A Strong Centre can Hold

"Challenging orthodox beliefs and viewpoints will always be controversial. Especially, if a sense of morality is attributed to the past and change is made to look risky."[1]

Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister

The Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, in his poem 'The Second Coming' argues for the possibility of "the centre cannot hold" amidst the rising uncertainty of his times. Jump to today, Modi government's relentless approach at tabling and passing bills at lightning speed has caused hue and cry amongst some opposition parties who are objecting it on the lines of executive overreach and dominance of majority numbers in both the houses of Parliament. They argue for sending the bills to Parliamentary Standing Committees for further scrutiny which the ruling party has vehemently denied, wherever deemed necessary. A cursory look at the bills passed over the years could make things simpler to elucidate. The year of 2019 saw 71 bills getting the assent of both the Houses of Parliament, the most bills that have been passed since the dawn of the millennia.[2] As a matter of fact, 59 bills[3] have already been passed by both the Houses till October in a year (2020) which is marred by a global pandemic that has considerably cut short the Monsoon session of Parliament.[4] It is in this context and the political quagmire that the issue of stronger government or stronger opposition as a necessity for the health of democracy has resurfaced.

It is widely acknowledged that a strong government should not evolve into an autocratic one and leave nothing more than a Hobson's choice for the people. A strong government as well as strength in opposition play a crucial counter-balancing role in a democracy and are therefore a sine qua non for the health and functioning of a flourishing democratic state. But as Dr. S. Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister explicitly elucidated, "there is certainly a place for constants, but not to the extent of elevating them to immutable concepts. On the contrary, it is only by recognising change that we are in a position to exploit opportunities.. and the real obstacle to the rise of India is not anymore the barriers of the world, but the dogmas of Delhi."[5] In the evolving global landscape where nationalistic fervour is immutably present in every major power of the world, India cannot anachronistically hold itself back into traditions that aren't suitable for the times. Historically too, Independent India has fared well whenever the Union government had either strength in numbers and/or moral conviction thereby gaining more room to drive through reforms rather than kowtow to the whims of coalition politics. Stronger governments have exercised their liberty with confidence and suave and have shown a risk taking appetite in crucial breakthrough moments. During the first three general elections, Pt. Nehru towered over his contemporaries and steamed through important legislative bills as well as laid the foundation for the institutions (ISRO, Indian Statistical Institute, IITs, etc.) that drove India on the path of sustainable development for the times to come. Indira Gandhi decisively led the country in its war against the aggressor Pakistan, nationalized banks and abolished privy purse during her tenure as the Prime Minister. This is not to limit that strength lies merely in numbers. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee displayed his clout and conviction against the nuclear nations when under his aegis India successfully conducted Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998 despite international opprobrium. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too drove the initiative for the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal in 2008 against the odds of losing confidence in Lower House of the Parliament.

Contemporarily, the charisma of Prime Minister Modi has won accolades both amongst domestic audiences as well as in the international fora. In the immediate aftermath of his victory in 2014 polls, BJP swept away in the state legislative polls, at a time being a part of the ruling coalition or the standalone ruling party in as many as 17 States and Union Territories.[6] He has successfully debunked dynastic politics at least on the national level and has kickstarted reforms through a slew of measures such as investment in solar energy, Make in India, FDI in defence and a single taxation system of Goods and Services Tax (G.S.T.). His vision may be summarized as one where "the India Way, especially now, would be more of a shaper or decider rather than just be an abstainer."[7]

"Instead of what is sometimes known as the 'narcissism of minor differences', in India we celebrate the commonality of major differences. To stand the famous phrase on its head, India is a land of belonging rather than of blood."[8] In a country that cherishes its unity in diversity, criticism and alternative viewpoints are part and parcel of public policy. However, the public perception of constitutional as well as moral righteousness is not always driven by rationality but "depends on who controls the narrative, on who makes the moral argument first and gets on the right side of history, while continuing to reorder the world."[9] In a world such as this, too much time spent on appeasing every voice of dissent and every iota of doubt can cause sluggish growth which can in turn dull the momentum of the reforms undertaken or worse can lag the country altogether in important parameters of development and capacity enrichment. Even though opposition acts as an important safeguard against the tyranny, pushing it at par with a strong government may be detrimental to the overall growth of the country.

Ravana, in Valmiki Ramayana, is attributed to say that "the worst decision is one that is wrought by consensus from diverging views and opposing arguments."[10] A strong government, especially one at the Centre, is instrumental in driving path-breaking reforms and breaking deadlocks that have anchored the nation's rise. The Modi government successfully instituted the position of Chief of Defence Staff (C.D.S.), a demand that was pending since the Kargil Review Committee's recommendations way back in 1999.[11] It has also successfully passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in 2019[12], putting the state at par with the other states of the Nation. India has also undertaken cross-border strikes against terror launch pads, both in Pakistan and Myanmar under Prime Minister Modi's leadership.[13] In the international domain also, barring Nuclear Suppliers Group, India is now an active member of the other three organizations (Australia group, Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Arrangement) that drive issues related to nuclear energy[14] and has garnered support from major nations for a breakthrough permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.

A strong government is one that requires no fear or favour from either the opposition or the other agencies of constitutional checks-and-balances. A strong government can unshackle the dogmas of the past and set the country on the trajectory of reforms that may challenge orthodox beliefs and immovable concepts. Its risk taking appetite is such that it can gamble uncertainty in present for future development in areas unheard of and can shrewdly avoid being trapped by a mess of pottage sentiments. It isn't constricted to play a perennial positive-sum game with allies or foes alike and stall any real progress. It can provoke, inveigle, dictate and act decisively as the situation presents itself. It has the mandate, the conviction and the candour to set newer, more ambitious goals and move steadfastly to achieve them. Its indomitable presence ensures that "our past will always be an influence, but no longer a determinant of our future. Forging ahead will mean taking risks and refraining from passing off timidity as strategy or indecision as wisdom."[15]

[1] Dr. S. Jaishankar, "After the Virus: An Epilogue", The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World, p. 212, HarperCollins Publishers India [2] The data is derived from Bills Passed, Parliamentary Bills Information System, Lok Sabha, [3] Ibid [4] "Lok Sabha adjourned sine die; Monsoon Session concludes", The Economic Times, September 23, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/lok-sabha-adjourned-sine-die-monsoon-session-concludes/articleshow/78282608.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst [5] "S Jaishankar at RNG Lecture full text: ‘How do you reconcile Howdy Modi and Mamallapuram? Look beyond dogma’", The Indian Express, November 16, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/full-text-how-do-you-reconcile-howdy-modi-and-mamallapuram-look-beyond-dogma-says-s-jaishankar-6122001/ [6] Srinivasan Ramani, "Data: The NDA juggernaut has halted with the BJP-led alliance losing power in key States", The Hindu, December 25, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/data/data-the-nda-juggernaut-has-halted-with-the-bjp-led-alliance-losing-power-in-key-states/article30394898.ece [7] Dr. S. Jaishankar, "After the Virus: An Epilogue", The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World, p. 211, HarperCollins Publishers India [8] Dr. Shashi Tharoor, "Elections Enshrine India's Democratic Pluralism", The Great March of Democracy: Seven Decades of India's Elections, p.61, Edited by S.Y. Quraishi, Vintage Penguin Random House [9] Vikram Sood, "The India Story", The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs How Nations Construct Narratives, p. 266, HarperCollins Publishers India [10] Arun Mohan Sukumar, "The Age of Doubt: The Babus Step In", Midnight's Machines: A Political History of Technology in India, p. 46, Viking Penguin Random House [11] Rahul Singh, "Kargil panel first to raise need for overarching military advice", Hindustan Times, December 25, 2019, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kargil-panel-first-to-raise-need-for-overarching-military-advice/story-tlSrRMuoeTnaMJkzFQdvmO.html [12]"Abrogation of Article 370: Tracking change Jammu and Kashmir one year later", Business Standard, August 5, 2020, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/abrogation-of-article-370-tracking-change-jammu-and-kashmir-one-year-later-120080500243_1.html [13] Suhas Munshi, "Third Surgical Strike, Which Rajnath Singh Referred to, May Have Been Conducted in Myanmar", News18, March 16, 2019, https://www.news18.com/news/india/third-surgical-strike-which-rajnath-singh-referred-to-may-have-been-conducted-in-myanmar-2068659.html [14]"India Enters Australia Group, Inches Closer to Joining Nuclear Suppliers Group", The Wire, January 19, 2018, https://thewire.in/diplomacy/india-enters-australia-group-inches-closer-joining-nuclear-suppliers-group [15] Dr. S. Jaishankar, "The Lessons of Awadh: The Dangers of Strategic Complacency", The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World, p. 15, HarperCollins Publishers India

The author of this post is Saksham Kothari (a student at Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan National Institute Of Criminology And Forensic Sciences)

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the JEC Blog. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below.

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