A divisive centralism is not only enemy to federalism but the first step to sectarian totalitarianism
No more crazy enterprise than predicting politics in India. But, at the risk of shamefacedness, let me say that we may be about to witness the turn of the tide. From all accounts, New Delhi, the national Capital, is poised to reject the Bharatiya Janata party come February 10.
Should this indeed happen, it will be no ordinary occurrence. For two most instructive reasons. One, it will not but be a referendum of sorts on the performance of the Modi government over the last nine months or so—and, indeed, on Mr.Modi himself. Two, the defeat will not be at the hands of another major national party but a fledgling regional one, led by an extraordinarily ordinary (oxymoron intended) young man next door whose campaign has been distinguished by two remarkable features. One, a determined advocacy not of some ambitiously marco-stipulations but of those quotidian bread-and-butter issues that touch ordinary lives. Secondly, an unmistakeable class divide, such as the Left parties, paradoxically, have never managed to forge in Delhi. This success in galvanising underclass opinion against the claims of big “development” policy and rhetoric truly denotes a path-breaking initiative for a stymied progressive politics. One of-course needs to be somewhat cautious here, because what stand the Aam Aadmi Party may take in the days of its projected governance on issues related to corporate interests remains unclear. For example, one has not heard a great deal from the party on the question of what modalities it thinks desirable for land acquisition for industrial and other purposes.
This is especially germane in the wake of rumour that the party leadership has, through the campaign, thoughtfully back-benched those of its top leaders who have a noticeable reputation as being opposed to the politics of corporate grab. One is of-course open to the possibility that this may not have been more than a tactical decision. Likewise, on the fraught issue of secularism, AAP has managed to keep its head above water, making no secret of its opposition to the politics of communalism but without seeming ideologically slanted to any social group as a matter of principle. Again a stance which can be a matter for a more extended debate, but one that has struck the voter as credible and reassuring.
Clearly, if the results in Delhi favour the AAP to the relegation of the Congress party—whose record of big development over the fifteen years of its rule has been massive but perhaps inadequate to the needs of the hoi polloi. The meaning of its triumph will resonate in many far corners of the nation, including, hopefully, in Jammu and Kashmir where the single largest party has been struggling with both an intra-party and a citizen’s debate on what political forces it should align with.
Its first major inference will be that any political formation that looks for a future beyond the present is best advised first to keep its focus on two conjoint objectives within its region of operation. Social cohesion based not on pandering to patently sectarian interests but on a pluralist citizenship principle. Two, to avoid any form of centralizing megalo-vision in favour of an open-ended political culture that gives primacy to democratic devolution, so that the genesis of policy formation lies not at the top but where the water does not flow and the road does not run. Clearly, barring the centrist “mainland,” and not even there, national parties tend to have their priorities marked not in balanced regional development (a constitutional objective for which the Planning Commission was envisaged, but now tellingly deceased) but in a “smart-city” model guaranteed not just to leave the laboring citizen high and dry but indeed to make her life still more residual and wretched. Not to speak of the fact that the more that regional political formations weaken, the greater the probability of autocratic centrist rule—probability greater now than ever before. Equally clearly, where in government formation it becomes inevitable to hold hands with a national party, two considerations must dictate the choice. Whose economic thinking has better accommodation for the underling, and on record, and whose social philosophy may be less detrimental to cultural and communal harmony. The federative principle must make it irrelevant to align just with the party in power at the centre. After all the much-touted “development” in Gujarat over fifteen years of BJP rule happened, if it did, with a UPA government at the centre.
As the PDP ponders its future course, it may be well advised to draw fresh insights from the projected victory of the AAP in Delhi. It may not, after all, be such a clever idea to gain a national foothold of great contradiction and perplexity and, in the process, lose that ground of authenticity which has brought you success. Indeed, its larger commitment may be not to legitimate divisive forces but, in true allegiance to constitutional principles, do everything to weaken their hold on the polity.
A divisive centralism is not only enemy to federalism but a first step to sectarian totalitarianism.