Caught in an ugly political slugfest, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma grandiloquently pronounces: “…India is not just a union of States but Bharat is our Mata…” A definite statement that India was neither a federation nor a concord of partnership between the Centre and the States but an arrangement of overlordship, replete with subordination of all the diversities and differences to an overarching centre of authority. Sarma is a recent addition to the BJP’s political stable. With all the fervour and conviction of a neo-convert, the Assam chief minister righteously believes that our constitutional scheme can be molded and mended to suit the ruling party’s political convenience.
India, that is Bharat, is also a democratic empire. The demands of operating an empire are often in clash with the imperatives and chaos of a democratic arrangement. Reconciling the two sets of urgencies is the crux of statecraft in India. Reconciliation is never easy, though. So, let us step back a bit. “..this choking over-centralisation of power..” This lament was made in February 1987 by Jaswant Singh, the most serious, sober and substantive voice the BJP has ever produced. That indictment was made when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi commanded more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha, and, naturally, thought he was the lord and master of all he surveyed. Opposition and non-Congress governments were irritants, barely to be tolerated.