The past month has seen an almost-theatrical drama unfolding in Indian politics. A group of rebel legislators from the southern state of Karnataka were bundled up and taken to a plush hotel in the city of Mumbai, allegedly by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), where they remained incommunicado for days.
Meanwhile, the BJP was accused of orchestrating a coup of sorts. The lawmaking assembly of Karnataka was pushed into a sudden ‘trust’ vote that consequently led to the fall of the state government led by Janta Dal (Secular) or JD(S) and the Congress party. With this collapse, India's grand old Congress party has moved closer to what many are calling the political demise of the country's leading opposition group.
On July 23, the Congress-JD(S) coalition collapsed after they lost the trust vote in the state’s assembly. A trust vote or a floor test is a way for the ruling government to prove that it enjoys the confidence or the support of the assembly.
The chief minister of the state, HD Kumaraswamy of the JD (S), resigned after the coalition managed to muster only 99 votes while 105 assembly members voted against the government. The fiasco was dubbed ‘Operation Lotus’, a political trick that allowed India's ruling Hindu nationalist BJP to eject the Congress-JD (S) government and grab power in Karnataka.
Although the BJP rejected allegations of foul play, the opposition leaders accused the ruling party of ‘horse-trading’, which means luring legislators with either the promise of cabinet positions or huge sums of ‘black money’.
Many political analysts fear that the BJP will not stop at Karnataka. The Congress party is struggling to hold on to its strength in the coastal state of Goa, where 10 of its legislators have already resigned and joined the BJP, even though the state is governed by the latter.
Many reports suggest, the next in line to fall may be the central state of Madhya Pradesh and its western neighbour Rajasthan, where the Congress-led governments rely on a wafer-thin majority and seem to be in a state of high alert after what transpired in Karnataka.
So how could the BJP potentially succeed in toppling democratically-elected state governments from the Himalayan foothills in the north to central agricultural plains and all the way to the coastal south?
According to Ajay Gudavarthy, political analyst and assistant professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University, the far-right party uses the combination of ‘money’ and lawsuits to either buy or intimidate the legislators.
“The choice for politicians in these states is either to jump from the party and support the BJP or face strong legal cases,” Gudavarthy told TRT World.
The BJP has in many cases been accused of misusing state organs such as the premier investigating agency the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to pursue cases against those who are not willing to toe the line.
“It’s been a strategy of the BJP to mobilise all frailties in the system, whether social divisions or caste and communal conflicts. They want to weaken the opposition and because the national narrative is in their favour, the public does not read these moves as unethical,” Gudavarthy added.
As the ruling party has entered its sixth year in power, winning another national election with a strong majority in May this year, it has been aiming to amend or create new laws such as the Code of Wages bill, a bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act — an equivalent to the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — and a bill to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Both the lower and upper houses of parliament have already cleared the RTI amendment bill. The absence of a tenacious opposition seems to have already put a full stop to objections that could be raised at the legislative level.
The recent turn of events in Karnataka and the potential threat to other Congress-governed states indicate that the BJP’s slogan of “Congress-mukt Bharat” (Congress-free India) may soon turn into reality.
But the BJP’s relentless pursuit of power is also being aided by the Congress’s inaction. The Congress not only stands without a leader, after the resignation of its president Rahul Gandhi after the general elections, but is also marred by its internal conflicts. The party has been facing a constant decline and is finding it almost impossible to counter the far-right nationalist narrative created by the BJP.
“Obviously the lack of a strong opposition is detrimental to democracy but the central question is why the opposition is not able to consolidate itself. The BJP will of course not allow them to flourish. The trust that Modi has generated is so deeply entrenched that no other narrative of the opposition is able to succeed,” Gudavarthy said.
With senior BJP leader Narendra Modi elected as India's prime minister for a second consecutive term in May, the BJP and its allies are being criticised for tampering with India's secular soul in order to achieve its end goal — which is to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra, a country exclusively for Hindus. The party has courted numerous controversies in the last five years. The list is long but the most compelling ones range from bending India's highest judicial house the Supreme Court to the party's collective will to rewriting history books, usurping liberal spaces in universities and colleges to suit its Hindu nationalist agenda. Certain allegations have had immediate and serious social implications, such as the targeting of journalists and the shielding of rape or terror-accused lawmakers.
With a battered and cornered opposition and near-compromised mainstream media, the issues fail to resonate with the country's majority. Instead, the ruling party is racing on to solidify its political future.
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