‘They have come with bombs as well; BJP wale, the MLA and district president’ – Etawah SP’s panicked call during a confrontation with a mob during Block Pramukh elections in Uttar Pradesh, on July 10, went viral on social media. The video of an IAS officer beating up a reporter who was trying to do his duty was widely circulated too. One wonders what training is being imparted to the young officers that they develop such a callous attitude and start behaving as if they are in a WWE ring, not the IAS! Be it the use of government vehicles to ferry voters for the BJP or the manhandling of a woman in the Block Pramukh elections in Lakhimpur Kheri, the state machinery in UP appeared to have been complicit – often overtly – in all-out rigging to ensure a win for the BJP in the recent Zila Panchayat (ZP) President Polls and the Block Pramukh elections.
For the record, the Zila Panchayat elections, held in April-May, had played out poorly for the BJP. The direct election of the ZP members saw a majority of BJP supported candidates getting rejected by voters. It is in the indirect election of the district ZP Presidents where the BJP ‘managed’ the situation. Keep in mind that the BJP had promised to reform the ZP and give a chance to voters to elect the ZP presidents indirect elections. Later, having astutely judged the negative impact of the farmers’ agitation and its government’s crumbling response to the Covid pandemic, the BJP changed course. In many districts in western Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won only 10 to 15 per cent of the ZP member seats but still swung the President post by engineering defections or giving inducements to independents to support the BJP.
The violence and misuse of power by public authorities in these local body elections are alarming but I fear it is only the symptom of a deeper rot and malaise. I call it the BJP’s China Project. The scheme is motivated by the BJP’s closet admiration for China’s ‘unipolar’ polity. I have had many conversations with Modi bhakts – both ‘online’ and ‘offline’ – and have noticed that at the core of this fascination is their desire to see a leader take India by its scruff, shake out all the naysayers and silence those who create hurdles – the democratically inclined would call these necessary checks and balances – in Prime Minister Modi’s path.
For these people, the assumption is that India is a laggard because of policy paralysis and the so-called legacy of Modi’s predecessors being too busy in appeasing India’s minorities. Once she can get rid of these two problems, India will steer ahead, or so they believe. Simply put, the BJP is convinced that some part of their core constituency believes India has ‘too much democracy and the only way to overcome this obstacle is through strong-arm tactics against all those who resist dilution of this supposedly excessive democracy.
Since the BJP has ascended to power, we have seen an attempt to bulldoze institutions, social sector and civil society groups and all political opposition. Only a loyal, subservient media is to be tolerated and dissent must be crushed. The bureaucracy has also capitulated in the face of this onslaught and the result is emboldened lawlessness as we are now witnessing in Uttar Pradesh. There are no repercussions for those who capture votes just as there is no legal remedy for the opposition candidates whose nomination papers are summarily rejected on flimsy grounds.
In this skewed worldview of our ruling party, the State and Party must work as one. Those in the administration who are ideologically connected to the Sangh Parivar must be promoted; those who were at the helm in the past must be discarded. How does this impact democracy on the ground, you ask? For starters, it creates an unequal playing field – an anathema to the basic principles of democracy. The BJP’s booth-level canvassing teams, for instance, conveniently have lists of beneficiaries of government schemes so that these citizens can be influenced or intimidated. When the police slap notices and files flimsy cases against an opposition party ZP member to influence their vote, it creates real fear in the minds of the public. BE WARNED: if the politicisation of our police and administrators continues unabated, people’s faith in the rule of law and our institutions will collapse.
The BJP is engaged in 24X7 perception management. Accordingly, there is an attempt to whitewash the poll mayhem and bloodshed with none less than the Prime Minister tweeting on Block Pramukh and ZP elections and portraying them as a win for good governance. On cue, the loyal media uses this opportunity to push the propaganda that there is no credible Opposition to the BJP in the state. What the BJP is actually saying to the voters is – forget due process for we are unbeatable and your only option is to vote for us. In effect, you, the voter, have no real choice. The issues don’t matter. I say to those who are celebrating these hollow electoral triumphs brought about by abusing the system and democratic rights, might is not always right, and when the public's writ will reign supreme, might not win either.
(The writer is president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal and a former Lok Sabha MP. Views expressed are personal and may not reflect the views of Outlook Magazine.)