Maharashtra and Orissa: fit cases for President’s rule (Comment)

November 1st, 2008 - 10:04 am ICT by IANS  

Raj ThackerayIf there is any justifiability at present in imposing President’s rule on a state, it is in Maharashtra and Orissa. But governments at the centre have misused this constitutional provision so often in the past that the present regime lacks the moral authority to take the necessary step.Yet, there is little doubt that there have been serious failures of governance in both the states. What is more, the lapses are not due to inefficiency or the absence of an adequate number of police personnel, but are the result of nothing other than cynical political calculations.

In Maharashtra, for instance, the targeting of north Indians by the lumpens associated with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) of Raj Thackeray is just a variation in the kind of parochialism which is the hallmark of such state-based parties. By whipping up sentiments against the “outsider”, the MNS wants to build its base of support among the locals.

His uncle, Bal Thackeray, did the same for years with his Shiv Sena venting its ire on south Indians and Muslims and even Gujaratis from the neighbouring state. Raj has chosen a new target to differentiate himself from the Shiv Sena, from which he broke away following a leadership tussle with his cousin, Uddhav, who was favoured by Uddhav’s father Bal Thackeray.

Since the present chauvinistic display of the MNS is evidently an attempt to undercut the Shiv Sena’s base, the state government under the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has not been too energetic in restraining him. Their hope is that the jousting for the Marathi vote between the Shiv Sena and the MNS will damage both to the benefit of the two ruling parties.

Their cynical ploy is also motivated by the fear that harsh action against Raj may alienate a sufficient number of Maharashtrians to undermine the prospects of the Congress and the NCP. It is a reaction typical of unprincipled politicians unsure of their base and willing to adopt any means to retain power.

What they seem to have forgotten, however, is that large sections of non-parochial Maharashtrians, not to mention other residents of the state, will be disillusioned and angered by their disgraceful brand of divisive politics. The rest of India, too, will be shocked by such expediency which cannot but give a bad name to Maharashtrians for the fault of a small group of politicians.

The only solution, therefore, is to impose President’s rule. But the Manmohan Singh government is evidently loath to sack a government of the Congress and the NCP, however well-deserved the punishment will be. The dubious tradition of the Congress in this context has always been to dismiss the governments of other parties, or to prevent its rivals from attaining power, as when President’s rule was imposed in Bihar in 2005 to prevent the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance from coming to power.

Similarly, the government run by the BJP and its allies at the centre refrained from imposing President’s rule in Gujarat during the two-month-long communal violence in 2002 since they did not want to antagonize Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP. Clearly, when it comes to partisan conduct, there is little to choose between the Congress and its opponents.

Although there has been communal violence in Orissa in recent weeks, the Manmohan Singh government has only sent paramilitary forces to aid the government when the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the BJP should have been shown the door for their failure to save the lives of hapless Christians.

As in Maharashtra, the involvement of fraternal outfits of the BJP such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal in the burning of churches and the attacks on isolated villages inhabited by Christians in Orissa ensured that the state government would not be proactive in controlling the situation. Only countrywide condemnation of the outrages forced Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to take some action and claim that “every bone in my body is secular”. But the situation remains tense.

One reason why the Manmohan Singh government might have desisted from dismissing the Patnaik government was that it would then have been asked why it wasn’t taking a similar step against the Vilasrao Deshmukh government in Maharashtra.

If the ruling parties in Maharashtra want to exploit the differences between the two Senas for their political advantage, the BJD and the BJP in Orissa do not want to rein in the VHP and the Bajrang Dal because they believe that raising the communal temperature against the Christians will help the two ruling parties to consolidate their Hindu vote bank.

Apart from the Congress’s own tarnished record in the matter of imposing President’s rule, the Manmohan Singh government is also hamstrung by its own inadequacies in meeting the terrorist threat, which have enabled its opponents to accuse it of appeasing the Muslims. Had it been more determined in tackling this menace, it would have been better placed to show a similar determination in controlling the situation in Maharashtra and Orissa.

But because of its inefficiency and inaction, it gives the impression of being weak and directionless.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

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