colonial subjects. Of course, the French were not the benefactors of the people of America. But their presence checked the English from exploiting these colonies without any compunction. It restrained the colonial doctrine that colonies exist only to make the colonial power richer. The plight of the colonised did not have to matter.

‘Progress’ in history is, often, a matter of altered vocabulary. Historical patterns die hard and reality remains unchanged. It is not unlike the re-naming of cities, roads and institutions, at which we are now experts. Names change, little else does. A pleasing illusion of improvement is proffered to the people. It was not for the sake of the people of the American colonies that the British crown fought hard and dislodged the French from this vast territory.

The situation bears a spooky, striking parallel to our present scenario. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to eradicate the Congress from India. We were made to believe that this would inaugurate a golden age in our history; that a Congress-mukt Bharat will be a land flowing with the milk and honey of good governance. We believed it largely because propaganda has the power to put reason to sleep and to blind even the well-meaning to lessons of history.

A passing glance at the developments in the American colonies in the interregnum between the Anglo-French treaty of 1763 and the Great Revolution (1775-83) is instructive. Insofar as the French were colonisers, their elimination from the scene was, in theory, a blessing. But it proved a calamity in disguise. The unfettered exploitation of these colonies by the English began almost immediately.

We have now watched our own political plight unfold for three years under the NDA –II regime. And it is time to separate the chaff of propaganda from the grain of reality. A few things stand out clearly. First, Modi’s demonetisation project would not have been unfurled at all, least of all in callous indifference to the suffering of the common man, if the Congress had not decapitated itself.

In this context, we must see the Congress not as a party, but as a symbol of democratic opposition. We were told, and we lapped it up, that the eradication of opposition is good for democracy! No, it is the death of democracy.

Second, we witnessd an unprecedented intolerance towards diversity. It deserves to be noted that opposition stands on the legitimacy of diversity, whereas homogenisation implies repugnancy towards diversity. There has never been a period in our post-Independence political history in which diversity has been stigmatised and opposition parties harried as they are at present. Even now, almost none of these parties, not even Shiv Sena, realises that they are an endangered species in the political menagerie of India.

This brings us to a third issue of extreme significance to all citizens. The relationship between the government and the people has never been as unilateral and coercive as it now is. Measures and procedures, apparently meant to enforce financial ‘transparency’ on citizens are devised day after day. Transparency is a surely a laudable thing. But apparently, it is so only for the people. The government remains opaque and unaccountable.

Deployment of heavy media-cum-propaganda machinery, infusion of a climate of creeping insecurity through the presence and proximity of investigative agencies, metastatic increase in surveillance vis-à-vis citizens, the erosion of the rule of law especially though vigilantism, selective targeting of political parties presumed to be inconvenient, are all measures that tend to insulate the state against accountability.


Ideological motives

Citizens hurt their own cause by belittling the importance of the opposition in a democratic polity. Democracy sans effective opposition regresses to colonialism. Centres of power are colonial by nature. Checks and balances in governance – if there is to be even a mirage of good governance - require that there be robust and responsible opposition.

The hallmark of a government that intends to deliver good governance is respect rather than intolerance towards the opposition. When the opposition fragments and becomes ineffectual, as at the present time, it becomes the duty of citizens to serve as the opposition; not out of ideological motives, but out of commitment to democracy. ‘Eternal vigilance,’ as Nehru said, is the price of freedom.

Representation is the soul of democracy. Representation is not merely the right to cast a vote once in five years. It is also the right to be governed justly and transparently. Governmental accountability is the quintessence of representation. That is why corruption makes a mockery of representation. How can our leaders bleed us to death through corruption and represent us at the same time? Corruption degrades a representative democracy into de facto colonialism.

What, if any, is the difference between the British who bled us to death and our political class that does the same to a greater extent? The Rs 90 lakh crore taken to tax havens by our own wheeler-dealers, which no one is in any hurry to bring back, is not an economic scandal.

It is political mockery, as also the lakhs of crores of rupees lost to the minions of political patronage and genially styled as non-performing assets. Assets for whom? Is it not for our masters who treat us as their colonial subjects, who are bound by duties to them? And are they not our masters because they are assuredly immune to accountability and responsibility towards us?

(The writer is former principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)

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