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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Mar 2024  Aakar Patel | Kejriwal’s arrest comes amidst BJP’s distrust of federal principle

Aakar Patel | Kejriwal’s arrest comes amidst BJP’s distrust of federal principle

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Mar 27, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Mar 27, 2024, 12:05 am IST

Battling against authoritarianism: Understanding the BJP's assault on democracy and federalism in India's political landscape.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers stage a protest against the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in front of the BJP office, in Gurugram, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (PTI Photo)
 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers stage a protest against the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in front of the BJP office, in Gurugram, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (PTI Photo)

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest just before the Lok Sabha elections will be seen as an attack on democracy, which it is without doubt. It is also of a piece with the BJP’s distrust of federalism. Down the years, but especially after the linguistic states were formed, the party wanted federalism and the entire edifice of states in India to be abandoned in favour of a single legislature and, given that we were in a parliamentary system, a single leader.

M.S. Golwalkar, the then head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, wrote an essay in 1956, that is reproduced in his book Bunch of Thoughts. He writes: “Then came our present Constitution converting our country into a number of almost distinct units each with a ‘state’ of its own and all ‘federated’ into one ‘Union’… When one pauses to think of the conditions in which the makers of this Constitution lived when they framed this Constitution, one sees that the atmosphere then was extremely congenial to the formation and evolution of a unitary state --One Country, One Legislature, One Executive Centre running the administration throughout the country -- an expression of one homogeneous solid nation in Bharat or what remained of it then. But the mind and reason of the leaders were conditioned by the obsession of a ’federation of states’ where each linguistic group enjoyed a ‘wide autonomy’ as ‘one people’ with its own separate language and culture.”

He continues under the subhead “There Is a Remedy”.

“Towards this end the most important and effective step will be to bury deep for good all talk of a federal structure of our country’s Constitution, to sweep away the existence of all ‘autonomous’ or semi-autonomous ‘states’ within the one State. viz, Bharat and proclaim ‘One Country, One State, One Legislature, One Executive’, with no trace of fragmentational, regional, sectarian, linguistic or other types of pride being given a scope for playing havoc with our integrated harmony. Let the Constitution be re-examined and re-drafted, so as to establish this unitary form of government”.
The second source we have for the hostility to federalism and Article 1 of the Constitution is from Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. Article 3 of the BJP constitution says the Integral Humanism shall be the basic philosophy of the party.
Integral Humanism is the name given to a set of four lectures which Upadhyaya gave in Mumbai (then Bombay) between April 22 and April 25, 1965.

What follows is a quotation from the third lecture. It is headlined “Constitution Cannot Be Arbitrary”.

Upadhyaya writes: “Is the Constitution too not subject to some principles of a more fundamental nature? We have a written Constitution, but even this written Constitution cannot go contrary to the traditions of this country. In as much as it does go contrary to our traditions, it is not fulfilling dharma. That Constitution which sustains the nation is in tune with dharma.
“There is no recognition of the idea of Bharat Mata, our sacred motherland, as enshrined in the hearts of our people. According to the first para of the Constitution ‘India that is Bharat will be a Federation of States’, i.e. Bihar Mata, Banga Mata, Punjab Mata, Kannada Mata, Tamil Mata, are all put together to make Bharat Mata. This is ridiculous. We have thought of the provinces as limbs of Bharat Mata and not as individual mothers. Therefore, our Constitution should be unitary instead of federal.”

With such hostility to the provinces, even if it has gone mostly unnoticed, it should not surprise us that the chief ministers are not seen as legitimate even if they are elected. The BJP can hold on to the position, at least justifying it to itself, that we are a democracy and that elected chief ministers can be jailed without conviction.

After 2014, this ideological attack on federalism has manifested itself in several ways.
*The use of Union government agencies to intrude into “law and order”, ostensibly a state subject.

*The ending of states’ right to tax with GST and their total dependence on the Union’s largesse.

*The call for “one nation, one election”, which privileges the Union one over all the rest.

*The Union government’s attack on Opposition state governments and leaderships in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Telangana and Delhi. Whether through arrests, denial of allocated funds, through constant intrusion and through interference.

This is untenable in democracy and we can see the tension having built to bursting point. This is the background to the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and other ministers before that, and of the chief minister of Jharkhand, Hemant Soren, last month and the jailing of Telangana’s BRS leader K. Kavitha this month. It shows the utter contempt that the Central government has for the Opposition and for democracy, the disregard it has for the judiciary and the extent to which it can go to secure its own interests over those of the country.

The question is: What is to be done to resist the twin thrusts of the BJP’s ideology, majoritarian and a strong centripetal instinct against federalism?
The internal mechanisms of opposing authoritarianism have never worked well in India, including during the 1975-77 Emergency. Jayaprakash Narayan was an exception, but one wonders what he might have achieved in an era of the ED and CBI.

Tags: arvind kejriwal arrest, bharatiya janata party (bjp), 2024 lok sabha elections