From no reaction to over reaction. That just about sums up the handling of the situation stemming from the horrid rape of the 23-year-old girl by a group of demented hoodlums in a Delhi bus last month. How vulnerable, weak and insensitive the government was came through loudly during the fortnight-long protests. Initially, it hardly took note of the barbaric act in a moving bus only a few kilometers away from the homes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his boss and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. It was thought that like all such heinous crimes it too would end up as a mere statistic in the police records.
But even if the government had no conscience, India's young men and women had. The protests, as usual, caught the government sleeping on the job — its best posture during all such situations, be it the Anna Hazare fast for a Lokpal or the broad daylight loot of the exchequer by A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran in the Telecom Ministry. Singh might be the PM but he continues to behave like the file-pusher he was for the most part of his working life as an economic bureaucrat. As for Sonia Gandhi, well, unless some minion in the Congress informed her about the gravity of the atrocity against the hapless woman, how was she expected to know?
Thus it was that the Congress president maintained her usual stance of no-speak-without-a-script even when a number of women members, led by the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, spoke feelingly in the Lok Sabha about the horrid things the poor girl was subjected to by the sex fiends in the heart of the capital. Sonia Gandhi sought to make up for the inherent lapse by going across to the hospital later and duly ensuring that her visit was publicised.
On his part, the PM woke up from his deep slumbers a good seven days after the nationwide protests. Though the protests essentially highlighted the deep sense of insecurity every Indian woman regardless of her socio-economic status feels while being alone in public places, especially after sunset, Singh's limp one-minute televised address did nothing to reassure the nation. Nor did it assuage its feelings of anger and anguish at the gruesome rape. It is another matter, the PM himself thought it to be theek hai, as his administration went back to its favourite supine position.
Then, the decision to fly the comatose woman to Singapore was a clever ruse, meant to deny the ordinary people a prominent focal point to gather for protest. The lotus-eaters in New Delhi believed that things would return to normal once the focal point was removed from their midst. Unfortunately, the Singapore hospital did not have a magic wand to revive the unconscious woman who had virtually succumbed to her wounds sustained while bravely fending off her attackers while she was still in the New Delhi hospital. (Flying her to Singapore in a blaze of international publicity could prove a terrible advertisement for medical tourism in the country. Is Dr Naresh Trehan listening?)
Notably, the socio-economic background of the victim and her rapist-killers wasn't much different. But she undertook to improve her and her family's condition by diligently arming herself with a professional degree; her tormentors, on the other hand, embraced a career in freelance crime, robbing people at random, gaming the corrupt transport system, and generally behaving in a most lawless manner.
But what might have surprised the rulers was that members of the middle and even upper classes came out in droves to protest the brutalisation of this girl from the wrong side of the tracks. The nationwide protests further drove a nail in the limp body of the UPA.
As and when the elections are called, the people will perform its last rites. For, it has failed to govern, to deliver. Aside from the worsening law and order situation, the economic conditions are such that even the middle-income groups are hard put to make both ends meet, given the relentless consumer inflation.
The point is that if the humongous cases of corruption, the continuing policy paralysis in spite of diverting noises about reforms and retail FDI, a creeping economic slowdown, growing lawlessness, a parliamentary logjam, the stalemate over quotas in promotions, etc. do not get it, the government would be felled by the constantly rising consumer prices.
The price of staple dal-roti is hurting the aam aadmi. And what is hurting him all the more is that the government seems fully insensitive to his condition. The nationwide protests following the Delhi rape-cum-murder revealed the distance the government had travelled away from the aam aadmi, the same who had returned it to power with a larger majority four years ago.
A contrived defence
Trust a former judge to contrive a defence when caught on the wrong foot! Press Council chief and former Supreme Court judge, Markendeya Katju, has contended that he called 90% Indians "fools" because of rampant evils of "casteism, communalism, superstitions and other backward traits" prevalent in the society.
In his written response to a legal notice sent by a law student, Tanaya Thakur, and her brother, Aditya, a Class XI student, Justice Katju has defended himself, saying that "ninety percent is a mathematical figure, meaning a large number of people". And then, typically, like a lawyer, argued that he never said that Tanaya and her brother were part of that 90%. In his long-winded reply, Justice Katju goes on to lament the decline and fall of India from its golden past when it allegedly was the global leader in science and mathematics, having discovered the decimal system and plastic surgery. He laments that there are no Paninis and Patanjalis, Ramanujams and Ramans around in the present-day India. Various socials evils are extensively cited by the retired SC judge to defend his remark that "90% of Indians are fools". Are they, really?
Logic missing, Your lordships
Talking of judges, let us do no more than quote a very relevant portion of the order pronounced on Wednesday by the honourable Supreme Court in the Gujarat Lokayukta case. Giving its verdict on a challenge filed by the Gujarat government against the opinion of the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, which had upheld the questionable appointment of the state Lokayukta, the two-member Supreme Court bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and Ibrahim Kailifulla, did a delicate balancing act. They found the law against the state Governor, Kamala Beniwal, but, at the same, validated her arbitrary appointment. For proof read what the good judges said in their own order. While appointing the Lokayukta, the order said, Beniwal failed to consult the State Cabinet... "(She) is most certainly not in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution... it seems this was an outcome of an improper legal advice, and the opinion expressed is not in conformity with the rule of law. The view of the Governor was unwarranted and logically insupportable." Amen.
In that case, how do the hon'ble judges justify upholding the outcome of that unlawful exercise of power by Governor Beniwal? No convincing answer could be found in the detailed order. Clearly, the judges had fallen between two stools. The letter of the law left no option other than for them to nullify the illegal action of the governor. But, because the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court was a party to that action, the SC did not want to follow the law to its logical conclusion. Hence the controversial judicial pronouncement.