A tyranny of the elected?

A tyranny of the elected?

By M.D. Nalapat | 14 August, 2011

Both Swami Ramdev and Anna Hazare share Mahatma Gandhi's desire that India returns to innocence, to a period when there was no linguistic pollution via the English language, nor the cultural catastrophe causing such perversions of human civilisation (and couture) as the miniskirt. In this, they are joined by Lalu Yadav, except of course where his own children are concerned. It was the Mahatma's yearning for a return to the heady primitivism of the past that led him to anoint Jawaharlal Nehru as his successor. He knew that the younger man, despite his profession of modernity, would ensure through his economic policies that India remained in the low-income trap into which it had been pushed by the beloved British who were his mates at Harrow. 65 years after "freedom", the new saviours of India seek a return to a time when the country was as insular as it was when the European conquest got launched in earnest four centuries back.

However, it is not Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev's Gandhian rhetoric that is putting off India's politicians. They themselves use such cant with verve and frequency. Rather, it is the horror of seeing the "unelected" deign to prescribe nostrums to the "elected representatives of the people". In 1993, the then Chief Justice J.S. Verma decreed that judges were a breed apart. In a novel interpretation of the Constitution of India (no doubt caused by that document being in the English language), the learned Chief Justice ruled that henceforward, only judges could judge judges. The donning of the woolsack was in effect an elixir which transported the blessed fraternity of The Bench into divine status. From then onwards, they would decree away polluting industries and kirana stores at will, changing laws and procedures in a few paragraphs of polished — or otherwise — prose. That the Constitution of India was silent as to the divine status of the judiciary was a detail that was brushed aside by Verma and his joyous successors. Keeping the judicial system firmly in the hands of judges would ensure probity and efficiency.

Since J.S. Verma, there has been a succession of Chief Justices of India, and the families of more than a few have blossomed forth into successful businesspersons, enjoying a standard of living far above that provided by a judge's pension. Of course, since P.V. Narasimha Rao's opportunistic refusal to get Justice Ramaswamy dismissed, the judiciary has become even less immune to outside accountability than politicians and civil servants. While there are indeed the Kapadias in their number, these seem to follow a depressing procession of Sabharwals and Balakrishnans, the latter in such profusion that even Justice J.S. Verma may hesitate to claim that his novel interpretation of the Constitution of India has resulted in the cleansing of the judicial stables. And as for efficiency, while in the UK courts have worked night and day to ensure punishment to those who have rioted in cities across the UK this week, in India, the list of cases continues to be such that justice comes only after deferral decades, and certainly long after those seeking it pass over to the hereafter.

Given the situation that has developed in the Indian judicial system as a result of Justice Verma improving (and in the interests of avoiding a contempt citation, this is the only adjective that this columnist dares to use) on B.R. Ambedkar's work, a case can be made out for denying similar immunity to any other pillar of the processes of governance. Ambedkar and his huge cohort took two years (the equivalent of a few seconds in the judicial process in India) to come up with a document that visibly owes much to numerous others, including those that were written out in a matter of hours by those more responsive to timelines than the rulers of India. Now, in an interpretation of the foundation document of the Union of India as revolutionary as that propounded by Justice Verma, politicians have come up with the doctrine that only the "elected" have the right to steer any change in the institutions and modes of governance. The others should relax on their sofas and watch Sharad Pawar's boys get thrashed by England on the cricket pitch.

And what if the country's numerous — and amazingly prosperous — political leaders continue to fail to come up with solutions other than those specifically designed to benefit them and their near and dear? The only option is to entreat them to do better. Certainly, no citizen who has not been through the immense financial expenditure and the use of strong-arm methods that have together become the staples of campaigning in the world's most populous democracy has the right to even attempt to seek avenues of pushing the country out of the ditch in which it has remained in the seventh decade of what was presumed (in 1947) to be deliverance. Whether it is Sonia Gandhi or L.K. Advani, both are clear that Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev or any of the others clamouring for change have only the right of petitioning The Elected for redress. And what of the fact that almost all election expenditure is in the form of black money, or the numerous indicted criminals who have "won the people's mandate"? Why, these should be given a free pass, as if they were not spotless, they would not have been elected. Hence, Kapil Sibal's jibe at the Hazares and the Ramdevs "to get elected". Sibal is one of the brighter MPs, in fact among the brightest, almost in the same class as Mani Shankar Aiyar, and hence it is unlikely that he is unaware that getting elected in India and rooting out Black Money is a significant contradiction in terms.

Dropcap OnJust as it is time to bring back accountability — from outside — to the Indian judiciary, it is long past the time when any sane individual could argue that the political class in India has stood up to the demands of history. Over 65 years, the Indian political class has — often deliberately — comprehensively failed to ensure that the people of India get free of the degradation into which they were pushed by colonial rule. Indeed, the only difference between that era and now seems to be in the pigmentation of the skin of the rulers. Otherwise, it is the same story, of all the powers vesting in government and all the responsibilities being thrust on the emaciated shoulders of the people. Hazare and Ramdev may be wrong in their views, but they can hardly be more harmful than the lot that claims a divine right to exclusive power, our elected representatives.


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