Vinod Mubayi

Despite the hundreds of crores spent in showering rose petals on Modi during his roadshows in Bengaluru, Karnataka voters were determined to make South India a BJP-mukt region by bringing Congress back to power with an insurmountable majority. As a result, BJP’s well-honed defection tactics used to topple elected governments that have succeeded in other states like Madhya Pradesh and Goa, and were recently employed to split the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, appeared to have been rendered futile by the scale of the Congress victory.

Voters seemed to have gotten sick and tired of the BJP regime in Karnataka that was widely derided by its title of “40%” (based on the percentage of government contract costs demanded as bribes from contractors by BJP politicians and officials) and had nothing to offer besides the ban on Muslim college girls from wearing the hijab or attacking religious minorities. The 135 seats gained by Congress versus 66 by BJP in a 224-member assembly along with a significant difference in vote share says all that needs to be said about voter sentiment. BJP had nothing to offer except more communal politics and polarization and the flower bedecked motorcades of Modi that undoubtedly caused massive traffic jams. Congress, by contrast, ran a campaign that offered concrete benefits to the poorer segments of the population. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) that passed through Karnataka earlier this year also seems to have had an impact as Congress candidates won in 13 of the 15 districts the BJY traversed.

Having been stymied from pursuing a possible defector strategy in Karnataka by the scale of the defeat, the Modi regime’s autocratic impulses soon focused on a different target, the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that rules in the Union Territory (UT) of the National Capital Region of Delhi. Since Delhi happens to be the capital of the country, the UT suffers from divided rule: law and order, the police, and land are the province of the central government, currently headed by Modi, that appoints a Lieutenant Governor (LG) to carry out its bidding, while all other matters fall under the elected government, currently AAP. It is no surprise that Modi’s authoritarian impulses to encroach on the legitimate turf of the elected government of the UT via the LG have operated on steroids over the last several years that the AAP has ruled Delhi. Projects promoted by the AAP have been repeatedly stalled by different LGs over the years and, of course, the familiar scenario of harassing AAP ministers by using investigative agencies like the Enforcement Directorate ED and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and going as far as putting them in jail, like what has happened to Satyendar Jain, continues.

A few weeks ago, a constitution bench of the Supreme Court that was appointed to review the anomalous situation in the Delhi UT created by the turf wars between the central and UT governments gave a notable judgment: Referring to the Constitution it emphasized that “Article 239AA which conferred a special status to the national capital territory of Delhi and constitutionally entrenched a representative form of government was incorporated in the Constitution, in the spirit of federalism, with the aim that the residents of the capital city must have a voice and how they are to be governed. It is the responsibility of the government of the NCTD [National Capital Territory of Delhi] to give expression to the will of the people of Delhi who elected it. Therefore, the ideal conclusion would be that GNCTD [Government of NCTD] ought to have control over services, subject to exclusion of subjects which are out of its legislative domain.” In summary, control over the appointments and tenure of senior level bureaucrats in the Delhi Administration was handed over to the elected UT government by the Supreme Court bench.

This judgment of the Court coming in close proximity to the thrashing meted out to the BJP in Karnataka appears to have peeved and upset the Modi regime greatly. Before the proverbial ink on the judgment was dry, the Modi regime brought in an ordinance that basically negated the decision of the court. This ordinance promulgated through the President gives the LG final power over the postings and transfers of bureaucrats in the Delhi Administration thus effectively nullifying the judgment of the Supreme Court constitutional bench. This action potentially provokes a showdown of the executive with the highest court of the land and one hopes the Supreme Court will strike down the impugned Ordinance.

In an emphatic commentary in the Wire of May 21, Praneet Pathak writes:

“by disempowering elected government and empowering unelected bureaucrats and political appointees, the ordinance reveals a brazen contempt and disregard for the people’s will.

It will, as so well-articulated by the Supreme Court in its services judgment, erode bureaucratic accountability to the elected government, weaken the power of federal entities and deny the people of Delhi the right to effectively control their own destinies through a government they directly elect, which had the power to implement the peoples’ will.

But deep down what the ordinance reveals is Modi’s cynical relationship with the people’s will and his fear of losing power. For his regime, the people’s will is at best an instrument to be used in service of power pursuits when convenient, and disregarded or subverted elsewhere when inconvenient (like in Delhi through this ordinance).”

Strongly criticizing this act of the Modi regime, CPI (ML) Liberation stated “This act of promulgating the ordinance at a time when Supreme Court has asserted the principle of federalism clearly shows BJP’s blatant disregard of the constitutional principles and judicial institutions of the country. In its vulgar pursuit of power, the Modi government, has yet again sacrificed the genuine aspirations of the people of Delhi.”

Another target of the Modi regime’s wrath is now the Olympic medal winning women wrestlers who have been protesting peacefully for months against the BJP MP and Mafia Don Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh: this potential felon continues to occupy the office of the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) despite the many credible charges made against him of sexual harassment of young women wrestlers. Today, May 28, as this column is being written, news came of the arrests and forcible dispersal of the young athletes and hundreds of their supporters by the Delhi police as they attempted to march to the new Parliament building being inaugurated by Modi. Inside the building Modi, surrounded by Hindu priests in a supposed secular state, was making sanctimonious speeches about the new India he is building while his police were dragging, assaulting, and arresting the courageous young women fighting for their rights to have a sexual predator masquerading as a top sport official jailed and punished for his misdeeds. As is his wont when confronted with any situation embarrassing for him or his party, Modi had no words to even acknowledge the presence of the protestors let alone the hurt caused to the medal-winning wrestlers by a thug of his own party. His often-repeated slogan “Beti padhao Beti bachao” (Educate women to protect them) needs to be replaced with a different slogan on the lines of “Beti gherao Beti dabao” (Surround women to crush them).

The platform Kafila.online carried the following announcement on May 28, 2023 about the police assault on the women athletes: (https://kafila.online/2023/05/28/dismantle-the-structures-of-sexual-violence-not-the-protesters-tent-statement-by-concerned-citizens/)

More than 1150 people including activists, lawyers, academics, former civil servants, artists and concerned citizens have released a statement condemning the brutal police action against the protesting wrestlers and those who had come out in support of their call from all over Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for a Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat today.

We, concerned individuals, are absolutely horrified to see the violence unleashed by the government and police today, to suppress the powerful grassroots support for our brave wrestlers and their struggle against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who stands accused of sexual harassment of women wrestlers stretching back over a decade. The wrestlers have been protesting since 18th of January, 2023. They had given a call to all women’s organisations, activists and all other civil society organisations to join a Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat outside the new parliament building today, i.e, 28 May 2023.

Thousands of women from Delhi and nearby states responded to the call. Fearing the collective strength of Indian women, the police pre-emptively blocked all border roads, shut down proximal metro stations, and cordoned off roads. This is how scared a patriarchal State is of the sight of the women of India standing shoulder to shoulder with each other. Despite this crackdown, the government was unable to block the flow of solidarity; activists and concerned citizens found ways of trying to reach the protest site.

But in a rerun of how people’s protests have been stifled in the past few years, many women have been taken into custody and many have been subjected to physical and verbal violence by the police. As we write this statement with fury, we learn that the wrestlers’ tent at Jantar Mantar has been dismantled, and the wrestlers have been taken into custody. Not only has their minimum demand of holding proper inquiries not been met, but they and the thousands from across India, speaking up with them for justice to women, are being treated like criminals; while the actual criminal, Brij Bhushan, remains scot-free. Fittingly for this anti-women regime, this is happening even as a new parliament building is being inaugurated by a Prime Minister whose ‘Beti Bachao’ slogan never rang hollower. This parliament belongs to all of us; it belongs to the women of this country, as does their right to demand justice! 

We stand in complete solidarity with the wrestlers, and the people who have been detained.

We demand:

* Immediate arrest of BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh

* Immediate release of the detained wrestlers and activists

* Respect for the right to protest against injustice

The young women’s protest shows graphically the hollow state of the New India Modi claims to be building.

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