Lock, stock and barrel


September 21, 2016

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu

The state ‘government’ of Arunachal Pradesh has changed its political affiliations just as a shop would change its name-board. Ostensibly, this was the only way to get funds for survival from the BJP-ruled centre. So much for co-operative federalism and democratic principles. Is the voter watching?

Defection from one political party to another has existed for long. It does not come as a surprise to anybody who has seen these ‘men on the move’ in droves, across all parties. The reasons for such cross-overs have been multiple, but typically political. Of course, political interests were always laced with financial interests.

Overnight, governments have fallen leading to political instability that has impacted a state’s economy and the lives of the common people. The latest developments in the border state of Arunachal Pradesh are, however, a class apart. Different because an entire ruling party, with the exception of one member, simply moved over to a new political outfit.

Overnight, the political outfit that did not have a single legislator, now boasts of 43 lawmakers. The move has simply made all the laws of anti-defection redundant. It is like a shop changing the name board.

Rest of the material inside the shop is qualitatively no different. But the reasoning put forth by Chief Minister Pema Khandu shocked the wits out of even hard boiled journalists who have been witness to defections in the country long before the anti-defection laws came into existence.

Khandu’s explanation was that he walked out of the Congress party, along with other members, to join the member-less Peoples’ Party of Arunachal (PPA), ‘to have better relations with the BJP-led government at the federal level’. It may amuse some while leaving others seething with rage but the fact is that Khandu has clearly stated how the democratic rights of the people of the tiny border state have been simply trampled upon by their representatives and those ruling the nation.

The people exercised their democratic right of voting these lawmakers into power when they belonged to the Congress party. In simple terms, what Khandu is saying is that the state would not get the required central funds if the legislators did not politically align with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It is worthwhile mentioning here that Arunachal Pradesh, along with some of the other states in the North East, have no revenue generation of their own. They are almost entirely dependent upon the federal government to fund their legitimate developmental programmes as well as pay salaries to government employees.

So, in its enthusiasm to meet its goal of making the Congress party bereft of power across the country, the ruling BJP decided to simply use its power to subvert democracy in the tiny state. Arunachal Pradesh, to briefly recall, was the state that had recently seen the spectacle of a few members splitting the Congress party to align with the BJP to form a government. The matter went up to the Supreme Court which restored power to the Congress party.

The Congress replaced its chief minister Nabam Tuki with Khandu. Ironically, Tuki is the lone non-defector now. The latest political change, however gross it may be, speaks volumes of the commitment of the BJP to democratic norms.

In fact, one of its leaders has gone on record to say that the party has a time-bound programme to take over five other such states in the North East. This is the BJP’s understanding of co-operative federalism. And what about the Congress party? Clearly, it is clueless about ground level realities. It was not even aware of what its own partymen were up to.

When social media ran riot

Any researcher who wants to study the negative impact of social media would be well advised to visit the southern city of Bengaluru (previously Bangalore). The country’s technology capital provides the best example of how social media caused fear psychosis, aided and abetted by a section of the electronic media, among millions within the state, across the country, the Indian diaspora and the foreign investor. The impression that went around last week was that the city was burning when the reality was that the arson and violence was confined to the western and, partially, the north-western part of the city - strictly speaking only in the 16 police station areas where curfew was imposed.

The issue primarily relates to the sharing of waters of the river Cauvery which emanates from the southern state of Karnataka. The 125 year old dispute with the other southern state of Tamil Nadu has taken more turns than the river, itself, while traversing through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.

Every time the south-west monsoon failed, the lower-riparian state, Tamil Nadu, has reached out to the Supreme Court for relief. Its complaint: The upper riparian Karnataka has not released the water it is mandated to by the water sharing tribunal. This year saw an erratic monsoon. It did not rain where it should have (in the catchment areas). The Supreme Court’s order to Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs daily for 10 days led to protests and even a call for a shut-down.

The state’s contention was that it did not have enough water to ensure the drinking water needs of Bengaluru, Mysuru etc as well as for agricultural operations in the basin districts. Karnataka’s film industry also took an active role in the protest. Till this stage, all appeared fine. Until a young man put out a post on his social media mocking the film actors who participated in the protest. Some local hoodlums tracked him down and assaulted him.

The assault was recorded and the video went viral on the social media. The video was then played out on the Tamil channels to show that a Tamil-speaking youth was assaulted. Retaliation soon followed with a well-known hotel brand in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, being vandalised with some petrol bombs also thrown in, all because the fourth-generation family business originally belonged to a Karnataka family.

A tourist from Karnataka was also attacked in Rameswaram. From then on, retaliatory identity politics got fanned rather vigorously. A section of the television channels in Karnataka competed with each other to get aggressive comments from the panel of guests and protesters as to how ‘their’ people were treated in the neighbouring state. This was soon followed by a truck with a Tamil Nadu registration plate being set on fire.

The ‘colourful’ visual brought more ‘colour’ to the debate in the television studios. By then the social media had started generating loads of tension in the city leading to closure of schools, offices and people rushing home because ‘riots are happening all over the city’, as one young student put it to this writer.

What the new generation would have had to say of the 1991 violence (over the same Cauvery issue) is beyond this writer’s imagination. In any case, people rushed home without experiencing violence in any other part of the city except the western parts. By evening, miscreants and other lumpen elements decided to take law into their hands seeing that the police had not made the customary deployment when a court order on such a crucial issue was expected.

The court was to decide on Karnataka’s plea to reduce the quantum of water because its reservoirs were in critical shape. The lumpen elements, whose profiles are being closely studied by the police, set fire to 42 buses (owned by a private bus operator who hails from Tamil Nadu) apart from some 70 other trucks and tyres.

The Fire Force authorities had to use over 60,000 gallons of water to douse the fire. And, Bengaluru has no other source of water but the Cauvery. This is how counter-productive identity politics become if left in the hands of the irresponsible.

Tailpiece

You must trust the politician, regardless of party affiliation, to claim immunity from not fulfilling promises. But, it must be said to the credit of the ruling BJP that it does pass the buck with a flamboyance that is unmatched.

Nitin Gadkari, the Road Transport and Shipping Minister in the federal government, came up with this remarkable reply to a question on when can people expect the ‘good days’ to arrive. For those who have forgotten, the ‘good days will come’ slogan had topped the list of promises that the BJP had made in the elections which it won in 2014.

Gadkari, arguably the only performing minister in Modi’s ministry, delivered his reply with a smile. He said that the slogan was something which was coined by Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh, who had headed the previous Congress-led UPA government. Modi had merely mentioned it in his speech and that has become like a ‘bone stuck in our throat’. His reasoning was, undoubtedly, astounding. “Our country is such an ocean of dissatisfied souls that good days never come. The media should not misinterpret me. Those who have cycles want scooters and those who have scooters want cars. It is not wrong but the wealthy are dissatisfied, too,” he said.

Moral of the story: Don’t have too many expectations from the government and it applies to the poor, the middle class and even the wealthy. Maybe, it is worthwhile adding, a fairly large section of the rich!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]