Friday, June 18, 2021

Dangerous signs

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, said British historian Lord Acton a century ago. Unmindful of the warnings of such intellectuals who envisioned the dangers of absolutist regimes, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, whose aggressive doctrine on security has yielded more strategic concerns than resolve them, chose to speak of absolute power as a virtue that has the capacity to fight corruption and helps in devolution of powers to the people. His remarks are horrifying, not only for their import but also for the fact that the head of the security has no business preaching the future of politics of the country. Batting for strong and stable governments as opposed to coalitions, while delivering a public lecture Doval said that this is imperative for the sake of democracy, accountability and health of democratic institutions. He also linked the need of strengthening private sector with strategic interests of the country. This vision of the future which virtually translates into absolute governments alongside thriving capitalist interests as sketched by the NSA spells doom and danger. It is the very anti-thesis of democracy as democracy is understood in liberal terms and also opposed to the value-system on which the Indian constitution is based. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out the deeply political import of Ajit Doval’s remarks and his open campaign for a political party, presently in power in the country. No doubt he is a political appointee but the mandate of his chair does not allow him to voice his electoral preferences, much less weave a yarn of falsehoods and misplaced theories about politics. The remarks clearly do not stem from ignorance either about his brief or about political understanding. They stem from simply loyalty to the Narendra Modi Sarkar and also fall in line similar suggestions made by several functionaries of this government from time to time, revealing the pattern of a new discourse – from ‘acche din’ to ‘strong government’. Few months back, BJP president and Modi’s second in command, Amit Shah, chose to undermine the legitimacy of the electorate of the country by announcing that they will rule the country for another 50 years. In yet another public lecture, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, in an unmistakable rebuff to institutions like Supreme Court and Reserve Bank of India, posed the question, “Are we weakening the authority of the elected and creating a power shift in favour of non-accountables?” The remarks came close on the heels of the government stand-off with the RBI and the BJP’s displeasure with a slew of Supreme Court verdicts and observations with respect to the CBI row, question of entry of women at Sabrimala temple and Ayodhya. Such consistency of remarks evoke the pertinent question of whether the BJP is transitioning from demonising its political opponents to vilifying the institutions of the state? There is a grave danger in perpetuating the discourse of strong governments with absolute decision-making powers, without checks from accountability institutions, as a gift to democracy. Jaitley, who faced the brunt of emergency under the despotic regime of Indira Gandhi four decades ago should know better that the only thing that absolutist regimes do is to weaken the power of public, opposition, media, accountability systems and thus completely annihilate the very spirit of democracy. The emergency years under the strongest ever government were the worst period that the country went through, disempowering people, hampering economy, suiting the interests of the rich businessmen and increasing socio-economic disparities. The argument of strengthening the private enterprise while weakening the power of the people, juxtaposed with the ultra-strength of the governments, is aimed to erode every little sign of democracy, perhaps other than the right to vote, which can be easily manipulated by absolute governments backed by corporates. Such governments are more likely to be corruptible. The Rafale deal, perhaps one of the biggest ever scam in the country, is an outcome of the decision making powers vested in one hand, and a completely tamed media asking no questions. The truth is as simple as it came be. The more powerful the governments get, the more disempowered public will be, losing even their right to ask questions or have faith in accountability institutions including the judiciary to which people can turn for seeking course correction for the errors and wrongs committed by the government.