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‘Secularism ’ and Patriotism’ seem to have become the last refuge of political opportunism in India. These two key ideas of democratic polity are now conveniently invoked by politicians to justify opportunism.
Going by the prevailing political binary, broadly represented by the BJP and the Congress, these two concepts come especially handy for an assortment of regional players to switch sides without any qualms.
Those who are drifting to the opposition axis in which the Congress is the pivot swear by ‘secularism’ and ‘ republicanism’. And, those parties and political players who move over to the BJP-led alliance pledge by ‘patriotism’ and strong leadership. This has become a new normal in the country, with Maharashtra being the latest to turn a new leaf in the book of opportunistic politics.
In normal situation, secularism and patriotism could have been two strong pillars of a robust constitution-based multi-party democracy. Western democracies prefer ‘pluralism’ and ‘inclusivity ’ instead of ‘secularism’ to suggest that all citizens enjoy equal rights and privileges guaranteed by the state-forming principles. Due to historic reasons peculiar to it, the founding fathers of the modern Indian nation embraced the word ‘secularism’ to connote that the religion one follows does not matter when it comes to constitutional rights.
In the first few decades after independence, political leaders, even the wiliest of them, had largely conducted themselves within the structural framework reinforced by these two ideas. Over the last few decades, especially after the turn of the new century, politics has got delinked from ideology and constitutional propriety.
The situation has become so grave that the voters can longer be sure that the elected representatives will remain sincere to what they promised during the elections.
The political twists and turns in Maharashtra in the last four years bear this out. The 2019 assembly polls were largely a two-horse race. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance sought a renewed mandate, though their relationship had been highly strained while in power. The Congress and NCP fought elections together. But all dividing lines got blurred soon after elections, leading to the formation of Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in which parties that till then claimed to be ideologically poles apart came together. The credit for formation of that ministry was largely attributed to the pragmatism and sagacity of NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar, who smoothly negotiated through the mess. The battle-scarred veteran then came out in flying colours.
An arrangement which seemed to be stable, imploded almost an year back with a faction of Shiv Sena breaking ranks and joining hands with the BJP to gain power. The drift did not stop there, earlier this month the state suffered yet another political quake, with Ajit Pawar with a group of NCP legislators rebelled against his uncle and crossed sides, to be sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister, without giving any hint even many of those who are in power.
This is not an affliction affecting Maharashtra alone. Many states had undergone this experience earlier as well. No party can claim to be above board. Leaders of regional parties are past masters of the game. They spice up their compulsions with a smattering of ‘regional aspiration and development’. Legal provisions like anti-defection law have failed to check political degradation
All these opportunism played out in broad day light, and often under cover of darkness as well, could have left the voter completely clueless. The voters, who had been eloquently harangued that the ballot in their hands is the most potent weapon in a democracy, are roundly bluffed. But over the years, the Indian voters appeared to have become insular to the crass opportunism.
It is an old adage that everything is fair in love and war. Now add politics too to this, to make it three-dimensional.