Federal structure – What?
The Constitution describes our country as the “Union of states” and not a federation of states, but follows a federal structure of government. This means while important matters are relegated to the jurisdiction of centre, at the same time many matters are managed by the states. Since the inception of this country, states have repeatedly accused centre of overstating its authority and getting in the way of functioning of the state governments. The current Narendra Modi led government is also facing the same scenario.
A particularly strong allegation has emerged from West Bengal, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has alleged that Modi is trying to “stage a coup” and usurp power in her administrative area through indirect means. The Chief Minister sat on strike in Kolkata, the state capital, and claimed that her agitation aims to “save democracy, the constitution and the country.” The latest controversy was triggered after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which investigates high-profile crimes involving finances, corruption and communal harmony, was charged with recovering documents from Kolkata related to a financial scam concerning the Saradha Group, which operated a consortium of 200 private companies and robbed nearly 20 lakh people of around Rs. 17,000 crore.
The company used the so-called Ponzi scheme and later used money taken from investors to pay people who had invested early on in the project. Millions of people from India’s lower-middle class paid small sums of money into the scheme.
After the scandal was exposed, two officials of the group were arrested and the state government offered some financial relief to low-income investors. An official investigation was launched in 2013 and the case was handed out to the CBI in 2014.
On February 3, the CBI said it wanted to question the chief of Kolkata’s state police, Rajeev Kumar, about the progress in investigations concerning the scam. However, Kumar’s guards prevented CBI officials from entering the building, causing scuffles that eventually lead to the arrest of the CBI investigators.
Kolkata has meanwhile accused the CBI of trying to invade the police commissioner’s office without any warrants or documentation justifying their actions. The CBI, in turn, says it did have the necessary papers and accuses the police commissioner of destroying crucial evidence related to the case. The Supreme Court under whose tutelage this investigation was being done, has finally defused the situation by sending Rajiv Kumar to Shillong for questioning and have stopped CBI from arresting him.
Politicisation of Police
The one question which comes to mind after viewing all the drama that unfolded on 3rd February is, did the Kolkata police and the state government go overboard in their conduct? The picture here is even murkier. It is a sad commentary on the state police if the CBI has to issue summons repeatedly without getting a satisfactory response from the concerned police officers. What is worse, the Kolkata Police had no business using their manpower to drag the CBI team to the police station on the ostensible plea of checking their documents. The reported siege of the CBI office by the local police was a crude show of strength. Events took a dramatic turn with Mamata coming in support of the police and sitting on dharna in solidarity with them. It is distressing to see chief ministers indulging in such theatrical gestures, forgetting the dignity of their office. The conduct of senior police officers of the state, who are also said to have sat on dharna, was also reprehensible. Politicians will remain politicians, but the All India Service officers are supposed to know the conduct rules and abide by them.
The conduct of the Kolkata Police and the government of West Bengal during the whole drama, provides an insight into how they are trying to stonewall investigation into a ponzi scheme in which lakhs of poor people are said to have been defrauded of their hard earned money. The state police are expected to cooperate with the central investigating agency and not intimidate and humiliate its representatives. Banerjee’s gimmickry was regrettable, and so was the conduct of the senior police officers of the state.
Corruption or the fraud with innocent and poor people of three states is not an issue with the Opposition parties, it seems. The way they immediately ganged up in support of Mamata’s gimmickry can be termed as political opportunism of the worst kind.
However, if one delves deeper into the issue, it is a matter of fact that the police across the country is, today, generally acting as agents of the ruling class, and not as upholders of the rule of law. The central police organisations are not immune to politicisation, though they are comparatively better off. In the Kolkata confrontation, such misuse of police could have been prevented if it is insulated from extraneous pressures, but then, who wants to give up their most powerful tool for general good. The SC issued directions as far back as 2006, but the legislatures have a remarkable genius for frustrating judicial directions.
Growing Anarchy in Indian Politics
As the elections are closing in, the fight between parties is becoming so unclean that everybody who talks of democracy is really contributing to the anarchy in the country. Fortunately it is not the anarchy in the people or people versus government as is commonly understood. What happened in Bengal is discgracful saga of dirty fight in public when a Chief Minister started shielding his Police Commissioner who was not cooperating in the enquiry. The Chief Minister with the Poilice officers in uniform went on dharna for days. It is anarchy within government and strangely amongst those who claim adherence to one and same constitution. It is not case of conflicting ideologies or political dichotomy but simply matter of self interest. Finally the Government of the centre goes to the court who gave very fragile orders instead of clear establishing the right to investigate without impediments of the state. Court asked the investigation to continue in another tate of Meghalya instead of Bengal. The order clearly implied that the investigation in the state of Bengal is likely to attrat more troube. Each party in this order claimed victory and the moot issue continued to haunt the experts.
Strangely the media and professionals remained without moot or dissent on the question of such grim case of setting up shameful conduct by a state in putting handicaps in fight against corruption. There has to be clear direction of the court and debate by public on condemnation of political interference in investigations where more than twenty lakhs poor people are seeking justice.
Mamta may seek reasons to claim her ‘moral’ victory yet the morality has lost its shine in this case. While CM clais to follow Constitution, she has set up such long-term bad precedence that every state government would start saving corrupt persons. In this case, she defied not only the centre but also the SC order asking CBI to investigate. I personnaly think both court and the central government have rather taken this matter very lightly and allowed Mamta to set such an example when any state could rise to protect criminals. Home Ministry should have taken disciplicary action against cenral cadre officers. It is merely asking the state to do it.
Such fissiparous trends have been also demonstrated earlier in Delhi by Kejriwal. When Kejriwal assumed the office of Chief Minister his first anarchic action was to sit on Dharna opposite rail bhavan in 2015 demanding sacking of five police officers. Finally after five days he lifted it when Lt Governor agreed to send two personnel on leave. He claimed moral victory. Again he indulged in Dharna when he started interfering in case of assault on the Chief Secretary in his residential office. I wish we have national debate on how a Constitution which is quasi fedral allows all this in pubic glare that disorderly conduct is seen being indulged by their leaders. This is seen by school going kids too on the television screen and what lesson they will draw.
While legal and constitutional battles could be fought I am more concerned with the conventions and respect which are not mandated or legal force but more precious to social order. Calling a PM ‘chor’ without any evidence, legal or illegal, is not fostering right values in the society and nation in which we invest our life and resources. Many people now object to standing up while national anthem is played or Vande matram. No law is needed. it is our way of marking respect to the values that we cherish. Even when Supreme Court issues orders and Prime Minister declares his war against corruption it is duty of the politicians and citizens to offer our respectful cooperation.We have also to firmly establish that a PM or a CM is not of a party but country or state, once he assues office and takes oath. I never thought or imagined a Chief Minister will sit on dharna against own government while adhering to its own Constitution.
By Prof. NK Singh
(The author is International Management adviser)
Attack on Federal Structure- by who?
Apart from state level bossing, Mamata has been continuously meddling in the federal structure of the country. One could recall, earlier during the UPA era, the aggressive Mamata had refused to give consent Delhi’s Teesta water sharing treaty with Bangladesh, thus interfering with foreign policy objectives of the nation, which is the sole prerogative of the central government. She also put her foot down on allowing foreign direct investment in supermarkets, and has complained that Delhi is not helping her state, which is drowning in debt.
She has also led the charge against the centre against its plans to open a specialised counter-terrorism agency. She has not only opposed the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), but managed to lobby at least half a dozen other non-Congress chief ministers at that time against what they call an “infringement on the rights of the states”. There is a reason behind The Economist magazine calling her the “mischief minister.”
In more recent incidents, Mamata’s withdrawal from the centres ambitious Pradhanmantri Jan Aarogya Yojna (PMJAY), famously known as ‘ Ayushman scheme’ smacks of petty politics. She has also likened Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decisions to those of “Mussolini and Hitler” while accusing the Prime Minister of “destroying” the country’s federal structure.
“This decision will shrink the job prospects of the general category. He is doing whatever he likes. This is more dangerous than Genghis Khan, Mussolini and Hitler,” Mamata said at a meeting in Krishnagar, referring to the Centre’s 10 per cent reservation for the economically weak sections.
After Chandrababu Naidu;s Andhra Pradesh, Mamta’s Bengal has also ecided to stop the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from investigating cases in Bengal. In Bengal, CBI is investigating a few high profile cases such as Saradha and Rose Valley ponzi scams and the Narada sting operation in which about 20 Trinamool leaders — ministers, MLAs and MPs — are allegedly involved. While the state administration has succeeded in blocking demands for CBI probe in some cases, the Kolkata High Court and the Supreme Court has ordered CBI probes in others, much to the chagrin of the TMC.
The usual TMC reaction to these incidents is that the Congress(I), the CPI(M) and the BJP are all involved ‘in a conspiracy to topple the TMC Government which has brought in a wave of development in Bengal.’ However, it is not just a matter of these parties, even the judiciary, the Election Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the media are also involved in the conspiracy, according to Banerjee, who is waging a heroic Joan of Arc-like battle against all.
Islamisation of the state
Dr. Peter Hammond in his book Slavvery, Terrorism and Islam reveals that takeover of politics and governance, riots and restrictions on speech and religion are just a few of the unwelcome changes that can be expected in non-Muslim societies as Muslim immigrants increase in number. This is what exactly happening in West Bengal. With a 27 per cent Muslim population, enough pressure exists to tip the scales for elected officials precariously toward advancement of an Islamist agenda and make Muslims the most privileged class in West Bengal. In some areas, such as the border district of Murshidabad, where the population is around 63 per cent, de facto shariah is imposed on all residents. Mamata Banerjee right from the start has favoured her Muslim constituents and capitulates to their many demands and entices them with special benefits and privileges. In her effort to appease her vote bank, she has stooped to such low that she recited the Kalma Shahdat, the conversion prayer of the Muslims in an audience of mullahs.
Confirming the texture of her politics of appeasement, she said in a press conference in 2017 that since 30 per cent of her electorate were Muslims, she had to cater to them; had to appease them; had to manage them and ensure that they received preference over the remaining 70 per cent of her electorate. As Anirban Ganguly, Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi rightly points out in the pioneer “The ongoing episodes of Nabi Dibas and no Saraswati Puja, the enforced shift from ramdhonu to rongdhonu, from jal to pani, the hurdles being created against the immersion of idols, the defilement of Hindu temples in rural West Bengal, the patronage that the ruling Trinamool Congress extends to rioters, are symbolic of how West Bengal is gradually metamorphosing and back cycling to becoming the Bengal of the 1940s, a Bengal in which the Bengali Hindu lived as a third class citizen, forever in the grip of fear, instability and discrimination.”
Unless they happen to be part of the ruling dispensation at the centre, political parties in India mostly express only a token commitment to the concept of federalism. Once in opposition at the central or state level, most parties change their tune. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is a good example of how parties can change beyond recognition as they transit from opposition to ruling status.
In the time-tested style of most petty tyrants, Banerjee cannot brook questions from the people. She equates all questions with criticism. These days, the norm is for her to ask questions at public meetings and then supply the answer herself. Readers will recall the fate of one Shiladitya Choudhury of East Midnapore, who prayed for relief from price rise at a meeting. He was first heckled as a Maoist, then arrested, kept in jail for 14 days, then released without evidence. But the case against him has not been officially withdrawn. His harassment continues.
The question arises, how much of erosion has occurred in the overall credibility of the Chief Minister and her Government. Banerjee, ever economical with truth, has been effective at playing the political bluff game. But the present trends are alarming. Her unidirectional extremism puts her at odds with the basic tenets of the Constitution and the federal polity. It introduces new undesirable strains in the political system, threatening the very principles of democracy. Times have changed otherwise her recent remarks against the judiciary, the Election Commission and other Constitutional entities would have been adequate to ensure an instant dismissal for her government if someone like Indira Gandhi had been the Prime Minister today.
By Nilabh Krishna