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Unipolar democracy?

From the moment the BJP won an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha elections, reducing the Congress to 52 seats, it was to be expected that power imbalance at the Centre would begin to show itself up in the States. So, barely a month after the general elections, the 12-month-long opposition coalition government of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka is hanging by a thread. In the 224-member assembly, the coalition had a slim majority of 116 MLAs which is now teetering with the resignation of 16 MLAs. The BJP, which had won 105 seats in last year’s election, has gained two allies in the form of independent legislators. The BJP is confident that it would soon rule in Karnataka. The Congress has won no sympathy for its humiliation in the elections as also for the questionable antics of its legislators who closeted themselves at a Mumbai resort after their purported rebellion from the party. Not one opposition party or any of the UPA allies supported Congress MPs in Rajya Sabha when senior party leader DK Shivkumar was held by the Mumbai police and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad was detained in Bengaluru.

Simultaneously, ten Congress MLAs in Goa have crossed over to the BJP, which now has a strong majority in the State Assembly. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where the Congress rules by a thin majority, a repeat of the Karnataka episode is expected. A catalyst in the hastened disintegration of the Congress is the very public resignation of its President Rahul Gandhi without a succession plan or political programme in place. A similar depletion of ranks awaits the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, both of which are facing en masse migration of their cadre and senior leaders to the BJP.

The obvious consequence of the concentration of power at the Centre is the erosion of a system of checks and balances that are a prerequisite for Constitutional democracy. The mediocre quality of debate on the Budget in Parliament and a complete absence of even minimalist mention of such critical issues as the proposed Labour Code which seeks to alter industrial relations for all times to come are illustrative of the perils to which public polity is exposed when the Opposition is weakened to the point of irrelevance. A statistic to highlight here is 37.36 per cent, which is the share of Indian electorate that voted for the BJP. For the rest, the Opposition, especially the Congress and its leadership, owe a stated political programme and commitment to hold the ruling party accountable. A vacuum in the Opposition space is dangerous for democracy.

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