Former president Pranab Mukherjee, known for his intellect and political acumen, recently highlighted the dangers of majoritarianism in the country and said that obtaining a majority of votes in a democracy does not entitle the government to disregard the sentiments or beliefs of those who had opposed the ruling party or had not voted for any party in the elections.
Mukherjee, who is respected for his views on various subjects, remained with the congress throughout his political career and had served the country as a union minister for long.
He was known to be a close friend of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and was conferred with the highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, by the Narendra Modi government recently.
His views deserve serious considerations by all concerned. Delivering the second Atal Behari Vajpayee memorial lecture, the former president said people in power think they can do anything on the basis of numerical majority in the legislature but that should not be the case. He said the country’s political players have never clearly understood the message of the voters.
"The mandate is to govern as a majority party with a stable government, but carry others with you,” Mukherjee said, adding that every time a government has behaved otherwise the voters have rejected the party in the next election.
"A numerical majority in elections gives you the right to make a stable government. The lack of popular majority forbids you from a majoritarian government. That is the message and essence of our parliamentary democracy,” he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party had garnered 37.4 per cent of the votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The NDA as a whole, received nearly 45 per cent of the vote.
The BJP has received 31 per cent of votes in the 2014 elections when the NDA led by Narendra Modi had swept the elections. The NDA as a whole had them got 38 per cent.
There is no doubt that both the BJP and the NDA have come back with an increased majority but what can be doubted is whether they did it on their own merit or partly because of the failure of the Congress, particularly of its then president Rahul Gandhi, to provide a credible alternative.
His ill advised campaign of "chowkidar chor hai
” was one of the factors for his party’s route in the elections. Corruption charges against Modi or his government was not an election issue at all.
However one can discuss these factors in a separate article but the point is that the government is short of even the majority mark while what Mukherjee has said that even if a government was to be formed with majority, it does not give it a right to enforce whatever it wants.
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It completely debunks the claim of the BJP president and union home minister Amit Shah that the country’s 135 crore people were in favour of the decisions the government had taken in the recent past.
It would be wrong for him and his party to believe that all that what was given in the party manifesto has been endorsed by all the people or even by all the people who had voted for the BJP. The general perception towards party manifestoes is that these are meant to attract voters and not to be taken very seriously.
But the way the current government has gone berserk with thrusting its agenda down the throats of the people without wider consultations with other stakeholders and even parliamentary committees, it appears the government believes that it has been given all rights including those to strike at the basic structure of our constitution.
The combination of the citizens amendment act and the enforcement of national register for citizens has caused much misgivings among the people and police excesses across the country against agitating students, have added to the growing disenchantment with the government.
It is time the Modi government heeded the advise given by Pranab Mukherjee and take lessons from the legacy of Atal Behari Vajpayee who was the first prime minister from BJP and its past avatars. The current situation must be addressed with maturity and needs sensitive handling.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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