The years when central governments would blithely topple democratically elected state governments ruled by their political adversaries are mercifully behind us. The imposition of President’s Rule—a codeword for political arrogance—has lost its currency in the corridors of power. Yet the politics of vendetta that engendered such undemocratic actions continues to thrive. Bearing testimony to this is the current conflict between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dispensation at the centre.
This bitter face-off between the two political adversaries brings to mind an older history of fraught centre-state relations. The site of that protracted battle was Bengal. The victim, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI [M]), and the aggressor, the central government, then led by the Congress prime minister, Indira Gandhi. The similarities between the two sets of political confrontations, despite being situated in different geographical locations and in different times, are pronounced enough to bear commenting upon.
There is a striking analogy between how the BJP now and the Congress then used Constitutional heads to harass their rivals. If, at present, the BJP is leveraging Najeeb Jung, the lieutenant governor of Delhi NCR (National Capital Region) as an instrument to settle scores with the AAP government, the Congress central government in 1968 appointed Dharam Vira as Bengal’s governor to go after the Communists, who were a part of the state’s ruling United Front government. Following the collapse of the eight-month-old United Front alliance in February 1968, Dharam Vira, in consultation with Indira Gandhi, dismissed the elected government without convening a democratic floor test.