Will simultaneous polls help democracy?

~By Inderjit Badhwar The issue of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies is once again in the news. A draft white paper has been released by the Law Commission that recommends holding of such elections and even suggests that it could be done in 2019 itself, when Lok Sabha polls will be held. It also moots the idea of making changes in the Constitution to realise the objective. India Legal in its February 12, 2018, editorial had already picked up the issue right after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had floated the idea. The write-up delved into every possible angle involved—legal, political and economic—and analysed the pros and cons as well as the background to find out whether the idea thrown up by Modi had any basis or it was merely backed by political expediency. It is now pertinent and relevant to remind our readers about the edit: To be fair to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the proposal to hold national and state elections simultaneously preceded his recent public advocacy of it by nearly two decades. As early as 1999, the Law Commission, chaired by Justice Jeevan Reddy, supported the idea. More recently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice came to a similar conclusion.…
Continue reading

AMBEDKAR’S DIRE WARNING

By Inderjit Badhwar BhimRao Ambedkar is once again the political flavour of the season. As Dalit agitations flare up across the nation, highlighting the dilution and sidestepping of laws aimed at preventing and punishing atrocities against Scheduled Castes, parties competing for the 2019 general election smell the galvanising and shifting of a vote bank. So leaders, including those from the ruling BJP, have turned into Ambedkar flag-wavers in the hope of attracting the faithful to their side. While Dalits understand Ambedkar viscerally, because as an “untouchable” who faced horrendous caste oppression, and then rose to become the chief architect of free India’s Constitution—he is in their bones. He is their messiah as were Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Their messages were the same: legal freedom and constitutionalism mean nothing as long as systematic discrimination, preserved by habit, religion or custom is not eradicated. The withdrawal of the British from India, Ambedkar believed, did not automatically create a free nation. Rather, the exit of the British was an event which would create the conditions for real freedom. That would be the real challenge for India’s new leaders: a fresh struggle to rid this land of institutionalised prejudice, preserved as a handy tool by the British to perpetuate their Raj.…
Continue reading

KEEP THE REPUBLIC GOING, FOLKS

~By Inderjit Badhwar A prominent news website recently quipped that Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani had most likely failed to remember the meaning of her first name. The word “smriti” means memory. And had Irani put her powers of recall to full use she would probably have thought twice before issuing her ill-fated order which was directed against accredited journalists for disseminating “fake news”. As hastily withdrawn, at the prime minister’s intervention, as it was issued, the Smriti Diktat would punish journalists on the basis of mere allegations of  “fake news” through withdrawal of their accreditation—a government-issued badge that allows them access to officialdom. This thinly veiled attempt to gag the media was the second time in less than a year that the ruling BJP’s mandarins were forced to backtrack under a barrage of protests. Had Irani forgotten so soon how a similar, perhaps more draconian, attempt by Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to muzzle the press through an ordinance which would have punished the reporting of corruption charges against government officials had bitten the dust? Actually, the Modi government is not very different from others, in India as well as across the world, in trying to scuttle press freedom by attacking it from public pulpits, trying to curb it through the law, buying out powerful news organizations or intimidating owners and reporters.…
Continue reading

THE WISDOM OF FLEXIBILITY

~By Inderjit Badhwar Andhra Pradesh supremo N Chandrababu Naidu has all but called it quits with his alliance partner, the BJP, over the issue of “special status” for his state. Political compulsions may well have prompted the ruling party to grab the TDP as an NDA partner. But the relationship came at a price that the Sangh ideologues are unwilling to pay. Taking advantage of the Telangana-Andhra split to shore up its majority in Parliament was the easy part. What the reigning dispensation finds difficult to swallow—or at least to acknowledge in public—is the “special status” concept. It goes against the grain of the RSS’s Akhand Bharat dogma which is in direct conflict with the philosophy of increased federalism and greater autonomy for states. The BJP also finds this demand in sharp conflict with its own vote-catching narratives of the unfolding of India’s modern history. Among the most effective of these is that Kashmir enjoys a special status because of the Congress’s appeasement of the Muslim-majority state and the benefits conferred on it through Article 370. This is an important example of how distortions and half-truths become obstacles in the path of peaceful and progressive solutions. The common refrain of the RSS is that “special privileges” given to the Kashmiris (read Muslims) have prevented the Muslim majority state’s “full integration” with India.…
Continue reading

HISTORY AT YOUR SERVICE?

Above: (Clockwise from top left) Renowned historians Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and British archaeologist the late Mortimer Wheeler   ~By Inderjit Badhwar Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed a committee of “scholars” under the guidance of Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, ostensibly to re-examine and reconstruct Indian history, particularly the ancient and medieval periods, heated arguments have broken out whether this is yet another political tactic by the Sangh Parivar to legitimise its Hindutva-oriented foothold over India. The official answer is that there is no such intention. “We are attempting to capture the antiquity of Indian history, culture and tradition. We will make recommendations and the committee will also be responsible to create resource materials and contents on the same,” a committee member said in response to a newspaper query. He denied the committee was linked to any effort to alter the reading of history. Other sources say the board’s directive could include an inspection of long-held perspective on the advent of Aryans and the fruition of Sanskrit. Saffron pundits have habitually confronted the Aryan “invasion” premise spelled out by some of the world’s most renowned scholars. Actually, as I will demonstrate later with a few examples, the whole exercise really boils down to self-serving “facts” which are manipulated by ruling dispensations to convince people to buy into their political hegemony and dominance.…
Continue reading

ARBITRATION: GOVERNMENT’S FORWARD MARCH

Above: PM Modi at the conference on National Initiative towards Strengthening Arbitration and Enforcement held in New Delhi in October 2016/Photo: UNI ~By Inderjit Badhwar Because there’s so much easily combustible fuel to stoke the fires of breast-beating about the failings in the Indian judicial system, we often miss many of the positive developments in all the smoke. In the midst of all the negative clutter emanating from the recent judges’ mutiny in the Supreme Court, mounting case pendency, the abysmal failure to fill vacancies in the benches, internecine quarrels and indiscipline in the higher judiciary, the stalemate over the Memo-randum of Procedure (MoP) with the Executive, an important, positive development last week went virtually unnoticed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet gave an enthusiastic nod to a vital piece of legislation that could help India move more swiftly in the direction of becoming an important international hub in legal arbitration. This would not only bring foreign arbitration to India, help ease the case burden on the courts but benefit the country economically in the long run. Advocate-writer Diljeet Titus, who has covered and analysed this cabinet decision for this issue of India Legal, makes a powerful point in his opening para.…
Continue reading

THE ACHHE DIN OF BILL & MELINDA

~By Inderjit Badhwar Bill and Melinda Gates, the known universe’s richest power couple—until they recently surrendered that position by a hair’s breadth to Amazon Czar and Czarina Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos—don’t seem to share the prevailing pessimism about where our world is headed. Given the daily overdose of news about climate change, increasing violence, war and pestilence, the rapid destruction of the rule of law under authoritarian jackboots, resurgent racism, terror…most of us seem to take for granted that we are on a one-way ticket to hell. But, surprise, surprise…the Microsoft wunderkinds Melinda and Bill don’t seem to think so. In fact, they put their money where their mouth is by investing more and more of their wealth into charity, in particular the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which has a large presence in India, a country of which Gates is a personal fan and unabashed admirer because of its ingenuity, scientific temper and the high-tech orientation of its younger generation. A hallmark of India is its investment in the thoughtful application of scientific and technological advances to meet the needs of the poorest populations, Gates believes. On a recent visit to India, Bill Gates explained why he is “an optimist about India”.…
Continue reading

TWO GENTLE GIANTS

~By Inderjit Badhwar Every day in the weekly life cycle of India Legal is special. Who knows what news will come tumbling out of the courts at any given moment? Expectancy nourishes excitement. But there are always some days which are more singular than others. And last week there occurred one such special occasion. The evergreen jurist Upendra Baxi, the penultimate man for all seasons, paid a long visit to our editorial offices to be part of an informal conclave in which he regaled the participating judges, constitutional luminaries, journalists and senior lawyers with anecdotes and flourishes of legal lore. Baxi is a one of a kind. He is flagrantly and fearlessly liberal. He is what the Americans call a “strict constructionist” of the Constitution for whom liberty, far from being a vague precept of political philosophy with little practical value to the toiling masses, is in effect, a living embodiment of their sovereignty in pursuit of a life which need not necessarily be nasty, brutish and short. For the unlettered, (forgive my presumptuousness), a brief introduction to Baxi should suffice. He is an incorrigible, indomitable scholar, having served as vice-chancellor of Delhi University, taught in the US at Duke and UCLA, and is a professor at the University of Warwick in the UK.…
Continue reading

THE 2G JUDGMENT AND DÉJÀ VU

Above: Former telecom minister A Raja at the Patiala House Court after his acquittal in the 2G scam case/Photo: UNI ~By Inderjit Badhwar I spoke to former UPA Telecom Minister A Raja, the blue-eyed boy of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, shortly after his acquittal by a special CBI trial court in the 2G “scam” last week. He said: “I told you so. Go back to what I told your magazine two years ago, and you will see who was telling the truth.” My use of inverted commas around the word “scam” is deliberate. This is because cop-turned-judge Om Prakash Saini, who pronounced the verdict after trying the case for six years, could not find an iota of evidence to support the CBI’s charges of criminal wrongdoing by any of the 19 accused. Judge Saini is a tough nut to crack. He was the one who initially denied bail to co-accused Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi’s daughter, in the same case. He put Suresh Kalmadi behind bars in the Commonwealth Games corruption scandal. He personally summoned some of the top industrialists—Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel, Asim Ghosh of Hutchison Max and Ravi Ruia of Sterling Cellular—for questioning. As a POTA judge, he awarded the death sentence to a terrorist who was part of an attack on an army camp in Red Fort in 2000.…
Continue reading

DEATH SENTENCES—WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL

~By Inderjit Badhwar In 2014, I made a courtesy call on then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam who was due to retire in a week. Without referring to any specific case before him, the judge seemed highly agitated by judicial delays, particularly in the case of death row prisoners who suffer interminable mental torture or even go stark raving mad while awaiting decisions on mercy petitions. “This has to be remedied,” he said. Little did I know that a day later, a bench headed by him and comprising Justices RM Lodha, HL Dattu and SJ Mukhopadhaya would commute the death sentence of Devenderpal Singh Bhullar whose mercy petition had been pending for eight years following a 1993 Delhi bomb blast which killed nine people. The judges cited Shatrughan Chauhan vs Union of India where “unexplained and inordinate delays” in deciding a mercy petition as well as mental and physical illness were found valid grounds for commutation of a death sentence to life imprisonment. Sathasivam’s last judgment as CJI once again catalysed the judicial and academic community to re-examine the whole death penalty issue. India Legal has tackled this subject in cover stories in the magazine as well as on its TV channel in which we featured guests, including academicians from the National Law University (NLU).…
Continue reading

Dharma Matters

Twenty-five years ago, shortly before the Sangh Parivar-led kar sevaks destroyed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, a young BJP lawyer who now holds a powerful government post told me privately that he had been struggling with his conscience over whether Lord Ram should prevail over the constitution or vice versa. As an erudite advocate, he was fully cognisant of the tortuous legal tribulations of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute and appeared convinced that any solution in defiance of established jurisprudence could do fatal harm to the Rule of Law on which the Indian Republic is founded. But as a flag-waving believer in the resurgence of political Hindutva, he was equally convinced that saffron militancy—symbolised by the BJP’s campaign to build the Ram temple where it once allegedly stood before being destroyed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 16th century—was the only way to restore Hindus’ pride in their own nation. His was an existential dilemma. Even as people like him struggled with it, thousands of others plagued with no such angst decided to take the law into their own hands and destroyed the structure on December 6, 1992.  More than 2,000 Indians perished in the riots which erupted after the demolition.…
Continue reading

VICEROY BUREAUCRATS

~By Inderjit Badhwar The ugly tug-of-war between the “state” of Delhi and the lieutenant governor (LG) seems finally to be coming to a head. This ungainly power struggle, which has made a mockery of good governance in the nation’s capital, hit the headlines following the AAP’s landslide victory in 2015. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal continually screamed from the rooftops that the LG, at the behest of his political masters running the central government, was behaving like an oriental despot and refusing to let the state machinery function. There is some verisimilitude in the charges that Kejriwal’s eccentric style of functioning, his lack of tact and penchant for gratuitous confrontation had something to do with irritating and alienating former LG Najeeb Jung to the point of aggressive hostility. But there is no gainsaying that even though Kejriwal was his own worst enemy, he was chosen to do a job with the overwhelming support of the electorate—the real sovereigns—while Jung was parachuted into his post by a ruling party which was and remains innately hostile to its bête noir, the irascible Kejriwal who is, to boot, a practised public baiter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Also, it is incontestable that Jung threw a monkey wrench into important administrative decisions and appointments the chief minister tried to make to move Delhi forward.…
Continue reading