A time comes in the history of nations when a big change becomes inevitable. Change is wrought in two ways. It can come through revolution or through reform. Revolution denotes change from outside the prevalent political system. It results in upheaval and disruption. Reform allows change from within the system. It makes for orderly transition to better times. India is poised for change. Change is opposed by powerful voices that benefit from the status quo. But it is doubtful if even these powerful voices can now prevent change. Paradoxically, while sectors of the economy prosper, governance has declined to breaking point. Governance has declined because of the political class. The political class has deteriorated because its permissive approach over the past decades has made it a helpless prisoner of a flawed and subverted political system. Consequently, after sixty years of independence India despite its thriving middle class has enormous economic disparity, unbearable poverty for large sections of the people, one of the world’s most corrupt political societies, a lawless state, and a nation that has had the world’s largest number of terrorist and insurgent attacks. While the Indian elite prosper, the Indian nation crumbles.
Something was waiting to happen. It happened. The customary myopic and arbitrary mode of functioning by politicians has created a crisis that may well become the catalyst for big change. To regain political relevance Chandrashekhara Rao started a fast unto death to revive a forty-year old demand for Telangana state. Several earlier agitations had erupted to fade away as Telangana leaders betrayed their followers after achieving narrow personal gain. For ten days Rao’s fast continued. Suddenly doctors claimed that the fasting leader was in critical state. Had he died the violence that had already commenced could have become a raging fire. The central government belatedly bestirred itself and in panic conceded Telangana state to end the fast. Thereby it opened a Pandora’s Box. The rest of Andhra erupted in violent protest. Andhra legislators resigned in mass, and long pending demands for statehood across the nation threatened agitations. The government amended its decision to avoid a bigger crisis. It is trying to buy time for tempers to abate and the crisis to end. Time has always been a great healer. But will it act as healer this time?
It is possible that the arbitrary and undemocratic approach that Congress leaders traditionally adopt may prove this time to be the last straw to break the camel’s back. It is just possible that Telangana will feel betrayed, Andhra will not be assuaged and the nationwide new statehood agitations having smelt blood will intensify. India thereby could plunge into chaos so deep that nothing short of an overall reappraisal and reform of the entire system would suffice. Such overall reform is not a prophecy. It is a hope. Unless such reform occurs India cannot play its rightful role as a global power.
The rot that subverted and virtually destroyed our political system began decades ago when political leaders including Pandit Nehru placed expediency above principle. Nehru had the authority to assert his will. Unfortunately he lacked clarity. He blundered from one wrong decision to another because of political expediency. Because of flawed judgment he opposed linguistic states but he had to succumb when a fasting leader died in protest. He appointed a States Reorganization Commission (SRC). But he ignored its recommendations for narrow political advantage. Against the SRC he bequeathed Bombay to Maharashtra because of an electoral setback. He did not create Vidharba state as recommended by SRC. He did not create a Hyderabad state comprising all of Telangana as recommended by the SRC. This ad hoc arbitrary approach continued. Subsequently Punjab , Haryana and Himachal Pradesh states were formed by Indira Gandhi under duress of agitations. She announced that Chandigarh would be the capital of Punjab and Haryana would build a new capital. The next day she somersaulted to make Chandigarh a Union Territory and capital of both states. Currently, Pranab Mukherjee has announced that no new states will be formed. Why not? Because acceding to the demand for Gorkhaland will harm his political fortunes? There is no national vision that informs any political party. It is because there is no national leader. There is no national leader to have emerged from outside India ’s independence struggle. That is why we are governed by parochial minions masquerading as national leaders. That is why a dynasty continues to rule India like a grotesque version of royalty.
The destruction of Indian democracy began from day one. India ’s political system does not reflect its written Constitution. Nowhere does the world’s longest written Constitution state that India should follow Britain ’s Westminster form of parliamentary system or that India ’s elected President act as titular head like the British Sovereign. Pandit Nehru besotted with British democracy after being educated in England enforced his personal view in violation of the explicitly written Constitution. India ’s elite besotted with Pandit Nehru allowed him to do so. The Constitutional provision for setting up an Inter State Council has never been utilized despite numerous occasions when inter-state disputes warranted its establishment. Crucial directives of state policy such as creating self-sufficient village units through Panchayati Raj, or of creating conditions for industrial workers to participate in management, have never been followed. With such arrogant and arbitrary political conduct that wilfully ignored Constitution and law the subversion of the political system became inevitable. Today we are paying the price. India sits atop a volcano as its middle class is glued to watching Bollywood, cricket, fashion and other trivia on television. Therefore the stupidity of the Union government in its handling of the Telangana crisis is welcome. It just might ignite catalytic events that create opportunity to introduce a fundamental systemic reappraisal and reform. India does not have to reject the Constitution. It has to reclaim it. Will it?