By Swapan Dasgupta
The next time a partisan government at the Centre decides to facilitate the dismissal of an elected state government with majority support in the Assembly, it will not have to appoint a less ham-handed version of Karnataka Governor H.R. Bharadwaj. The former Law Minister who was sent to Bengaluru on a mission of subversion failed because both the political culture and Supreme Court judgments have made it difficult (but not impossible) for the Centre to impose President's Rule on flights of whimsy. Gone are the days when Governors such as Ram Lal, B.D. Tapase and Romesh Bhandari could subvert the Constititution's federal principles with impunity.
No, the next time an inconvenient B.S. Yedyurappa or a Narendra Modi has to be destabilised and eventually dismissed, the role of the Governor will become secondary. The principal part may well be played by an emerging body of professionals who will have the power to hold any state to ransom. Like the wedding organiser and party organiser who have made life incredibly easy for people with sufficient money to burn, a breed of riot organisers will be very much in demand in the coming years. That is if the draft of the Communal Violence Bill prepared by the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council is passed by Parliament.
India has always been indulgent to bad ideas. The Nehru-Gandhi family in particular has taken exceptional care to nurture quackery and cretinism as long as they were packaged in the garb of 'progressive' politics. Just as the Planning Commission was the nursery for bad economics for four decades, the NAC is fast becoming the instrument for Sonia Gandhi's misapplication of mind. Its contribution to the derailing of India's global competitive potential will be assessed (and, hopefully, even quantified) by economic historians in the future. However, mercifully, the NAC had so far desisted from imposing its grubby paw prints on the basic features of the Constitution—although the centralist 'one size fits all' philosophy was a recurring feature of all its proposals. The draft Communal Violence Bill marks a departure.
The implications of the Bill are grave. To destabilise a difficult state government, a cynical dispensation at the Centre will merely have to engage the services of a riot organiser. The riot organiser will simply have to either orchestrate tensions in a chosen locality—not a very difficult project—and trigger a little riot against either a minority community or local Dalits and tribals. No administration, however well-meaning and committed to social harmony can prevent a determined bid to foster disharmony. Under the proposed law, that local disturbance will become the pretext for the Centre to use Article 355 to intervene in the State.
Next, the seven-member National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation made up, presumably, of 'non-partisan' grandees such as Harsh Mander and Teesta Setalvad, will get into the act. Blessed with statutory sanction, this committee of the good and virtuous will stricture the local administration and the state government for its alleged lapses and suspected complicity in the riots and make a case for the breakdown of the Constitutional machinery. The committee's report, in turn, will become the occasion to file FIRs against 'difficult' state leaders and an obliging Bharadwaj-like Governor will recommend the imposition of Article 356 on the state.
Yes, a few innocent citizens would have died or had their property destroyed in the exercise. But at least they would have died so that the supercops of secularism could rule.
The Communal Violence Bill proposed by the NAC is not merely flawed, it is positively dangerous. In a country where laws sometimes exist to be subverted, the proposed legislation will be a direct incitement to made-to-order rioting and political destabilisation. The presence of a legally-sanctioned committee of the wonderfully virtuous overseeing the state administration is calculated to undermine any elected government and make administrators accountable to two masters. Governance would be made dysfunctional and the primary focus of every official would be to keep the Centre happy. Even an issue as localised (but no less regrettable) as the violence in Greater NOIDA over the quantum of compensation for land acquisition would become the pretext for the Centre to first intervene directly and subsequently dismiss the Mayawati Government.
There is a strong case for ensuring that the state government (which has ultimately responsibility for law and order and the preservation of peace) carries out its obligations diligently and without fear or favour. The best way to ensure this is all-round vigilance. Many district-level committees made up of local notables can be constituted to be an informal watchdog body and even assist the local administration. But political power ultimately vests with an elected government and not with do-gooders nominated by the government because they have the right aesthetic and NGO credentials. Sonia Gandhi has chosen to exercise power without making herself accountable. Now she seems determined to foist this model of colonial paternalism on the rest of the country.
India is a federal country and the more federal it becomes the better. The attempt to regress to back-door centralism has to be resisted. The issue is not riots versus secularism; the choice is between federalism and centralism, between a Delhi Sultanate and local democracy. Parliament should choose wisely.