Riled by questions asked in parliament, the PM was heard to proclaim that he is shielded by the trust of a 140 crore Indians. The statement has not been expunged. But what does it mean when a PM says this?
Last we know, Emergency has not been imposed on the country.
Parliament has not been suspended.
Civic liberties have not been revoked.
The media has not been censored.
This must mean that parliamentary sanctities, procedures, responsibilities and conventions remain in place.
The media must faithfully report on parliamentary proceedings.
The citizens must use their freedom of expression to acquire information, express opinion, and ask questions.
Not unless all the above are seen to be in operation may it be said that we have a republican democracy.
Not unless the parliament is enabled not just to legislate but to hold government accountable may it be called a democratic parliament.
The session of parliament underway until a day ago produced a rich debate on the President’s customary address to the joint Houses, delineating government policies.
Some testing questions were asked of the prime minister, bearing on the economic practices and predilections of the government and the numero uno.
These were expunged by order of the honourable presiding officer.
Yet, the country seems to have heard those questions unmistakably. This is often the case as the unintended consequence of suppression – notice the exponential clamour for the proscribed BBC documentary ‘India: the Modi Question.’
The honourable prime minister’s reply skirted the said questions and delivered a thundering election speech, albeit to the accompaniment of continuous heckling and sloganeering by a combined opposition.
Riled by the questions asked, the prime minister was heard to proclaim that he is shielded by the trust of a 140 crore Indians.
The statement has not been expunged, but neither the fourth estate nor the citizen at large seems to have, willingly or not, sufficiently attended to the import of the claim made not in a public space outside parliament but inside the House.
Systemic implications of the claim
Is it not the case that the honourable prime minister was saying to parliament that since he enjoys overwhelming popularity, he is not obliged to answer to parliament?
If so, is that how constitutional democracy is intended to work?
Or, does the prime minister’s little-noted daring truly tantamount to a version of – what in political theory has been called – Bonapartism?
The phenomenon says to institutional structures – each of which have their own place, with their own prerogatives, and their own powers and responsibilities – “You are all hereby declared null and void because the popularity of the leader renders you so.”
If this is not untrue, then may it not be best to formally wind up democratic institutions, the parliament most of all? It is these institutions that are charged by the constitution with the onus to hold executive power in check and balance through transparent mechanisms of accountability, so that huge sums of expense are saved and clarity is restored to the citizen’s mind about what sort of political system she inhabits.
Can it not be said that in this matter, Indira Gandhi was, after all, honest in squaring with the nation about what it may lawfully expect for a certain period of time?
Modi ji clearly thinks, and now says, that he is never at fault, that he is not answerable to any democratic or constitutional institutions, that the power of his oratory and an undermined aura of popularity (which in the last general elections did not include some 67% of his countrymen) render answerability to fact, opinion, critique and institution void, as is wont with an oracle.
Much of the fourth estate, especially the electronic channels and major print outlets, barring honourable exceptions, nod assent to this re-cast of the idea of democracy for reasons best known to them, although not far to seek
But those residual Indians who still foolishly, perhaps, expect political experts who populate prime time media to address systemic questions rather than merely vent knowledgeable speculations about who may win what elections may be excused their Nehruvian anxieties about the life and quality of democracy in new India.
It is recorded that when Benjamin Franklin emerged from the concluding meeting of the Constitutional Framers in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, a woman outside asked him, “What have you given us?”
He replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
They nearly lost it with Trump.
Our own Ambedkar conveyed a similar admonition in his last speech to the Constituent Assembly.
He remarked that whereas the attitude of bhakti (devotional surrender) was understandable in matters of religious faith, such a sentiment if induced into politics would not but see the end of constitutional democracy.
Is it possible that this is happening to us?
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