Independence day thoughts on the Idea of India and Modi
I’ve been tweeting for a few months now about what I consider to be the true conflict line in India. It isn’t Left vs Right, Sen vs Bhagwathi, Hindutva vs Secularism, Muslim vs Hindu, Liberal vs Conservative. The line is this Idea of India vs Rule of Law. Mr Narendra Modi’s letter stating his main concerns over the Food Security Ordinance is quite revealing and improperly analyzed in the media. Here is my take on his letter and how it fits with my overall hypothesis.
What is the “Idea of India”, what is the “Rule of Law”. Can they work together ?
The Idea of India is a book by Prof Sunil Khilnani where he gives a pretty good overview of what it is about. But the thought behind it go back to British Colonial times most notably by John Strachey. The basic observation of early colonial administrators was India is not a “real” country, say like France and Spain are, this is due to the exasperating diversity of the communities who inhabit it. Even the shared Hindu religion is insufficient due to the completely decentralized and deregulated nature of the religion. So in this model, a “plural, inclusive” form of organizing the state is forwarded as the only way of putting it all together. Now, what is this ‘plural, inclusive’ form which is above and beyond the plurality obtained by winning more votes in an common electorate. The Idea of India falls tantalizing short of specifying exactly what this means. What do you mean exactly by ‘take all communities’ along ?
If you buy into the themes behind the Idea of India, I believe you have to necessarily subscribe to the next step – a consociate form of government. In a consociate form of government – you assume that integration of the country isn’t possible and you instead focus on accommodation. In this form of government, factionalism is not only encouraged, but is the only way to represent. Therefore within this scheme factional leaders lay claim to two elements.
- Power share – in all arms of govt, pro-rated to their population share.
- Minority veto – vocal groups who feel outnumbered insist on veto. Sometimes a mutual veto is sought. Nothing moves without everyones consent.
Consociate form of government
This is called consociationalism and is the preferred formula imposed by the west in conflict zones around the world. The political scientist Arend Lijphart has quite a few great free PDF reads on the subject. To take a quick example : Lebanon has a consociate form of Govt where the Prime Minister is always a Sunni Muslim, the President a Maronite Christian, and the Speaker a Shia Muslim. This arrangement percolates down to local government level, each and every public office is split strictly as per a 60:40 (Christian : Muslim) formula, now the ratio is a contested 50:50. From what I’ve read in my private research on the matter, the Lebanese model is a failure. The mutual veto has resulted in stalemate, and the formulas are helpless against changing demographics, an elite “babalog” from each community has captured domain over their respective segments. Other consociate forms can be found in new Iraq Constitution of 2005, where Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds get power sharing. Bosnia-Herzegovina is another example touted as a success following the Dayton accord where relative calm has prevailed since power was split between the Muslims, Croats, and the Serbs by way of rotating presidency all the way down. I think the Idea of India is nothing but consociationalism in disguise.
Adhoc consociate model not constitutional
The Indian system is unique and in a terrible way. In all the above examples, the consociate arrangement was arrived at after extensive deliberations, the rules are clear, the ratios are clear. You can plan your lives accordingly. If you look at the Indian case, the Indian constitution does not codify any group rights, let alone, power sharing. To the best of my knowledge, at no point did the Constituent assembly even consider such a scheme of group accommodation; with the exception of the SC reservation issue. If you look at what is happening around us today, the trend is undeniable, there is a clamour for power sharing which is being sponsored on by the state. The instruments are a never ending stream of invidious schemes with unclear purposes ; we have the caste census, exclusive benefits, vetos and boycotts, carving out districts with minority population, resistance by inside groups to accommodate groups like Jats, Gujjars, Marathas, a Nitish sytle rearrangement of power sharing by sub caste classification, laws that exempt certain religions from state takings of private educational property and so on. The key to note is that the whole system is ad-hoc purely in proportion to intensity of political participation by groups. This operates in a regime of secrecy where key data about who gets what is not readily accessible. Given the secrecy, the negotiations for power sharing are incredibly complex at every level. The sheer amount of energy expended in jostling around like this is incredible and comes at the expense of the national interest. There are no big projects, no set of national principles, no goal or purpose big enough. The main goal is securing a seat at the table where these “transactional deals a.k.a accommodations” are done almost always at the expense of minority groups and non-participants. I’d go a bit farther and say this : This is what keeps us in squalid third world status.
The Rule of Law situation
This is what the Indian constitution originally, and still, supports. All Indians are expected to assume a single public identity – an Indian. A bill of rights protects individual freedom and liberty so in their private lives they can leverage their groups as they wish as long as they do not trespass. Leaders are expected to rise above sectarian lines and look down with disdain upon those who seek segmentation of the population along communal lines. The constitution or even the public discourse outside the elite confines of Delhi has never given room for any autonomy or exemptions along group lines. The reason I use “Rule of Law” is to emphasize one of its features : the generality of application. You can immediately see that the Rule of Law is incompatible with the consociate system (Idea of India). Groups that are mobilized are necessarily going to assert dominance over those that have not. So by definition, you have outside groups subject to extraordinary burdens the inside groups arent. What makes it worse, is once in power, the dominant groups also make the laws that guide the system. So over time, they are able to realize their goal of domination, which necessarily involves expelling those with lower political participation.
Modi vs Nitish in the context of the Food Security Bill.
Nitish Kumar had a condition, now downgraded to a suggestion for supporting the Food Security Bill. He insists on 5 members of the proposed 7 member Food Security Commission being from Women, Minority, OBC, EBC, and “Deprived” . He also wants exclusion of “urban elites”. The cost of the bill to the nation, the rationale for classification of included and excluded, the conditions attached to states like Bihar being major net recipients are all distant thoughts. To him, the yet to be formed NFSC needs power sharing, now. This is a high stakes game because the Food Security Commission will determine inter-se status of groups regarding their inclusion. The factions in his mind are so entrenched that ‘urban elites’ who actually pay disproportionately for the goodies are in fact persona non-grata when it comes to identification. Once these outside groups are eliminated, the great transactional micro level negotiations start about who is in / out. I am not attributing any malice to Nitish, he is in fact the perfect Idea of India guy, When he says, “Sabhko saath leeke chalna hai” – make no mistake, he is talking, perhaps without realizing ,about the consociational mutual veto which I mentioned earlier. Nothing moves unless everyone on the inside of the grand coalition agrees.
Narendra Modi’s letter to the Prime Minister could not offer starker contrast. In the very first point, he makes it clear what he wants. He desires NO discretion about who will be included in the free food program. Pause for a minute.
An Indian politician who does not seek the magic wand of adhoc classification. I cannot recall anyone in recent times who took this position. The caste composition of the yet to be formed commission could not be of lesser importance to him. What he seeks is upfront clear guidelines of inclusion, exclusion, revision. He also thinks that in the absence of clear guidelines an adhoc system of classification will emerge and he expects that to be judicially challenged. This is the closest we have to a Rule of Law guy. That he is pushing for a more expensive general scheme is to completely miss the point. According to him, the Rule of Law style Food Security Bill is necessarily more expensive than adhoc beneficiary selection. Cant trade it in.
Mitron, this Independence Day, think about what you want. The frenetic activity you see in adhoc consociationalism also known as Idea of India has no larger purpose, will solve no big ticket item. We will sink further into third world status if this is left unchecked.
That we would all sink into third world pro-rated by our community share is not something to be proud of. Jaihind.