Election mode on, consensus to be a rare thing to find

Election mode on, consensus to be a rare thing to find


Three major developments from last week have the potential to affect how the country moves forward. The first was the adoption of uniform civil code (UCC) in Uttarakhand, within three days of which, Union home minister Amit Shah offered a blueprint for pan-India adoption of the code. The second development was that of southern Indian states approaching Delhi for a fair share of taxes. The third was Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath claiming rights over the sacred sites of Mathura and Kashi. Amid these developments, another development hit the headlines: The Centre released a white paper in Parliament on the so-called economic mistakes committed by the UPA government. Before even the release of this white paper, the Opposition issued a “black paper” on the government’s decisions during its decade-long rule.

Obviously, we have reached the season of the Lok Sabha elections, and many such developments can be expected.

Coming back to UCC, you may recall that when it was proposed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term, it took the entire country by storm. Along with it the national register of citizens (NRC) was brought up strongly. Minorities felt this was a means to ostracize them. A wave of protests followed, with some violent clashes with police at several locations, in which 65 people were killed.

Long sit-ins were staged at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi and other parts of India, providing the western media with grist for their mills. But covid quelled these agitations, and the government, too, decided it was best to put NRC on hold, taking a cue from the failure of the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government’s experiment in Assam in the 1980s with terrible results.

But that doesn’t mean NRC has been abandoned. Also, numerous states have already shown an interest in adopting UCC. In Uttarakhand, an innovative method was employed to get the code implemented. Despite the national law commission’s refusal, Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami formed a committee in 2018 chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, which gave its provisions a legal basis. This will eventually happen in other states as well.

But it would be better if all the parties likely to be affected by the code are taken into confidence first. This has not been done till now, which is why objections are being raised. In a democracy, consensus is just as crucial as the desire to fulfil one’s agenda.

Now we’ll look at the demands of southern states. They are not alone in voicing concerns over fair share of taxes. Many other states have raised such demands. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee raised the same complaint just a few days earlier. But how right are those who make these demands? They are aware that taxes collected from the public do not go into anyone’s pockets. The Centre requires finances to fulfil hundreds of essential tasks, including defence, infrastructure development, and digitization. The entire country benefits from these services delivered by the Centre, rather than just a state.

The question arises here whether chief ministers of the southern states are worried about the Prime Minister’s growing popularity and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign beyond the Vindhyas. You may recall that Karnataka chief minister S. Siddaramaiah raised the issue of Hindi vs. Kannada at the end of his previous tenure.

Now, let’s talk about Yogi Adityanath’s demand. His cabinet colleagues had already raised the demand, but the way Yogi put it in the Assembly on Wednesday was notable. He said the Pandavas had requested for five villages, and we are asking for only three sites. Was he reminding us of the dangers of refusing the request of the Pandavas? Yogi is regarded as a tough and capable chief minister. Uttar Pradesh shed its sick state status under his leadership. The majority may be pleased with his statement, but some may also be worried. The older generation would recall the 1980s, when a massive crowd had chanted “Ayodhya to bas jhhanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai” (Ayodhya is just the taster, Mathura and Kashi will be next). Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has stated that they do not aim to initiate a new agitation after Ram Janmabhoomi, but if Yogi has raised this demand afresh, it should be taken seriously.

Finally, coming to the white and black papers, such political dramas have occurred in the past, too, particularly when elections are near. The question here is whether the days of consensus in democracy have come to an end.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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Published: 11 Feb 2024, 10:01 PM IST


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