Ten years ago Narendra Modi had come to power with the slogan of 'Congress-mukt Bharat'. Over the ten years of its existence, the Modi government has tried to centralise and concentrate all powers around it by all means. Moving on from the slogan of 'Congress-mukt Bharat', the Modi regime has been aggressively pursuing its agenda of an 'opposition-free democracy'. Non-BJP governments have been toppled and replaced by BJP-led governments by engineering defections and breaking parties and coalitions at will. Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Bihar - we have seen the BJP repeatedly usurping power even after losing elections. A new model has now been added to the BJP's repertoire - the Chandigarh model of stealing elections.
In the 35-member Chandigarh corporation, the BJP had 15 members, the remaining 20 members belonging to the AAP and the Congress. In the mayoral poll, AAP and Congress came to an agreement and with the backing of the Congress, the AAP candidate was sure to win. The presiding officer, a nominated member of the Corporation and a known BJP leader, however, had other ideas or instructions. In a brazen abuse of power, he defaced as many as eight ballots of Congress/AAP councillors, declared them invalid and handed over the mayoral post to the BJP nominee with a 16-12 majority. Luckily the entire exercise has been caught on camera and videos of this brazen daylight robbery of the Chandigarh mayoral poll have gone viral.
An appeal against this brazen electoral robbery is now being heard by the Supreme Court. On seeing the videos of the conduct of the presiding officer, CJI Chandrachud has termed it nothing short of a murder of democracy. It now remains to be seen if the apex court's actual orders match the strong words used by the CJI. The Supreme Court has not yet invalidated the election, it has asked for all records to be secured and the Presiding Officer to depose before the court. If the BJP is allowed to get away with its Chandigarh experiment the future of elections cannot be saved from lapsing into a total farce.
An AAP victory in Chandigarh with the support of the Congress would have underlined the electoral relevance of the INDIA coalition and set an example for sorting out seat-sharing difficulties among other parties in other places too. Ahead of the crucial 2024 elections, the BJP was therefore desperate to deny the INDIA coalition its first electoral victory. What also stands out in this episode is the BJP's absolute arrogance and sense of impunity. If a party can get the presiding officer in a mayor election to tamper with the counting process so brazenly, imagine what it can do in the Lok Sabha elections with a compliant bureaucracy and a handpicked election commission.
The BJP is perfectly aware that the people of India have had enough of its empty promises and false claims. The Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, which is being showcased by the Sangh brigade as the biggest achievement of the Modi regime, cannot compensate for the government's abysmal failure in terms of economic management and governance. We therefore see heightened attacks on the opposition and indiscriminate use of ED raids to project the opposition as a corrupt lot. After regaining power in Bihar through a renewed tie-up with Nitish Kumar, the BJP was hopeful about destabilising the Jharkhand government too by arresting CM Hemant Soren. Arrest of Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi is also very much on the cards.
While the BJP has been successful in Bihar, Jharkhand has foiled its plot. Even in Bihar, Nitish Kumar has now lost all credibility and can only prove to be a liability for the BJP. In Jharkhand, Hemant Soren has preferred to get arrested rather than succumb to the BJP's pressure. It is now clear to all that the allegation of corruption and raids by ED, CBI and IT department are just a pressure tactic by the BJP to intimidate the opposition. Himanta Biswa Sarma and Subhendu Adhikari, once charged with corruption by the BJP, are now the party's biggest leaders in Assam and West Bengal. Ajit Pawar is now a Deputy CM in a BJP-led coalition government in Maharashtra and former BJP CM of Jharkhand Raghubar Das has been saved from any anti-corruption investigation by making him the Governor of Odisha.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There can be no meaningful battle against corruption without foiling the BJP's design to acquire absolute power and seal it with absolute impunity. The elections have been the primary arena of constitutional democracy and with elections being reduced to a farce, democracy is indeed facing murder. The warning has now come from none other than the Chief Justice of India, and it is for the people of India to heed it and save democracy from this lethal attack.