Pune International Literature Festival: ‘Is India a Majoritarian State?’ — BJP, Cong slug it out

Ruchika Goswamy
Congress s Sanjay Jha and BJP s Tuhin Sinha in Pune on Sunday. (Express)

A session on the third day of the 7th Pune International Literature Festival themed, Is India a Majoritarian State? witnessed mixed reactions from both the speakers as well as the audience.

The session talked about majoritarianism with in between tangent conversations on the scrapping of Article 370 and Article 35A, the status of Kashmir, the partition, recent cases of mob lynching to Citizenship Amendment Bill and National Register of Citizens.

Congress national spokesperson Sanjay Jha said, When we talk about majoritarianism in this country, I think there is concern at the moment as anyone who critcises the government is in effect an anti-national . India is no longer a regular, inclusive, secular democracy. We are a majoritarian, illiberal democracy. As per the Constitution, we are all equal…however, under the current government, if one from the minority lives under the fear of being lynched, by making it actually a game of identity politics… you deny him the right to his equality.

Asked why his party was ushering majoritarianism into mainstream politics, BJP national spokesperson Tuhin Sinha said, We have used our majority to good effect to actually improve the status of marginalised society and the minority. Let us come straight to the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. How does it benefit the marginalised?… In 1956, about a thousand families migrated into Kashmir, who belonged to the Valmiki family, a lower caste and worked as karamcharis , from East Punjab. Till date, they did not have voting rights for the state assemblies, their descendants did not have the right to look for government jobs. Similar was with the Gorkhas, who migrated into Kashmir in 1846, when the Dogra dynasty took over. However, the families that migrated from East Punjab to our part of Punjab went on to become our country s Prime Ministers Dr Manmohan Singh and I K Gujral. With the abrogation, we ensure that these citizens enjoy equal rights.

When asked why the Valley has been unreachable in terms of communication for over six weeks, Sinha said, Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary measures. The government has rather been considerate in dealing with the Muftis and Abdullahs. The point is, we really did not have a choice as on one hand Abdullahs who supported democracy while the Muftis with the Jive jive Pakistan mentality. When these parties have been in power, they have been pro-India…when out of power, blackmailed India.

Countering, Jha said, We have all seen the Swachch Bharat icon. The Gandhian spectacles… You cannot fool the people through imagery… Prime Minister Modi publicly made a statement that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is a patriot. How can Vinayak Damodar Savarkar be a patriot, if the organisation that he was heading the Hindu Mahasabha was indicted to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi? Why do people of India believe this propaganda that Savarkar is a patriot? The Kapur Commission confirms that he masterminded… the organisation he headed killed Gandhi… You cannot have Uddhav Thackeray saying that if Savarkar was the Prime Minister and not Nehru… The BJP has taken the Hindutva from Savarkar but they have to make a choice, that they can borrow Gandhi when they want to otherwise it is the Savarkar philosophy of Hindutva.

The discussion then deliberated the autonomous status of the court and the media. I can give you several instances wherein the lynched inpidual was a Hindu and there was no outcry… As for the RTI amendment Bill, it is purely administrative, which does not affect the autonomy or independence of RTI, said Sinha.

Stating that a country that destroys its institutions is in deep trouble, Jha cited the instance of Reserve Bank of India transferring Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the government. The scale at which one is associating themselves with the institutions for political benefit is at a stratospheric level. There is no institution in the country that is not under direct authoritarian pressure, for example today s media, he added.

Addressing the agenda of Citizenship Amendment Bill, which excludes Muslim migrants, Sinha said a report by Shivraj Patel in 2005 and the then Assam s Governor S K Sinha s report showed an alarming number of migrants. Over a period of time, if the religious demography of India is to be altered to a position where politicians like Mamata Banerjee, who will have demands of say separate electorate, so why allow such a situation to emerge.

When the panel was asked by an audience member on how can Article 370 be scrapped without the President s recommendation from the state s constituent assembly, Sinha said, The constituent assembly gets referred to a legislative. In the absence of a legislative, the Central government can exercise the power without the constituent assembly in picture. Jha countered by saying that the matter is in courts, it is unconstitutional, unethical .