BS Yediyurappa
BS Yediyurappa

There is no 'too much democracy', Karnataka govt’s bulldozing of beef Bill is proof

The government divesting the opposition of even discussion on crucial Bills should be called a dangerous trend – except, it’s been going on for so long that ‘trend’ is a wrong word.

It has been recently alleged that ‘too much democracy in India’ is making ‘tough reforms’ difficult. And the BJP government’s bulldozing of anti-cow slaughter amendments in Karnataka seems to be the party’s latest attempt to remedy the ‘excess democracy’ in India. The Bill recently passed in the state Assembly followed what the Union government has been doing with several crucial legislations in Parliament – there was no discussion, there was no attempt at consensus building, there was absolutely no chance BS Yediyurappa’s Cabinet was going to let ‘democracy’ hinder their pet project. 

The new Bill – an amendment to the already existing anti-cow slaughter law – is contentious. It was bound to be met with stiff opposition both inside and outside the Assembly. The Bill has far reaching repercussions and some of the provisions are oppressive. 

The Bill denies citizens their right to choice of profession and means of livelihood as well as food. In addition to this, the search and seizure powers given to anybody higher than the rank of a sub-inspector based on mere suspicion, can result in large scale harassment – particularly of Dalits and minorities. 

The official reasoning behind the new legislation is Article 48 of the Indian Constitution – one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 48 says: “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

Needless to say however, the new legislation has little to do with ‘modern and scientific lines’, and is about ‘Hindu sentiments’ – whatever that term means in the polarised world of today. The state government of course can point to the Constitution all it wants – but it cannot be denied that by bringing in such a law, they are exposing vulnerable populations to emboldened vigilante groups. While the Bill itself is deeply problematic, what’s even more so is the beef that BJP and its governments seem to have with ‘too much democracy’. 

School taught us that ‘democracy’ is government by the people, for the people, and of the people. We’ve been told that the Indian democracy has three pillars – the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. The legislature makes laws; the executive implements them; and the judiciary upholds them. 

Except, as several people have pointed out, it’s the executive – the government – that actually makes laws in India, and not the legislature. Ministers draft laws, and all the our legislative – your and my elected representatives sitting in the Parliament and in state Assemblies – can do, is to vote on them, and discuss amendments. And since 2014, even this limited role of the legislature has been rendered ineffective by BJP governments. 

It’s become par for the course for Bills to be passed in the Parliament without any discussion or debate – and with the anti-cow slaughter amendments, the BJP government in Karnataka has taken a leaf out of their Delhi high command’s books. Some may argue that BS Yediyurappa’s government went a step further – not only was the Bill not debated in the Assembly, there was no prior notice to the House that the Bill was even being brought in!

There was no mention of the Bill in the Business Advisory Committee meeting. The Business Advisory Committee (BAC) consisting of members from all parties decides on the transaction of the House. From when the Assembly session should commence to what the agenda of the session should be and even how much time should be allocated to discuss what topic, the committee, as the name explains, decides on how the business of the House is conducted. The current BAC of the Karnataka Assembly has the Speaker, CM BS Yediyurappa, Leader of Opposition Siddaramiah, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madhuswamy, JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy along with several others.  

Speaker Vishweshwar Kageri claimed that in the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee, it was said that ‘important Bills’ will be tabled – a contested claim. The official agenda published on the Karnataka Assembly website does not reflect tabling of the Bill which debunks the claim of the Speaker. 

Siddaramiah alleged that the copy of the Bill was not even given to opposition parties before it was tabled, as is the practice. How then are our elected representatives supposed to study the Bill that they’re technically supposed to be ‘making’? 

The House was adjourned amidst ruckus, and later in the evening, the BJP went ahead with the Bill and ensured its passage with the opposition absent. When questioned, the exceedingly boring strategy was used by the government: whataboutery. The BJP responded to the Congress’ accusation that in 2013, when a similar Bill against cattle slaughter was withdrawn by the then Siddaramiah-led government, it was also done in a similar manner. 

The government finding ways to divest the opposition of even a discussion on such crucial Bills is a dangerous trend. The opposition leaders have questioned the very need of having such committees if the government disregards their role. The draconian nature of the said Bill has been documented and it still needs to pass in the Legislative Council before it can become a law. But the manner in which such disputed Bills are being pushed by subverting democratic practices exhibits a blatant contempt towards democratic principles and institutions. 

The BJP often indulges in whataboutery when questioned about their autocratic ways. And as a last resort, they remind the Congress and the people of the country of the Emergency that was declared 45 years ago. But the trend of invalidating norms, backed by a brute electoral majority and a weakened opposition, is a worrying one. The Bill against cattle slaughter is a highly litigious one and pushing it without deliberating on the impact it will have on farmers, Dalits, minorities and other citizens' rights is a gross misuse of power by the government. Muzzling of dissent has been done in various forms to suit the situation but when even elected representatives are not allowed discussions on the floor of the House, it raises serious doubts about the functionality of our democratic set-up. And if this diluted version of our democracy is also ‘too much’, then one has to wonder if merely conducting elections makes India a democracy.  

Views expressed are author's own.

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