Uttarakhand became Congress-mukt on Sunday. That was about five weeks after Arunachal Pradesh was ‘freed’ from the party. It may have brought the BJP within striking distance of realising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of “a Congress-mukt Bharat”, but even die-hard BJP supporters can’t miss the irony.
The replacement and ouster of elected governments in Itanagar and Dehradun have a sense of déjà vu – engineered defections, misuse of gubernatorial powers, avowal of innocence, and assertions of self-righteousness – much like the Congress of the olden days.
At the Vijay Sankalp rally in Goa in January 2014, Modi had said: “When I say Congress-mukt Bharat, I mean not only the Congress party leaders but the culture the Congress has come to represent.” However, the BJP has obviously found the Congress culture a little too tempting to resist. Whatever the courts may say later, the BJP has achieved its immediate political goals in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
As of Monday morning, the Congress still ruled seven states – Assam, Kerala, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Two of them, Assam and Kerala, are headed for the polls next month. Of the remaining five, the Congress government in Manipur is staring at a crisis with some dissident MLAs said to be in touch with the BJP. The government in Mizoram seems safe as of now, although the Raj Bhawan in Aizawl has been unstable with seven incumbents since the NDA came to power at the Centre.
When Modi had set out to ‘free’ India from the Congress, his primary reason apparently was ‘development’ or the lack of it. “Be it dynasty politics, nepotism, corruption, communalism, divisions in society or poverty, getting freedom from all this is what I mean by a Congress-Mukt Bharat,” he said. There were millions who paid heed to his words as the Congress was ousted not only from the Centre but also states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir. The BJP suffered setbacks in Delhi and Bihar, but they were not because of the Congress.
Why, then, was the BJP in such a hurry to grab power in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand? If Modi meant freedom from “corruption, communalism, divisions in society” by a Congress-mukt Bharat, why did the BJP embrace Himanta Biswa Sarma, chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s estranged lieutenant, who is under the scanner in many corruption cases? Why has the BJP made illegal immigrants, and not development, its central poll plank in Assam? In Kerala, the BJP has been trying to woo a section of Christians who are known to be Congress loyalists. Recently, the Prime Minister met KP Yohannan, founder of the Gospel for Asia, ignoring the fact that the organisation allegedly embezzled millions of dollars in charitable donations in Canada.
The occurrences on Sunday were, therefore, in sync with the BJP’s larger political objectives. Inherent in Modi’s slogan of a Congress-mukt Bharat is a ‘BJP-yukt Bharat’ or BJP-enabled India. On Sunday, legal luminaries of the Congress quoted from court rulings to argue that the governor could not recommend the President’s Rule after inviting Harish Rawat government to prove its majority on the floor of the assembly by Monday. “The assessment of the strength of the ministry is not a matter of private opinion or any individual, be he the governor or the President. The President’s satisfaction in the proclamation of Article 356 is not a personal whim but must be based on objective materials,” said Congress spokesman Manish Tewari.
However, the Congress party’s cries of injustice and foul play may not melt many hearts – given its own track record. Article 356 has been invoked over 120 times since Independence, mostly by Congress governments. During Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, this Article was used at least three dozen times.
But the BJP’s victory in Itanagar and Dehradun may turn out to be pyrrhic in the long run. It had ceased to be “the party with a difference” a long time ago, moving on to project Narendra Modi-led regime as “a government with a difference”. The new slogan may already have lost much of its appeal on Sunday.