India: Why this desperation for 'One Nation, One Election'? (Plus: We need to be battle ready to stop the BJP-RSS disaster and rebuild India)

First published at CPI(ML) Liberation.

Even as representatives assembled in Mumbai for the third meeting of the united opposition, now known by the acronym INDIA, the Modi government announced an extraordinary session of Parliament from 18 to 22 September. The way the session was announced close on the heels of the recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament, and that too absolutely unilaterally without any consultation with the opposition and in brazen violation of established parliamentary norms, has understandably raised suspicions about the government's motive. The five-day session will not have either the daily question hour or the customary zero hour and will be used exclusively to conduct an agenda that has not yet been made public. With every passing day, the Modi government is reducing an elected parliament in a democratic republic to the status of an emperor's royal court.

In another sudden move, the Modi government has announced the formation of a High Level Committee under the chairmanship of former President of India Ram Nath Kovind to make recommendations for holding simultaneous elections to Parliament, State Assemblies and rural and urban local bodies. Getting a former President to chair a committee to make recommendations on a constitutionally suspect and politically contentious subject reveals the desperation of the Modi government to impose its political agenda in utter violation of the basic spirit and structure of the Constitution. The committee had only one representative from the opposition, leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who has refused to join the committee in view of its dubious mandate which is designed to endorse the 'one nation, one election' agenda, and selective composition - excluding the current leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha while including a former leader of the opposition in RS who is now close to the BJP.

'One Nation, One Election' has been a pet agenda of the Modi government for quite some time. From the Law Commission to the Niti Aayog, several bodies have already examined the subject and found it to be a tricky and contentious proposition needing a series of constitutional amendments and broad consensus involving opposition parties and state governments. The current exercise seems to be to find ways to impose the idea without building a consensus. The committee is completely packed with BJP leaders, pro-government members and known advocates of the 'One Nation, One Election' idea and the opinion of the committee is thus a foregone conclusion. By introducing electoral bonds the government has already rendered electoral funding completely opaque and unaccountable. The proposed bill regarding the selection of the Election Commission would rob the EC of all autonomy and neutrality and make it subservient to the executive. And now by imposing simultaneous elections, the Modi government wants to make further mockery of the election process.

The government's basic argument in support of the 'One Nation, One Election' idea is that it will reduce cost and expedite the pace of 'development' by sparing it the pauses imposed by the election code of conduct. Both these arguments are highly spurious. The bulk of the election expenses is borne by the political parties and the BJP which is flush with electoral funds from dubious sources is the principal culprit for the escalating role of money-power in elections. The election code of conduct (which restricts the announcement of new policies and schemes) affects only poll-bound states and there is no nationwide 'pause' on development. The temporary disruption supposedly caused by elections anyway is nothing compared to the long-term havoc played by ill-conceived measures like demonetisation and protracted lockdown.

We are also told that till 1967 India actually used to have simultaneous elections to Parliament and State Assemblies. The point is there was no such constitutional requirement, but elections just happened to coincide. The cycle changed after 1967 owing to a number of reasons - the need for mid-term elections as several governments lost power before completion of their terms, creation of new states and rise of regional parties and arrival of coalition era (which changed the erstwhile pattern of single-party domination) and institutionalisation of elections to local bodies as the third tier of representative democracy, to mention three key factors. Even if the clock is once again artificially set back, the cycle cannot be maintained unless mid-term elections are ruled out by denying people the right to have elected governments and subjecting states to President's rule or rule by Governors or Lieutenant Governors. This is precisely what has been inflicted on Jammu and Kashmir since 5 August 2019. Is the 'One Nation, One Election' formula just a ploy to institutionalise over-centralisation of power and application of the J&K model to the whole of India?

It is common knowledge that the Modi government is permanently in election mode and addressing election rallies in poll-bound states is always the topmost priority for Narendra Modi. While Modi found no time to visit Manipur, he kept on hopping from Karnataka to Madhya Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to Rajasthan to address poll rallies, road shows and booth-level cadre conferences. Why then suddenly this desperation for clubbing Assembly and Lok Sabha elections? Clearly it has a lot to do with the growing fear of losing power with more and more states slipping away from the regime's control. Empirical evidence apparently suggests that the party ruling at the Centre has better prospects in the event of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections than separate elections. It is also clear that the ‘Modi factor’ works better at the Lok Sabha elections than in Assembly polls. Hence this desperation to leverage the advantage by changing the system.

Driving this project of course is the Sangh-BJP scheme of over-centralisation of power and systematic weakening of India's diverse culture, plural politics and federal framework. Every election has its own context. Panchayat and Assembly elections are bound to reflect immediate local conditions and not be swayed by the Sangh-manufactured so-called 'national reality' unless the cacophony of the latter becomes overwhelming. By clubbing all elections together, the Modi government seeks to rob elections of their distinct contexts and limit the political choices of the people. Federal India offers the most vibrant opposition and determined resistance to the Modi government's Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan paradigm as can be seen from the growing cultural and political churnings in states beyond the Hindi heartland (as well as increasingly within it). 'One Nation, One Election' is a formula to curb those churnings and subject democratic India to the imperial designs of a fascist regime. This design is of a piece with the whole of range of attempts going on in the spheres of law, governance and constitutional architecture to reduce empowered citizenship to loyal subjecthood and enslave India in a fascist straitjacket. India must defeat this design by all means.

We need to be battle ready to stop the BJP-RSS disaster and rebuild India

First published at CPI(ML) Liberation.

Speaking after the conclusion of INDIA alliance meeting in Mumbai on September 01, CPIML General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said that in the days to come, the country will be facing much bigger disaster orchestrated by BJP-RSS. They are on the path to totally destroy the Ambedkar’s constitution and the democracy in the country. So, it is crucial that we do everything possible to stop the BJP from coming back to power in 2024 and undo the damages and build a stronger democracy in India.

He added that, Mumbai meeting was crucial milestone in the opposition unity as it was first meeting to be held in a BJP ruled state and where the BJP is doing all possible ugly tricks to disrupt the opposition unity and to vitiate the political atmosphere.  But in the face of this onslaught, the meeting happened quite successfully with a lot of enthusiasm and the number of parties participating in this alliance has now gone up from 26 to 28 and there is every possibility that more parties will be joining in the days to come.  The meeting has formed a set of five committees for the purpose of political coordination, designing and running the campaign, social media campaign, media campaign and for research work so that we can have a powerful content and manifesto and political campaign in the coming days.

Comrade Ravi Rai, Politburo Member and CPIML Delhi State Secretary is part of the Working group on Campaigns and Comrade Sucheta De, CPIML Central Committee Member and Comrade V Arun Kumar, Member of CPIML Central Headquarters are part of the Working group on Media and Working group on Social Media respectively.

Regarding the seat sharing, Com. Dipankar added that the idea is now that seat sharing talks will proceed on a state level basis because, the situation varies in state to state but the process needs to be expedited so that by the end of September or by early October we are ready with our campaign schedule.

For the INDIA alliance time has come to hit the streets and organize decentralized, concerted, panchayat and block level mobilization on various issues like price rise or unemployment, the question of wages, the question of rights of the workers, the question of MSP and the old pension scheme among others.  The question of caste census and the women's reservation, two major demands of the social justice movement also needs urgent attention.

“And then there are issues, overarching most important issues of defending the constitution because the BJP now has unleashed its total agenda.  If the BJP comes back in 2024, nothing will be left of what we know as democracy or constitution or the modern India founded on the basis of the constitution,” noted Com. Dipankar.

So that is why we need a powerful campaign in terms of building up social solidarity and the class unity, like the recent joint convention of the farmers movement and the trade union movement. And the whole idea is that while consolidating our electoral efforts, while trying for maximum possible electoral unity wherever possible, we should also carry out a very extensive campaign and mass awakening on all possible issues.

The BJP-corporate corruption nexus

On the new evidences emerging on the Adani scam and Modi government’s patronage, the Comrade Dipankar added that this government has exposed itself as India's probably most corrupt government till date.  The CAG report has exposed a lot of scams in almost every department and on top of it we now have more extensive reports about the Adani scam. The new reports point towards how the Adani group manipulated the share prices and how they violated the norms of conducting business - the 75% is the maximum limit for the promoter's shareholding, at least 25% share should be in the hands of the public, but it is now very clear that the Adani group has violated all these norms. According to reports, the Adani group secretly invested in offshore companies to buy their own shares. In fact, if a company is exposed to have crossed the 75% limit, it should be delisted from the share market.  But the SEBI which was supposed to probe into all these irregularities,  instead of taking necessary measures to control the Adani group, we find that the SEBI director who gave Adani group a clean sheet has now become the director of NDTV, after it’s acquisition by Adani.  So, it is very clear how the Adani group has been promoted by the Modi government and how it symbolizes the ugliest and most alarming face of institutional corruption and corporate nexus between the government and the corporate sector in India.

The government has called a special parliament session and the agenda of the session has been kept secret till date, but certainly the Modi government has lot of ugly tricks in plan in the days to come.  There may even be early elections.  So whatever unfolds in the coming days, India should be prepared and the message from this Mumbai meeting is that we should be battle ready to fight the elections, we should be ready to intensify the battle to defeat the Modi government in the upcoming General Elections. The defeating of this government is crucial and if this government comes back for a third  term, then Indian democracy, the constitution, the very idea of modern India, everything will be at stake and there will be a much bigger disaster in the country.

Prior to the alliance meeting, Com. Dipankar interacted and held discussions with several civil society members and people’s movements in Mumbai. Speaking at the Samarthan Sankalp Jan Sabha, a civil society convention in solidarity with INDIA alliance at Patuck college hall, Mumbai on August 30, he termed the INDIA alliance as the Rescue operation, and said that this rescue operation of saving constitution and democracy from Manuvadi and BJP-RSS corporate-fascist forces is a crucial step towards building a stronger democracy and people’s republic. We need to make the 2024 General Elections a people’s movement, that will ensure the complete uprooting of fascist forces and their ideology from the country and the society.