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Fragile Republic

Fragile Republic

For the first time in India’s parliamentary history, the Speaker refused to take any step to bring the House to order to discuss the most important business of a no-confidence motion. Those who brushed this aside by saying that the Opposition anyway did not have the numbers looked the other way when Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the House of Elders where the Government is in a minority, one day adjourned the House minutes after it assembled just because he was angry with a member asking him if it was the first time that he saw disorder in the House.

Last week, a Supreme Court verdict said that not even a preliminary enquiry was needed to ascertain if a judge’s death was natural or political murder despite members of his family and sections of the media — based on anomalies in autopsy and other medical reports — pointed to the possibilities of foul play. The Chief Justice of India (CJI) who presided over the hearing in the Public Interest Litigation just went by reports of the Maharashtra Government and whoever had written the official version of the death.

Thereafter, seven political parties in the Opposition moved a petition for impeachment of the CJI based on five allegations against him. Despite the petition meeting the preliminary requirements for setting up a probe panel, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha dismissed the petition without even scrutinising the 64 signatures, one day after he said that he would be doing so. By this act, the House Chairman avoided the CJI from addressing the question of whether he should recuse himself from hearing cases till the inquiry was over.

The few incidents mentioned here indicate that the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary seem to have given a perception that our far from perfect democracy is under a threat. The most shocking thing, however, is that the most of the media have been carrying only the Government’s version on all these developments. The Fourth Estate which is supposed to be the watchdog of democracy seems to have adopted a stand similar to what it did during the dark days of Emergency, this time voluntarily, may be.

Those who talk about the judiciary being damaged beyond repair by the impeachment petition which has been rejected, have to be really dumb or pen-pushers of the Modi establishment. The sad part is even newspapers practising ‘journalism of courage’ are in the forefront of Government propaganda.

For the record, accusations of wrong doing against the highest individual or group of members of the highest judicial authority in India were not made for the first time.

Eminent jurist Fali Nariman sounds funny when he called the day the Opposition submitted the impeachment petition against Chief Justice of India as the “blackest day” in the annals of Indian history. Has he forgotten that in September 2010 fellow jurist and former law minister Shanti Bhushan had alleged in a letter to the Supreme Court that eight former Chief Justices of India were ‘corrupt’, while daring the court to send him to jail for contempt of court.

Surely, even if Nariman has forgotten this and thinks it was too frivolous an allegation, he cannot have forgotten how the verdict of 13 judges in the Keshavananda Bharti Vs Government of Kerala on supremacy of freedom of life and liberty was overturned by a majority verdict of a 5-judge bench headed by Justice A N Ray during the Emergency. He would be unaware that Justice Ray and three other judges in that bench who ruled in favour of the Indira regime, and against Fundamental Rights, all became CJIs, two of them by superseding their seniors. He would also know that the lone judge H R Khanna, though celebrated for upholding the freedom of the judiciary, was overlooked for promotion. Was the impeachment petition signed by 64 Rajya Sabha MPs blacker than these events?

Or is it Nariman’s belief it is all fine for those in the judicial turf to raise accusations against judges but others should not? Or has Nariman reached an age where he should stop making public comments?

BJP had attacked CJI Balakrishnan and insinuated that his son-in-law was misusing his kin’s position to amass wealth. None of the pen-pushers of the Modi Government felt scandalised to report this. None of those who are accusing the Opposition of besmirching the judiciary’s reputation defended Balakrishnan.

The developments prompt one to apprehend that dark clouds of autocracy are looming over India. There may be different constitutional authorities presiding over different branches of government, vital for a functional democracy. But it is becoming increasingly easy to believe allegations made by Opposition politicians that most in high constitutional positions may have either ceded their authority or are under pressure to bow to one central authority, the head of the nation’s Executive.

Dud Law

The Centre has issued an ordinance to confer death penalty on those who rape children below the age of 12. Unfortunately, the new law works on the principle of revenge, not on the principle of prevention.

It is almost like saying, ‘I would not take any precaution for preventing children from being raped but if someone does so, I will hang him’.

Rape is a social problem that needs to be addressed in every home. But where morality and wise counselling fail, the state has to take over by effective policing and faster and quick justice delivery system.

Deterrence mechanism has not stopped people from committing heinous crimes, show statistics from even the most developed nations. However, nations that have effective policing, like Singapore, show that crimes are controllable and preventable. They say that many shops don’t even lock up after business hours in Singapore. The citizens may be relaxed but not the law enforcers.

Death sentences in rape cases, on the other hand, can only bring down the number of complaints. Statistics say that 95% of those accused of raping a minor are known to the victim. This could force a parent not to complain against her child’s rapist as it would mean death to someone known or closely related.

Such a law caters to the dumb who are enamoured by harsh theory but do not know that harsher the law, the more difficult the trial. The ordinance seems to have been promulgated just to overcome the bad publicity generated against BJP leaders following the rape in Unnao, allegedly involving its MLA, and the one in Kathua, where its workers and lawyers protested on behalf of those accused of gang-raping an 8-year-old in a temple for over a week after sedation, before murdering her.

(abey.kay@gmail.com)

(Published on 30th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 18)