Modi vs Kejriwal: The ‘raid as a political weapon and its impact on state institutions

Kejriwal_Modi_PTI_380Raid’ is one of those colourful words that Indian journalese has normalised in general discourse. The term refers to an investigative search, but carries the unhappy connotations of a stealth war and dacoit-like criminality.

We generally tend to ignore the extent to which such sub-texts might reflect reality, but the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ‘raid’ at the Delhi chief minister’s office is good reason to re-examine the ramifications of at least this particular raid very seriously.
Although there is no doubt that the CBI and other central authorities have the power to investigate and prosecute those in state governments, the way investigators appeared to take over the premises could be said to undermine the principle of federalism.

A headstrong chief minister in some other state could potentially have resisted. Let us imagine this scenario: State police forces preventing officers from a central agency such as the CBI from entering the office of a state chief minister – with cocked guns.

Of course, the Delhi Police force is not under the control of the Delhi state government (that in fact is a major grouse of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal), but an armed conflict between state and central forces would be within the realm of possibility in another state. Although it is an extremely unlikely scenario, just imagining it gives one an idea of how such actions could degenerate into a sordid centre-state war – even if only in metaphorical ways.

The manner in which a ‘strong’ politician projects himself or herself can easily go wrong. For, the success of any state that claims sovereign power rests on its ability to project its (the state’s) coercion as being in the general public interest. The fact, however, is that the state’s duty to maintain law and order can very easily slip into state repression. It is often largely a matter of interpretation, of perception – or projection.

In a multi-layered, federal and democratic system, one may not agree with one’s opponents, but one has to tolerate them. The importance of consensus and accommodation across the political spectrum cannot be over-emphasised. This is true with regard to a house opposition. It is even truer about other constitutional checks and balances such as the judiciary. It is also true of other levels of government.

To be sure, state governments are potential aggressors as much as they are potential targets of the centre. To cite just one example, several state governments need to take stock of the extent to which they have undermined the Panchayati Raj system. Many states have ensured that panchayats remain under the thumb of district, tehsil and other bureaucrats, who can be controlled by the state government. Such state governments have taken even greater care to ensure that urban bodies are not empowered.

The political fallout of a ‘raid’ is as vital as institutional ones. A government that uses legal mechanisms against political opponents must keep recent history in mind; it was with her arrest under the Janata Party regime in October 1977 that Indira Gandhi began her ride back to power. Being summoned to court in a criminal case of financial malfeasance is unlikely to boost Sonia and Rahul Gandhi back to power, but the ‘raid’ at Kejriwal’s office seems to have rebounded on the centre.

It has been widely perceived as a motivated witch-hunt, calculated to portray the chief minister as being involved in murky dealings. Whether it was or not, it will be projected as being meant to puncture Kejriwal’s image as a crusader against corruption – and so stymie the political effectiveness of his party’s broom symbol.

Kejriwal picked up the gauntlet by taking the forefront to personally challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi by name on the day of the ‘raid.’ His sharp and widely televised words, “I am not afraid of you,” might echo politically. They are calculated to cast him as the small and barely armed victim taking on the might of the Goliath-like Leviathan.

Some have even viewed the ‘raid’ as a fishing expedition meant to see what sort of wrongdoing might be discovered. The registration of a case against the chief minister’s principal secretary for, of all things, possession of excess alcohol gives credibility to this view. It smacks of a petty-minded intention to score cheap political points among puritanical conservative voters.

The next few weeks will show whether Kejriwal’s, and his Aam Aadmi Party’s, image has actually taken a beating or not. Even if people do not accept the suggestion that he is involved in corruption, the impression that he used unacceptable language – calling the prime minister a ‘psychopath,’ for example – may turn people away. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that voters turn to AAP as a victim of an unjustified move.

Democratic politics is a slippery business. But, whatever the political fallout, the unsavoury events that surrounded and followed the ‘raid’ are a wake-up call to take stock of how best we can respect the complex and delicate web that links various institutions of the Indian state.

source from firstpost

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