Watching live on television as the riots broke out in Bengaluru last week had me thinking about an old story I heard a long time back. As most of you must now by know, the dispute over the Cauvery isn’t a new one.
In fact, it dates back a century. However, as was evident last week, tensions between the two states have always been on a simmer, as it was in the 1980’s when film star M.G Ramachandran and Ramakrishna Hegde were Chief Minsters.
When the riots broke out, did they openly condemn each other as being at fault, and responsible for everything? No. Instead, MGR and Hegde used to welcome each other over for tea in an effort to diffuse tensions.
Yes, they had their state’s best interest at heart and yes, often they were at odds with each other but, they trusted and believed in the fruit a discussion with the opposition yielded.
So was the case with much of Nehru’s (blunders such as the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah and the dismissal of E.M.S Namboodripad’s elected government aside) and Shastri’s premiership as well.
A few days ago, on the birthday of our Prime Minister Modi, in the flood of the many wishes online and offline, a message from the opposition MP caught our eye.
Now, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, eloquent and articulate man that he is, has always been good with words, whether it is with respect to his own party, or taking down the British in Britain.
But, it isn’t the wishes or the bonhomie that caught my eye, it is the fact that despite the poisonous environment and the mud-slinging match Indian politics has become, politicians are willing to reconcile, even momentarily and speak with dignity.
In a political scene largely driven by mocking catchphrases, it is heartening to see a sitting Prime Minister (especially one with a significant majority) and an opposition MP talk about conciliation, of all things.
Yes, India is a parliamentary democracy and yes, policy making is a prerogative of the elected government but, what most of us fail to realise is that the opposition is as important to the same as the government. We talk of checks and balances, and an elected opposition, apart from the judiciary, is the biggest check on an elected government.
We often forget that the opposition, despite being out of power, is an elected body constituted to represent us as well.
What of it, if it’s not in power?
This was actually a question that arose in the Nehru era (largely due to the fact that unlike in the present-day, the INC was an umbrella organisation for Leftists, Socialists, Right-wingers etc.) The answer is what the Whigs and Tories would call constructive criticism.
In a democracy such as ours, the purpose of an elected government and opposition is to have opposites come to a consensus on issues of importance. Democracy realises that every view matters, and the fact that empowers the government to make policy, is the same one that empowers the opposition to criticise it.
Considering the present-day climate, I understand how naïve that sounds. In India, oppositions are largely associated with enforced walk-outs, vote boycotts, rabble-rousing and more often than not, mic and chair throwing contests.
Sadly, that’s what our politics has reduced our democracy to; one of disgrace.
The same can perhaps be said of the PM’s chair as well. Congress or BJP, no one should have the right to openly mock a sitting Prime Minister.
Criticise the man all you want, question his policy and double down on his commitment but, do not question the chair he occupies. So, when you criticise a Prime Minister for his soft-spokenness, you aren’t being constructive in your criticism or even creative, you’re just being a ridiculous bully.
Further, I think there is a need to pay more caution to the chair in times such as these when the country must stand united against foreign acts of aggression.
A fragmented opposition, where the opposition, the government, army and intelligence is blaming each other is comforting or helping no one except the people behind such aggressors. Second guess the policies all you want but, do not question the PM’s, any PM’s commitment to make the country better.
It is heartening to see Dr. Tharoor and PM Modi acting so cordially with each other, even for a single day. And sure, there’ll be naysayers who’ll point to the all too convenient excuse of political hypocrisy behind Dr. Tharoor’s geniality with Mr. Modi.
However, screw those conspiracy theorists. If PM Modi’s birthday wishes are any indication, our elected legislature may not be as fragmented as we thought and there might just be hope for both the government and opposition to bridge the divide between them by having, at the very least, a cup of tea.
Image Credits: Google Images, Shashi Tharoor Facebook