Not too long ago BJP leader Mr. Narendra Modi addressing a public rally in Jammu said that Article 370 imposed in the state needed to be debated. The reactions this evoked were amusing. The BJP went on a panic drive to assert that there was no change in the party’s policy towards Kashmir and it continued to oppose Article 370. J&K Chief Minister Mr. Omar Abdullah retorted that Article 370 was permanent because Kashmir acceded to India by reference to the state’s Instrument of Accession which mentioned Article 370. Mr. Modi responded by stating that a debate on all issues related to J&K was desirable. Upon that this writer urged a debate on the entire Indian political system.
It is time that Indians come to terms with the natural and healthy impulse among different regions to preserve cultural identity. That in no way is necessarily incompatible with national pride and unity. It is to resolve this confusion that the demand is made to debate and alter the nation’s political system.
The implicit wishes of the BJP and Mr. Omar Abdullah are not at all incompatible. The BJP is worried about the secessionist demands by a section of Kashmir’s separatist leaders. Mr. Abdullah is concerned about preserving the state’s autonomy to protect its cultural identity. He is supporting Article 370 mentioned in the Instrument of Accession as leverage to ensure this. That is why I suggested a debate on the system to sort out these reconcilable differences.
Recently in another context Mr. Arun Jaitley opposed autonomy for J&K because it “diluted India’s sovereignty”. The confusion exposed by this view was recently highlighted in Goa.
Addressing an election rally Mr. Modi promised decentralization of power in the system if his party comes to power after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Mr. Modi went on to say that he would also feel honoured to accord special status to Goa, for “preservation of the identity, environment and traditions of the state”. It seems that several BJP leaders of Goa have demanded this to end the central government’s interference that endangers the unique environment of their state. Mr. Modi congratulated the people of Goa for demanding their right to preserve their identity and culture. Without naming him he took a veiled dig at Mr. Nitish Kumar of JD-U for demanding special status only in order to obtain more central funds.
However not all states demand special status for economic sops like Bihar. In fact like J&K, the states that have got special status thus far have sought only preservation of their unique cultural status on account of location in tribal areas. Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Nagaland have all acquired special status. In each state there are in varying degrees legislative safeguards against central interference in the state. Do not such legislative curbs create discrimination between the state’s permanent residents and citizens in the rest of India? Does this not dilute India’s sovereignty as Mr. Jaitley implies it does in J&K on account of its autonomy?
It is time that Indians come to terms with the natural and healthy impulse among different regions to preserve cultural identity. That in no way is necessarily incompatible with national pride and unity. It is to resolve this confusion that the demand is made to debate and alter the nation’s political system. To resolve differences between BJP and Mr. Omar Abdullah I had suggested: “The (necessary) step would be of course to grant equal autonomy to all the states of the Indian Union to end the special status of J&K and bring it on the same level as the rest of India. Thereby autonomy and self-rule in Kashmir would continue as the leaders of Kashmir seek. The special status of J&K would end as the BJP seeks.” Were this done most likely it would encourage many demands for new statehood, some vociferous, others dormant, that are spread across India.
Currently there is a fierce Telangana agitation under way. Like Goa and Kashmir, Telangana too has a special history that gives it unique identity. That is why an agitation has continued to splutter and explode in the region for decades. People in the rest of Andhra oppose bifurcation because other large states despite hosting areas of separate identities remain united. That is why there is needed a second States Reorganization Commission (SRC) to determine norms for creating new states. Can it be denied that the Bhojpuri speaking people of East UP, the Avadhi people of central UP and the people of western UP all have distinct and proud cultural identities? May not the same be said about the Vidharbha, the Konkan and Marathwada regions in Maharashtra? Clearly a new SRC is required to address this issue with appropriate expertise.
If India were to create around fifty odd states or so, with each having equal and enhanced autonomy, would that not lead to fissiparous tendencies endangering national unity? As things are, it would. That is why the whole system needs to be debated and reformed. Fissiparous tendencies among smaller states would have to be curbed and balanced by a strong centre that might ensure cohesion. That is precisely what our written Constitution contains provided its content is followed in letter and spirit. Our Constitution provides for a President with executive responsibility, never exercised up till now, with an electoral mandate obtained from parliament and all the state assemblies in the Indian Union. If the President’s role were to approximate to the written provisions of the Constitution, Mr. Arun Jaitley’s understandable concerns about dilution of national sovereignty would become redundant.
Readers scoff at this writer’s oft repeated plea for a change of political system. They say that given our class of politicians none would initiate any such radical measure. Well, sometimes in history leaders are not required to usher change. Events lead people. As the situation is developing that is precisely what may happen after the 2014 general election. Mr. Raj Thackeray is threatening the Shiv Sena alliance with the BJP. Mr. Ajit Pawar is threatening the NCP alliance with the Congress. Home Minister Mr. SK Shinde blurts and then hastily retracts that Mr. Sharad Pawar should be next Prime Minister. BSP leader Mr. Satish Mishra states that his party will contest all 543 seats in the next election. The most powerful Dalit organization, BAMCEF (The All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation), with nationwide government employees as its members has announced it will ally with top Muslim leaders and contest at least 400 seats. AAP is of course already committed to contest at least an equal number. The TMC and SP are seeking constituencies outside their parent states. New small parties, new alignments and new pastures are mushrooming in many states. Everybody seems to seek participation!
Could not so many players damage Mr. Narendra Modi’s potential vote share? It is possible that we might head for a parliament so fractured that it would impel either too frequent mid-term elections as happened in France before the advent of De Gaulle; or the nation would have to opt for a national government and a basic review of our political system. Therefore let not skeptical readers mock the prospect of radical change. An unprecedented fractured parliament may impel revolutionary change. Nobody could stop it.