During a discussion on Indian TV in early 2014, a spokesman for the Indian National Congress stated that “nationalism is not relevant to India”; so much for unity of mind. Some equate nationalism to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) hardcore Hindutva, which is dividing India on communal lines. Unchecked and unpunished, the far-right fringe groups have indulged in violence under the guise of cow protection and lately have been targeting Kashmiris outside Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, in the state of West Bengal, radical groups are on a violent spree against non-Muslims, particularly BJP workers. This has been happening in South India as well.
We Indians can’t take out terrorist leaders Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin in Pakistan but in this attack on opposing political parties, our enemies remain winners. Not only has the Kashmir Valley been radicalized because of vote-bank politics, educational institutions in other parts of India, including in the National Capital Region, have been successfully infiltrated by such non-state actors.
The maxim “everything is fair in love and war” needs to be redefined as “everything is fair in love, war and politics,” morality being absent in politics. Similarly the saying in India that the military is only respected during times of war, as was also conveyed by the late former defense minister Manohar Parrikar, must be reworded to say “the military is only respected during times of war and elections.” With the general election approaching, the political parties have been banking on the “newfound love” for the armed forces during campaigns.
But the phrase “politics is the last refuge of scoundrels” remains true on two counts. First, political parties vie to put up candidates with criminal charges in elections, which they admit is because of the “winnability” factor of these individuals. Second, a politician mired in corruption can switch from another political party to the ruling dispensation, earning him credentials of a saint. Moreover, the continuation and increase in reservations with fewer parameters of entry has lowered the standards even further across the board. Concurrently, foreign medical treatment-cum-tourism on taxpayers’ money continues to be enjoyed by politicians and bureaucrats.
Accusations of undermining the unity of India are frequently exchanged between political parties. On one hand, demonetization was supposed to curb corruption and also end terrorism. But on the other hand, amendment of the Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) in retrospect without any discussion in Parliament institutionalized anonymous funding to political parties that can’t be questioned even under the Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005. Foreign and inimical forces don’t really need to exert much to shape perceptions through political and economic forces. That is why the China threat staring in our face has been grossly neglected.
Politics is all about money and power, so when political parties have access to unlimited funding, why would they not want to gain power and dislodge incumbent governments using every means? Where is the scope then for unity of minds?
As of April last year, there were seven national parties, 24 recognized parties at state level and 2,044 other registered parties. A member of Parliament need only attend a single Parliament session, for which he gets an attendance allowance, and becomes eligible for a pension for life. Switching political parties during the run-up to or just after elections also implies major financial gain. Whether reducing the number of political parties to between eight and 10 is feasible at all, and whether it would improve unity of minds, is debatable.
Over the years Indian politics has taken an ugly turn where even the media are at the behest of these political parties. Not only was the FCRA amended with retrospect, the limit of donations to political parties from corporate houses increased from 7.5% of their profit to 100% without paying any income tax and disclosing the name of party. Furthermore, the government has repeatedly endangered the autonomy of the Reserve Bank of India, which in a short while saw a number of high-profile resignations.
It seems that the finance minister was tediously working on these machinations, even though the haphazard implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) was a possible reason that the BJP lost last year’s elections in the key states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. This was despite working on the GST for two years and holding a midnight parliamentary session for its launch. Now, whether reducing GST on select items close to the general election will work or not, only time will tell.
It is amply clear that India has never really had unity of minds, even as the slogan “unity in diversity” is used as solace. Until the political class, the bureaucracy and the deep state are disciplined and imbued with nationalism, it will remain a utopian idea.
(This is the second article in a two-part series. For Part 1, click here.)