We elect governments to serve us, they have no business usurping our voice

This is not the way to build the world’s largest democracy.
We elect governments to serve us, they have no business usurping our voice
We elect governments to serve us, they have no business usurping our voice

Kashmir to Kanyakumari is not a Bollywood song only. It is India's reality, a joint responsibility each of us bear. It is high time India’s regional leaders speak about national issues that rile the country and for which solutions can be sought only if we speak as one. It is my fervent belief that responsible political discourse and dialogue will unite India in ways we have not yet achieved. I would like to know what Chief Ministers think about how their counterparts are dealing with local and national issues whether it be infrastructure or energy, public health, education, entertainment or for that matter hygiene and sanitation. I also believe we in the media have a role in pushing our elected leaders towards more responsibility. It is about time we all grew up and 70 is not too soon.

Two incidents compel me to write this. On the day India turned 70 (August 15, 2017), Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala and his party had harsh words to say about two events. The first one was a reference to the public health tragedy in Gorakhpur that will and must remain India’s shame forever. He was right in raising this. The second were the views of his party workers from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who told Rashtriya Swayam Sewak (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat that he cannot unfurl the tricolour at a government-aided school as only people’s representatives or the head of the institution could do so. The school reportedly belongs to RSS supporters and is therefore an eyesore in Communist Kerala. The State Education department has initiated steps against the violation and a notice will be served.  

At the time of writing, comes news that the officials involved in this incident have been transferred. It is a welcome move, one that should be heard all over India to quell the fear-mongering preceding it. 

Up north, Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) did his now well-rehearsed act as well.  He said if Article 35A of the Constitution was repealed, people of the state would not feel safe. “Surprisingly, the BJP has made an issue out of Article 35A…they say its benefits Kashmir, but adversely affects Jammu. Will someone who wants to buy land in this state do it in Kashmir? Take it in writing that before going to Kashmir to buy land and jobs, they will come to Jammu.”

This Article of the Indian Constitution empowers the J&K legislature to define who can be regarded as permanent residents of the state and grants special privileges to such individuals. The provision bars Indians from other states from acquiring immovable property in the state, seeking government employment, availing state-sponsored scholarships or settling permanently anywhere in the Valley.

Abdullah was quoted as saying that people from outside will get government jobs, land and scholarships for their children and can settle in the state. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India will hear a petition challenging Article 35A on August 29. A Delhi-based NGO, We The Citizens, had filed a petition in 2014 demanding that Article 35A be repealed because of its “unconstitutional nature.” At that time, the Centre had sought a wider debate on the subject. There was no reference in his diatribe, about Kashmiri pundits who were ethnically cleansed from the state, nor was it clear who the ‘outsiders’ were. Besides, there are no outsiders in India. The Narendra Modi government’s continued alliance with Mehbooba Mufti is a matter of serious concern but that is not the focus of my current piece.

So, here's my point. Kashmir does not belong only to Kashmiris, not any more than Tamil Nadu belongs to Tamils or Assam to Assamese. Elected leaders bear allegiance to the Constitution of India. There are no two ways about it. It is time to call out every leader who disrespects the people's mandate either nationally or regionally. It is ignoble and irresponsible on the part of elected leaders to selectively quote Indian history to buttress their views. It is pathetic that their factotums in New Delhi - most of whom use Kashmir and Kerala for self-promotion - have turned into blind mouthpieces thus adding to the false base that New Delhi is India and vice-versa. 

New Delhi is the capital city of India where our democracy and institutions that make it one, are situated, but it is not the voice of nearly 1.3 billion Indians. We elect governments to serve us, the people of India and they have no business usurping our voice and our ambitions. I have cited Kerala, Kashmir and Gorakhpur here as they are the most recent.  There are many more – in fact we are spoilt for choice.

The media has a critical role to play in integrating India. That is not happening. In fact, as the Gorakhpur tragedy showed, some of us in the media deliberately gave it a religious spin instead of focusing on it only - and only - as a public health scandal that will haunt India for years to come. More of that in another post. 

(Views expressed are personal.)

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