Apart from development, religious sentiments continue to play a major role in BJP’s voter base.
Six months ahead of the General Election, three black swans reared their head, putting the first Government to have won with a majority in 30 years on the defensive. What is unprecedented is the timing of these serial optics wherein the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issues need resolution and the Ram Mandir row needs closure. The first black swan event was the macabre feuding among senior officials of the CBI, revealing the dark underbelly of the premier investigation agency at war with itself. Casting a shadow on the institutional integrity of the CBI diminishes the credibility of an independent entity whose reports are crucial on multiple scams, which have political ramifications in the run-up to the forthcoming Lok Sabha election.
The second precursor for a Government at unease with its institutions was of the RBI at war with the Union Government. Both events have embarrassed the GOI by sending distressing signals of eroding Central authority.
Subsequently came the third dark swan, an even bigger fait accompli: The procrastination of the Supreme Court hearing on Ayodhya, relegating its priority to a civil suit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature style has been his assertive and decisive modus of governance. What the Modi dispensation now confronts is navigating through three independent institutions — the CBI, RBI and the judiciary — where any Government writ runs scant as these institutions are mandated to function on objective and evidence-based facts in the public interest.
The Modi Government, now in an election- mode, needs to retrieve its primacy by not pushing inconvenient decisions under the carpet. Yet, it must be seen upholding the autonomous functioning of independent institutions, like the judiciary, Election Commission, Central Vigilance Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, CBI and the Central Bank, which are vital to the functionality of vibrant democracies, allowing for an impartial executive to function with prudence. However, it is in the Supreme Court’s deferment of the crucial Ayodhya hearing that the biggest silver lining lies for the Prime Minister to turn critical momentum back in the BJP’s favour. Fulfilment of the Ayodhya promise is as vital to Modi’s core ideological constituency as is the promise of development.
Conflict between Mint Street and North Block on policy matters was fraught with disagreements even during UPA years, with the apex bank remaining conservative on growth versus inflation. Such dissensions are equally prevalent in the US between the Trump Administration and the Federal Reserve Bank. At the heart of the unease between the Government and the RBI was the hint at invocation of Article 7 of the RBI Act of 1934 that was never been enforced in 83 years, which empowers the Government to instruct the RBI Governor to act on issues the GOI considers in the public interest. Fortunately, this move was averted after the recent RBI meet on November 19. The Central bank’s decisions will now be board-driven by 13 directors who are more sensitive to eco-political concerns of the Government.
The Government believes the RBI is sitting on higher reserves than needed as a buffer for contingencies. Central banks globally provision around 14 per cent of their assets as reserves, compared to RBI’s 27 per cent. So as the RBI has been over-stringent in its risk-reserve assessment beyond global norms, the Finance Ministry rightly claims for transferring the extra capital that can be put to productive use to stimulate the economy with more public spending. It can also increase credit flow to the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) sector that accounts for millions of jobs. Spurring growth is all the more crucial in an election year and public interest rightly remains the absolute prerogative of the sovereign, ranging from addressing the need to boost liquidity for non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) or MSMEs, to provisioning for adequate capital requirements for weak banks.
While the CBI and RBI are systemic issues, it is the third issue at the forefront that has enormous emotive ramifications: The Supreme Court’s decision to defer hearings on the 2010 Allahabad High Court order on the title suit that divided the disputed land trilaterally, with one-third assigned to the Sunni Wakf Board, and two-thirds apportioned to the Nirmohi Akhara and the deity. Religious polarisation is now expected to play out for the fourth time in the electoral history as a major theme in the 2019 election. The BJP has the Ram temple on its political manifesto and hence it must explore every constitutional option to break the impasse. The consensus through back-channel negotiations for an amicable resolution has clearly failed.
There is a popular mood of indignation against the apex court’s perceived indifference to the majority community’s sentiments. The vox populi is aggrieved that the court had all the time to give verdicts within a month on the film Padmavati, Diwali crackers, entry of women into Sabarimala temple and even prioritising the PIL on Rafale by asking the Government to submit the pricing and strategic details of the deal within 10 days. But it did not take up an emotive issue. The judiciary has often been accused of overreach. But it is in the selective prioritisation of the apex court of deferring the hearing on Ram Mandir that strikes at the heart of Indian sentiments, which is clearly a case of judicial underreach.
If the Government could pursue the SC/ST Act, Triple Talaq and LGBT Act through Ordinance, what stops a majority Government with 282 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 100 in the Rajya Sabha, from “rewriting the Constitution on Indic values?” The problem of short-circuiting the judicial process through the Ordinance route is that it has legal ramifications. The matter is sub-judice, and to justify the Ordinance route by subscribing to ‘faith above law’, overrides the Constitution.
The reason ascribed to deferring the case, even attempting to push it beyond the General Election, is that the court fears a severe backlash from either of the communities if the judgement is delivered in anyone’s favour, especially before the poll. A verdict adverse to the building of the mandir, if delivered early next year, could make it the BJP’s ‘Shah Bano moment’ if it opts to overturn an adverse Supreme Court judgement.
To turn the tide in its favour, the BJP must allow the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its foot soldiers to gauge the public mood in order to rebuild momentum for the Ram Mandir before the poll. Of course, the legal advice to the Government would be against promulgation of an Ordinance. So, only a law can be enacted in Parliament through a joint sitting of both Houses, given the National Democratic Alliance’s poor numbers in the Rajya Sabha. This does not preclude that the same will not be subject to appeal, even though Parliament is the ultimate in law-making, while the court is supreme in law interpretation. It is a foregone conclusion that neither ‘Shiv bhakt’ Rahul Gandhi nor secular parties at ideological divergence will accede to a consensus for a legislation.
However, the decisive option would be considering the viability of a referendum within the next two months on the Ayodhya issue. And the poser for the referendum is: “Should the Ram Mandir be built/ or should a Masjid be built/ or should we wait for the judicial pronouncement?” Because in a democracy, the people’s’ will is supreme, and all other institutions must respect that, as status quoism is not the solution.
The majority community knows all too well that if this feat of building the Ram Mandir is not achieved during this regime, the case will languish in the courts ad infinitum. While the Modi Sarkar will be primarily judged on development and economic issues, religious sentiments, especially in the Hindi heartland, continue to hold weightage in the decision-making process of the BJP’s core ideological voter base.
Writer: Bindu Dalmia
Courtesy: The Pioneer