Monday, January 9, 2017

Mamata’s idea no day-dream

Pankaj Sharma
9 January 2017

Running a party is an internal affair but running the government requires transparency

Those who are trying to brush aside lightly the idea of a ‘National Government’ mooted by Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee “to save the country from Narendra Modi” might realise after few months that political developments are actually taking a turn towards a point where it can become a reality. Although not apparent on the surface, the internal turmoil in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after demonetisation, is bound to make Prime Minister Modi’s path difficult once the results of five state Assembly elections are announced in March.

Mamata had been an important part of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Cabinet 18 years back when Modi was one of the general secretaries of BJP. Her know-how about the activities within the BJP and RSS, allied with her straightforwardness, puts her in the position to float the idea of a national government at this point when apart from the sister organisations, the whole nation is disgusted with the outcome of the past two months. The address to the nation by Modi on New Year’s Eve and the recent warning-cum-advise to the Union government by President Pranab Mukherjee have prompted Mamata to raise the flag for a national government minus Modi.

Mamata knows that a sizable chunk of BJP MPs and a prominent section of RSS and its affiliates find Modi’s style of functioning counterproductive. Most parties in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) also feel uncomfortable with the single handed governance of Modi and the political treatment they receive from BJP President Amit Shah. Many of NDA allies are of the opinion that running the party organisation could be BJP’s internal affair but running the government certainly requires more inclusive and transparent approach. There is growing feeling among BJP MPs that the very Modi-phenomenon which paved their way to great success in 2014 would prove to be the biggest hurdle in their electoral battle in 2019.

Mamata seems to be strategising on these factors to build an opinion through a serious debate on the issue of replacing Modi. By raising the demand for a national government, she hopes for a situation to take shape shortly where a majority of BJP MPs decide to break out of the shadow of Modi. Whether she hoping against hope or her dream might come true will be determined by the results of Assembly elections in five states, especially in Uttar Pradesh (UP). If BJP’s efforts to form its government in UP by hook or crook do not yield results, Prime Minister Modi will have to fight hard to save his crown. In such a situation Mamata’s choice to name Lal Krishna Advani to head the national government will acquire weightage. While suggesting the names of Rajnath Singh and even Arun Jaitley to lead such a government, Mamata has actually signalled that she is open for any name if Modi is removed. She knows that once the idea mooted by her gains momentum, there will be no dearth of convincing faces beginning from Nitin Gadkari, Manohar Parrikar, Sushma Swaraj, Murli Manohar Joshi to Sumitra Mahajan.

It might look like a far-fetched possibility, but I am sure, Mamata’s mind is working full time for a probable split in BJP this summer. By that time all the worst effects of a slowed-down economy will surface in their entirety. She is mature enough a politician to lay the foundation of a situation where people have to choose between survival of the nation and survival of a government led by a particular person or a party. When it comes to that, there are leaders such as Nitish Kumar, Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik, and Mamata Banerjee herself who can head an intermediary national government with the help of formal or informal participation of other political parties.

The ‘split’ in BJP is a technical impossibility as the provision of paragraph 3 of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution by the Fifty-Second Amendment Act 1985 has been omitted in 2003 when the Parliament passed Ninety-first Amendment Act. Therefore, it is not permissible now to claim a split in the parliamentary party. The only possibility that remains is ‘merger’ or ‘formation of a new political party. “No member will be disqualified from the membership of the House where his original political party merges with another political party and he claims that he and any other members of his original political party have become members of the other political party or of the newly formed political party provided not less than two-third of the members of the legislature party concerned have agreed to such merger,” says the current law. 

I cannot visualise a situation where two-third, that means 189 BJP MPs raise their hands against Narendra Modi when next general election is still two years away. But it is not to say that there cannot be any change in the leadership of BJP-led government at the Centre before 2019. Modi can be replaced, but he can be replaced only through internal exercise within BJP. He can be replaced if the RSS so decides. But for initiating any such step RSS would need to assess its strength in the Modi-era. RSS would be committing a mistake by indulging in any act of over adventurism. Modi is not one of those who removes themselves from a position if they find that they are now intolerable. I feel, despite the complexities, Mamata’s idea must become an issue of serious national debate and any efforts to limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion must not be allowed. If there are voices, not against the rule of a party with a particular ideology, but against the autocracy of a person ruling the country, they are also entitled to a decent space. Settling a question without debating it is not a symptom of a mature democracy.

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