Coming to terms with the might of institutions, in victory and defeat

The lesson from Gujarat: BJP can’t be seen on wrong side of constitutional bodies. Congress has to win real elections.

Pranab Dhal Samanta

The midnight drama in Gujarat is a grim reminder that the country’s ruling party needs to caution its approach towards institutions. It’s never a pleasant sight when a democratically elected full majority government ends up on the wrong side of a constitutional body.

At the same time, the Congress while claiming victory, must realise that it cannot cloak its own state of disarray by repeatedly seeking shelter in the Constitution. The fact is that the Congress is splintering in many states, just like the Vaghela group in Gujarat, thus opening up new political possibilities where institutions cannot always play referee.

The recent trend has been worrisome. The first such tendency was visible in March when the BJP won the Uttar Pradesh elections. Five states had gone to the polls then, BJP emerged clear winners in UP and Uttarakhand while Congress bagged Punjab and secured leads in Manipur and Goa.

Although the UP victory overshadowed all other results, the BJP was not happy with the prospects of an overall score line of 3-2 in favour of Congress. So, the stalwarts were brought in and the heavy hunting started in Imphal and Panaji. Eventually, the BJP managed to form governments in both states despite not being the single largest party in either.

More importantly, the score line read 4-1 in BJP’s favour. And what also showed up was poor Congress leadership that could not keep its flock together. This story repeated itself in Gujarat too.

Then came the legislation to give constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes – a direct political fallout of the UP victory. The bill sailed through Lok Sabha but was referred to a Select Committee in the Rajya Sabha.

The opposition could not make any changes through committee proceedings but moved an amendment in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP probably took the whole process for granted and ended up losing a vote on an amendment that sought to bring a woman or a minority member into the commission. With many of its members absent, the PM’s signature initiative lost face in the upper house and was sent back to the Lok Sabha.

What again emerges here is a lack of attention towards institutional processes that, mostly, exist and operate regardless of who has majority. Yes, the majority can surely influence these processes but by no means pretend to own them. At least, not after more than seven decades of constitutional democracy.

Barely had this embarrassment settled down, the BJP took on a prestige battle in Gujarat over Ahmed Patel’s election. When the issue of the video footage of two Congress renegade MLAs showing their vote to BJP president Amit Shah came to fore, it was important that the BJP took note of its stand on Congress spokesman and MLA Randeep Surjewala’s vote in the Haryana RS polls.

Again, at that time, the Congress was a divided house over RK Anand’s candidature. BJP alleged that video footage revealed that Surjewala had showed his vote. Congress claimed it was a mistake.  But the EC declared the vote invalid. 

In short, the BJP has to address this uneven grammar of relationships with constitutional institutions. One saw these tendencies even before UP when it came to applying governor’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand but the presidency at that time was with Pranab Mukherjee, a UPA nominee. Similarly, the Rajya Sabha was chaired by Hamid Ansari. Or for that matter, even then Chief Election Commissioner Naseem Zaidi was appointed by the previous government.

The BJP must understand that in placing its nominees in key institutions and gaining more influence, it has also lost the comfort of the old balance. The Congress, on the other hand, surely can’t project institutional fairness as political victory. For that, it has to win real elections.

Pranab Dhal Samanta is Editor, ThePrint. Twitter: @pranabsamanta

 

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