Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rahul should be asked to behave his age

            It’s now almost a year since we came to know about Robert Vadra’s business in the real estate sector; that he was blessed with powers to turn fallow land expensive. And one has not heard the young Rahul Gandhi speak out his mind on all that about Vadra and his shady business deals. If only the scion had chosen to speak his mind, the Congress Chief Minister of Haryana would not have done anything to hound Ashok Kemka and Rahu’s sister’s husband would have landed in one of the jails in Haryana or in the Tihar.

            The way in which the Congress party has behaved after Rahul Gandhi said that the ordinance nullifying the Supreme Court made law – that those convicted shall not be allowed to stay in office and not even as MPs or MLAs – makes one look upon him as the messiah of a nation. It is ridiculous to see Congressmen, including members of the Union Cabinet, speaking out against a cabinet resolution. It is no use talking of the impropriety in Cabinet ministers dissociating from a decision that was theirs. Propriety is a cry in wilderness.

            Well. Rahul Gandhi’s theatrics reminds of his grandmother doing similar things in 1969. In her quest for supremacy within the party, Indira Gandhi, as Prime Minister, went about defying her party president and other leaders in the Congress Working Committee. She first tried to foist Jagjiwan Ram, one of her partisans in the Working Committee as the party’s candidate for the presidential elections. She then recommended an ordinance nationalising 14 private sector banks to irritate and thus ease out Morarji Desai from her cabinet.

And as days went by, she orchestrated a demand for conscience vote in the presidential elections and took the fight against her party leaders, including the  party president S.Nijalingappa,  to a point of no return. And by all these she ensured the defeat of the party’s presidential candidate and the victory of her own nominee, contesting as independent, as President of the Republic. V.V.Giri returned the favour by issuing a presidential order (even while he knew that it was not in order) abolishing the Privy Purses; this was after the legislation to that effect was lost in the Rajya Sabha for want of a single vote!

Lest it is mistaken, there is very little similar between Rahul Gandhi and Indira Gandhi notwithstanding that the former gathers his importance only because he was born to Indira Gandhi’s son. Indira Gandhi, even if she had risen due to her father helping her immensely, did have a mind of her own. She had scripted every line of her acts. Rahul Gandhi, on the contrary, is innocent of any such things. Saying that he is innocent does not mean that he is unaware of Robert Vadra and his business. If those who are privy to the nature of  Rahul’s relationship with Robert are to be believed, they know each other too well and hence there is no reason to think that the young vice-president of the party is unaware of things.

It should, hence, be inferred that Rahul Gandhi did not really mean to cleanse the body politic when he said that the ordinance in question should be dumped. It was just that he reacted without thinking. He had done this before. Notwithstanding his own government’s policy on themines and minerals front,  he went to Orissa and said  few things against mining in the Niyamgiri hills; the point is that he had nothing to say against similar destruction taking place in Andhra Pradesh, Goa or Maharashtra. In any case, the unintended consequence of his statement from Orissa was that all the King’s men joined the chorus and the hills were saved of destruction! One must thank Rahul Gandhi, even if he did not intend anything of that kind.

Likewise, there is reason to celebrate his condemnation of the ordinance. Unintended it may be, the fact that the Congressmen in the cabinet have joined the chorus should render hope to the hopeless in our midst that convicts will be forced to stay out of positions in Parliament, Legisltive Assemblies and ministries. That the law, as set by the Supreme Court, will not face the same fate as  did the law that divorced muslim women shall have the right to maintenance. Rahul Gandhi’s father had upset the court’s decision in the Shah Bano case and put the clock back. Rahul Gandhi deserves praise for ensuring that the consensus among the parties – all the parties had wanted and continue to want the apex court’s decision to be nullified – was no hurdle in cleansing the system.

One must, hence, hope for a similar knee jerk response from the young vice-president of the Congress party to declare, even if in a huff, that those who grab land for cheap and make a lot of money selling that, hand in glove with builders and realtors must be dealt with in accordance with the law, however mighty they are and whoever they are related to. This will do the country a lot of good and posterity will remember Rahul Gandhi for doing what many others failed to do. 

Such cynicism is not good for democracy. The concept of collective responsibility, which is the cornerstone of a cabinet system, ought to be preserved. Dissent in the open is important. But what we saw after Rahul Gandhi did and the way he did that does not fit into any scheme. He is old enough to be told that politics is a serious business. Not the same as scoring points in a debate completion for students of upper primary classes. It is impossible to desist from saying this; recall Rahul’s speech in defence of nuclear power invoking Kalawati!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Amending Art 124 : Quest for a committed judiciary

            The unity displayed by the political parties during the past week when the Monsoon Session of Parliament passed a number of acts also had ominous signals to convey. Any sense of celebration of the show of a sense of purpose by the MPs should give way to despair if one looks a little deeper into the consensus at play when they united to amend such acts as the RTI, RPA and then Article 124 of the Constitution. The Constitution Amendment putting in place a Judicial Appointments Commission, scrapping the system where a collegium consisting of the CJI and four senior-most judges appointing judges to the higher judiciary, is perhaps the most ominous of this all.

            Be it stated, at the outset, that the collegium system was faulty; it was opaque and there were instances when persons with poor credentials were elevated to the Bench. It is a fact that we have had judges who were accused of land grab; some others were found to have kept someone else’s money with them; a few having been caught having received money and favours from litigants; and one judge was found having abused his powers and spent a lot of public money to decorate himself and his office.   

            Having said this, it is also a fact that the Constitution provides for removing such judges; and yet, our MPs are guilty of either having failed in their duty in this regard or having let things drift and thus given ample time for those who erred to resign and get away. Those who recall the manner in which Justice V.Ramasamy was sought to be impeached, two decades ago, will remember that petty sectarian considerations were behind the way the then ruling party MPs voted on the motion. And some will also remember that Ramasamy was among those who were denied the honour of being taken in a procession, led by the CJI, on the day of his retirement. Be that as it may.

            Article 124 (2), as amended by the Rajya Sabha on September 5, 2013, places the process of appointment to the highest court into the hands of the political class. As against the three members consisting of the CJI and two senior-most judges of the apex court, the Judicial Appointments Commission will consist of the Union Law Minister and two ``eminent persons’’ to be appointed by a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, CJI and the Leader of the Opposition. All these appear to be democratic.

            But then, the cat was let out of the bag during the discussion in the Upper House. Kapil  Sibal tried to sound like Jawaharlal Nehru when he said that this was a moment in the life of our nation to revisit the past and embrace the future commending the Bill; but then, he was actually pushing an idea that Rajni Patel had done in the early 1970s on Indira Gandhi’s behalf. The idea of a committed judiciary was pushed with such vigour then when Indira Gandhi had resorted to `socialism’ as a means to restore her fortunes and found the higher judiciary standing in her way. Her followers in the ruling party orchestrated her views by accusing Justice K.Subba Rao of participating in an anti-socialist conspiracy; and the regime then pulled all the stops to appoint pliant judges as CJI. All that is well known; a process that culminated in the shift to the collegium system (in 1994) began in that context.

            What happened on Thursday, September 5 was, in a sense, a repeat of the events in the 1970s; an attempt to have a committed judiciary. If any proof is needed, it came from Arun Jaitley’s intervention during the debate. He placed on record that the judiciary, in the recent past, did not help the cause of justice by interfering in the way it did in economic policies (such decisions as banning iron ore exports or cancelling telecom licenses obtained by fraudulent means) or on administrative issues on how to deal with the Naxalites (as in the Salwa Judum case).

Such references, indeed, were not different from what Indira Gandhi’s followers had to say about the judiciary after the apex court struck down the law nationalising private sector banks or the Privy Purses case in the early 1970s. There is, however, a difference. In the earlier instance, the political establishment was seeking to contain the judiciary and post such men committed to one particular definition of socialism in the higher judiciary. Arun Jaitley then was with those who opposed that idea; he was studying law at the Delhi University then and had joined the forces that opposed Indira Gandhi and thus appeared to have stood up for a free judiciary.

Well. He now belongs to the party whose Government in Chattisgarh had continued propping up the Salwa Judum (a creature founded by the Congress and its leader, the late Mahendra Karma) and sore with the apex court’s judgment in that case that the private army was an affront to the Constitution. And he has a similar sense of purpose with the ruling Congress: To curb democratic protest or any resistance to the liberalisation programme.

Unlike in the 1970s, when a particular variant of socialism was Indira Gandhi’s agenda and it was opposed by the Jan Sangh (that was how Jaitley’s party was known then) and some others, we are now in times when socialism of any variant is a bad word, at least among large sections of the political class. It was this consensus that was witnessed on Thursday September 5 when the Rajya Sabha set out to tame the judges.

Well. This was attempted in the 1970s and it achieved a measure of success. The attempts then were glossed with socialism. It is in the name of capitalism and growth this time.