Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Use Hounding Arundati Roy

The Union Government, at last, is reported to have decided against hauling up Arundati Roy (and Syed Ali Shah Jeelani) on charges of sedition. This is after having wavered on the issue and the BJP making a lot of noise demanding her arrest and prosecution. It looked as if Arundati Roy was such an influential person and that her speech in a hall at New Delhi’s Constitution Club was going to make or break India’s unity. I do not think that India’s unity is as fragile as it was made out.

Well. The demand for an independent Kashmir is only one dimension of the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir. It may be true that this is the most audible demand sometimes and is most articulated from among the various groups in the valley. But then, the truth is that the agitation or the unrest in the valley (I am consciously avoiding using the word movement in this context for it sends a section of our readers into a tailspin!). The fact is that the people in the valley are so alienated from the Indian state that it calls for a lot of political initiative and dedication to retrieve their confidence. The three-member team, now in the valley, could mark a beginning of this effort.

Coming back to my concerns, it is relevant to note here that Arundaati Roy’s remarks that historically Kashmir was not a part of India is indeed a half truth. In that sense, Hyderabad, Travancore and Junagadh too were not part of India as much as many other small kingdoms that merged into the Union only a few months after independence. A casual look at the history of our own times, until about 63 years ago will reveal this truth to anyone. But then, I said it was a half truth. The other half of the truth was that Kashmir became a part of India as much as Hyderabad and Junagadh at one point of time and that too is history.

Arundati Roy, probably, does not consider events as old as some 65 years as history. Or even if she does, she did not bother to define what she considered as history to the audience at the Constitution Club that day when she made the statement. The media that highlighted that specific part of her speech (and I know Roy’s speeches are not one sentence affairs as much as her writings are) must have bothered to clarify with her as to what she meant by that sentence in her speech. I must confess that this was a rule when we reported for newspapers as late as some 15 years ago. If someone spoke in a manner that was provocative, journalists would wait for the speech to be over to ask if what the speaker meant was in the way that was perceived.

With TV channels proliferating, this rule was thrown to the winds and reporting came to mean the ability to show things in a manner that it raised a lot of noise; the redefinition of what news is in terms of the sound and fury that something provoked was an outcome of the media ecology that emerged some ten years ago. The tragedy is that something became news because it was caught on TV cameras and not because it was meant to be news or because it was news that mattered to the people.

Let me clarify this further. In the given instance, the unrest in Kashmir is neither led by Arundati Roy nor one that involves her. Like another person, whom we would come across in the local library or in the neighbourhood tea-shop, holding the view that gunships with bombs and chemical weapons must be sent to the Maoist dominated area or to Kashmir and all those who oppose the Indian state must be smoked out (like George Bush wanted the US forces to do to Osama bin Laden), Arundati Roy may hold an opinion different from some others and express that too. In a sense, both the views are critical of the Indian state; one on grounds that the state is not violent enough while dealing with the unrest and the other on grounds that there is too much violence.

Both, in fact, are to be seen as seditious if causing disaffection towards the state (which is how Section 124 of the IPC defines sedition) is to be held as sedition. My argument will be that both these as well as any other opinion on the issue must be allowed in a Democracy rather than gagging them. It is possible that the state adopts either of the two or a combination of the two at some point and thus ends up having its foot in the mouth then. Recall the several positions that the Government of India has held as its own on the question of the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka; almost from one end to another of the spectrum. The Indian state once held that the LTTE fought for the Tamils (and hence armed them) and held sometimes later that the organisation to be terrorist.

Let us, hence, resist the temptation to go ballistic over something that Arundati Roy says. India, as a nation, is not as fragile as it is made out that she can break it! India, after all, has survived as a nation despite a number of crooks and thieves stalking the political, social, cultural and the corporate world in the sixty-three years after independence. Arundati Roy is certainly not more powerful than anyone of them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Democracy and the Karnataka drama

It is difficult to say as to who rules the State of Karnataka today. In other words, there can be as many correct answers to such a question; one could say that it is B.S.Yediyurappa; another could argue that it is any one of the Reddy brothers; and a third could argue that it is the Governor, Hans Raj Bhardwaj; and yet another argue that it is the full bench of the Karnataka High Court; and someone there could insist that the correct answer is none-of-the-above. If I am to decide as to which one is the right answer, I will have to say all-the-above!

For a month now there is nothing that has been happening there in the name of governance. And all that one is seeing is the unseemly sight of MLAs moving around in airport lounges and holiday resorts; they have been in Goa, Mumbai and our own Chennai in these couple of weeks that went by. The MLAs have not been to their constituencies at any time in the past month. So much for their respect to democracy! The people who elected them, whether as independents, BJP nominees, Janata Dal (Secular) or Congress, have no say as to which way should they vote in the assembly!

Well. There is nothing in the law, even in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution to ensure that the people determine the political course that the elected representatives take between the time they won the elections and their term as the representative of the peoples is over. And where there is no clear provision in the statute, there is no way that we can try ensuring such accountability. Or is it that I am being too pessimistic that articles of faith are not enforceable. In the post-Lucknow bench verdict of September 30, 2010, do I have the right to seek a judicial order based on faith in democracy and the illusion that the people are the masters in a democracy of our kind? Someone there may try approaching the Karnataka High Court, seeking a direction, under Article 226 of the Constitution, that the MLAs decided any which way they want to go after taking the people of their constituency into confidence.

It is possible, going by the precedent set by the Lucknow Bench, for the High Court in Bangalore to direct the MLAs to behave as per the faith in democracy and either affirm their support to one of the sides or to apportion the MLAs between the BJP, the Congress and the Janata Dal (secular); one third to each of the three parties! It is for the court to decide then as to whether the division on such lines must be on a day to day basis or on a weekly basis or on some other basis.

The MLAs will love if it is on an hourly basis so that they can have different chief ministers by the minute or the hour. Imagine a Karnataka with no one as Chief Minister and everyone as Chief Minister. A blissful state of affairs that will be far more advanced than Jharkand where an independent MLA remained Chief Minister and managed to amass wealth and even after raids at some stage is living happily with all the money he made. Madhu Koda is not in the news any longer and he must be living happily like any other political thief that we have seen in the past.

With all due respects, one is aghast over the reasoning by Justice N.Kumar when he held that the MLAs right to dissent must not be curtailed by invoking the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. The learned judge simply erred when he sought to enforce the right to dissent without reference to the specific context. The fact that the MLAs did not dissent within the party fora but simply played along in the game of defection was evident when they showed up in Goa, Chennai and elsewhere, pushing strolleys, must have conveyed to the judge that this was not democracy. But then, he sought to make an ideal situation out of a dirty game of opportunism and greed. Justice N.Kumar ought to have seen the picture in all its dimensions. The plain and simple fact is that the rebel MLAs did not represent a democratic cause and the revolt was driven by greed and opportunism.

In this context, all that can be said is that the political establishment as well as the judiciary have failed the cause of democracy so badly in Karnataka. The mafia that has been at the helm in Karnataka (as in many other parts of the country) must be having it great now and even the Governor, H.R.Bharadwaj is guilty of playing partisan games as have many Governors in the past. The people of Karnataka deserve better things and better persons as their representatives. But then, in the larger context of a democratic structure being infested by un-democratic leaders to whom all is well as long as they make money for themselves, their sons and daughters and for a few generations down the line, do the people have a choice at the time of elections? I find it difficult to answer this question.