COURT STANDS UP TO MOBOCRACY

Above: Muslims protesting against mob lynching in Ahmedabad/Photo: UNI ~By Inderjit Badhwar We return, again, on this page, and in our cover story—and we shall do so repeatedly as and when the occasion demands—to what has become the most perilous threat to democracy, the Constitution, the Rule of Law, to humanity, to religion, to the social order—indeed to the very concept of what historian AL Basham called, “The Wonder That Was India”: the proliferation of the murderous mob culture as an instrument of state policy. A complicit, stand-by-and-watch state in mass lynchings organised to create political terror or fan religious hatred is not a state at all. It is, in effect, the most diabolical state of nature in which man walked not free and uninhibited but cowered in fear of an existence that was, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish, and short”. The rule of the lynch mob is the very anti-thesis of law, of civilisation. I cannot for the life of me figure out why, for its glory, pomp and grandeur, the Roman Empire was called a “civilisation”. Only because it had a “democratic” Senate, built coliseums, created a framework of jurisprudence? Actually, an empire that thrived on mass slavery, whose emperors could teach modern fascist dictators a lesson or two in cruelty, which fed Christians to the lions, feasted on blood and gore as gladiators pummelled one another to shreds before deliriously cheering crowds, was the epitome of barbarianism.…
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POWER TO THE PEOPLE

~By Inderjit Badhwar After the Supreme Court delivered its historic verdict last week on what is popularly known as the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Delhi government versus the lieutenant-governor, a leading lawyer tweeted: “I hope every politician in the country reads all three judgments. Had it come two weeks earlier the chief minister would not have to sleep on a sofa at the lieutenant governor’s residence waiting for an appointment.” The observation was right on the mark. The three judges— Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan— as part of a wider constitution bench had finally spoken in concurring voices on the vexatious subject of governance of the nation’s capital which has been hobbled, indeed choked by a power struggle between elected governments and the titular administrative overseer who represents the president of India. It involved the interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution. This article defines the special status of Delhi and the administrative chain of command that is involved in running a territory which has an elected government but is not fully a state. In 533 pages and more than 1,20,000 words, the size of two regular novels, the judges, even though prolix to a fault at times, delivered what will surely go down as a magnum opus on constitutionalism, referring repeatedly to “constitutional morality”.…
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CELLPHONES IN SC: A STEP FORWARD

~By Inderjit Badhwar The Supreme Court took a welcome, forward-looking step last week by allowing journalists to carry mobile phones—in silent mode—inside the court rooms. Earlier, only accredited mediapersons were accorded this concession. The new ruling comes with certain conditions such as the requirement that this concession would be made available to those with six-month passes issued by the Court Registry. But it is nonetheless another move in the direction of what are known as “sunshine laws”— requiring agencies of the government to give as much public access as is desirable or possible to the government and courts. Implicit in sunshine laws is the ability to record a meeting either through audio or visual devices. While the Supreme Court circular is silent on the specific issues of audio and video recordings—it is, perhaps, still, testing the waters—there is little doubt that it is acknowledging India’s move into the age of digital journalism where tweeting court proceedings may soon become the rule rather than the exception that it now is, and the monopoly of a fistful of privileged “senior” journos will be opened to competition. The move is also a manifestation of the Court’s continuing recognition of the concept of open, accountable and responsive governance.…
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KASHMIR: TRAGEDY AND FARCE

~By Inderjit Badhwar The latest political crisis in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in which a government ruling in Delhi has pulled the rug out from under the feet of its regional coalition partner brings to mind two utterances from National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah—the Lion of Kashmir—who straddled the state like a colossus whether as a freedom fighter, a political prisoner or a chief executive before and after India’s Independence. After Indian armed forces pushed back Pakistani invaders who had attacked J&K to accomplish a military annexation of the erstwhile princely state, the issue was discussed extensively by the UN’s General Assembly and Security Council. Participating in these discussions, the then prime minister of the state’s emergency government, Sheikh Abdullah, made a speech in the Security Council on February 5, 1948 slamming Pakistan’s legitimacy in staking any kind of post-Partition claim over the state, which had signed the Instrument of Accession to the Indian Union. “The Government of India could easily have accepted the accession and could have said, ‘All right, we accept your accession and we shall render this help’. There was no necessity for the Prime Minister of India to add the proviso, when accepting the accession, that ‘India does not want to take advantage of the difficult situation in Kashmir.…
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WILL THE NON-YES-MEN PLEASE STAND UP?

~By Inderjit Badhwar Many watching the reality show unfurling in the Delhi lieutenant governor’s waiting room, where the chief minister and three of his cabinet colleagues staged an unprecedented sit-in, found it laughable. I found it sad. That a popularly elected chief executive along with his deputy, and the ministers of public works, and rural development should be sitting on a dharna—no matter how plush the sofas may look in the widely published photographs—shows there’s something rotten in the state of Delhi. Most worrisome is the charge made by Kejriwal that the L-G is actually aiding and abetting and encouraging a “strike” by IAS officers in charge of running Delhi, bringing the capital to an administrative standstill. The nation’s capital has been gripped by a governmental paralysis never before seen no matter how politically surcharged the atmosphere in previous dispensations. But what is truly dangerous to the administrative jurisprudence of the nation is that the  bureaucracy—in this case the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS)—has become, willy nilly,  a full-fledged participant in the power struggle between a democratic legislature answerable to its voters and a politically installed lieutenant governor who reports to his puppeteers in the central government. Delhi is a hybrid state.…
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SWAMINATHAN REDUX

~By Inderjit Badhwar “Our cities are not India. India lives in her seven and a half lakh villages and the cities live upon the villages”—MK Gandhi. “It is very sad that farmers who are sustaining life on earth are forced to agitate for legitimate demands.”—MS Swaminathan. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan are both Fathers. One fathered the birth of independent India. The other, the emergence of a nation self-sufficient in food grain production following years of agricultural stagnation and famines. Gandhi will forever be in the news so long as there is a world and there is an India. But today, the man hogging the headlines and entering into the daily conversation of peasants who may not even have heard his name before is the 1925-born nonagenarian Swaminathan. Farmers’ protests have broken out across the land. Last week marked the anniversary of the death of six peasants felled and many wounded by police bullets during a kisan rally in Madhya Pradesh. The tillers of the soil are demanding more remunerative prices for their produce and freedom or waivers from billions of rupees of debt. Thousands of indebted farmers have chosen suicide as a way out of their penury. What has now erupted as the most volatile political issue facing the nation has been in the making for decades.…
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A PUNCH IN THE SNOUT

By Inderjit Badhwar On June 1, 2018, a day after the BJP received a political drubbing in the bypolls across India, The Indian Express carried two headlines on its first page: “Opposition Parties Take 11 of 14 Assembly and Lok Sabha Seats.” Side by side, it ran a feel-good headline for the ruling party: “Good Rabi Crop, Uptick in Factory Output Lift GDP up to 7.7 Per Cent.” Does it make any sense? The economy growing at about the fastest rate in the world, while the government receives a simultaneous thrashing at the hands of voters in what could be a prelude to the 2019 general elections? In Kairana, UP, which had become the riot-torn crucible for vote-catching Hindu-Muslim politics following bloody communal clashes and a religion-based exodus of population that swept the BJP and its majoritarian sabre-rattlers into power, “Jats and Muslims stepped over riot faultlines to vote together”, the Express said. Actually, this is an  example of why statistics should be damned, and political parties should be careful of using “surging” GDP and related feel-good econometrics of the kind regurgitated by the likes of Surjit Bhalla as vote-catching electoral propaganda. It just doesn’t work. When a voter is unemployed, his pockets empty, jobs shrinking, diesel and petrol prices skyrocketing, mandis in distress, prices soaring, GST raising the cost of anything you touch, markets shrinking, uncountable jobs sacrificed at the altar of economic adventurism like demonetisation which failed to distinguish between a “black economy” and a cash-based economy, he’s going to punch you right in the nose when you tell him you stand for the farmer and the working man.…
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A PUNCH IN THE SNOUT

By Inderjit Badhwar On June 1, 2018, a day after the BJP received a political drubbing in the bypolls across India, The Indian Express carried two headlines on its first page: “Opposition Parties Take 11 of 14 Assembly and Lok Sabha Seats.” Side by side, it ran a feel-good headline for the ruling party: “Good Rabi Crop, Uptick in Factory Output Lift GDP up to 7.7 Per Cent.” Does it make any sense? The economy growing at about the fastest rate in the world, while the government receives a simultaneous thrashing at the hands of voters in what could be a prelude to the 2019 general elections? In Kairana, UP, which had become the riot-torn crucible for vote-catching Hindu-Muslim politics following bloody communal clashes and a religion-based exodus of population that swept the BJP and its majoritarian sabre-rattlers into power, “Jats and Muslims stepped over riot faultlines to vote together”, the Express said. Actually, this is an  example of why statistics should be damned, and political parties should be careful of using “surging” GDP and related feel-good econometrics of the kind regurgitated by the likes of Surjit Bhalla as vote-catching electoral propaganda. It just doesn’t work. When a voter is unemployed, his pockets empty, jobs shrinking, diesel and petrol prices skyrocketing, mandis in distress, prices soaring, GST raising the cost of anything you touch, markets shrinking, uncountable jobs sacrificed at the altar of economic adventurism like demonetisation which failed to distinguish between a “black economy” and a cash-based economy, he’s going to punch you right in the nose when you tell him you stand for the farmer and the working man.…
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THANK YOU, FATHER

~By Inderjit Badhwar “Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us and you call us to live as brothers and sisters…Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words ‘division’, ‘hatred’ and ‘war’ be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which al­ways brings us together will be ‘brother’, and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam!” This is part of Pope Francis’ invocation for peace. He chanted this recently for Syria and Iraq, for Israel and Palestine, for the impoverished Central African Republic. In his traditional Sunday blessing, he has asked for an end to “vendettas”. In strife-torn Kashmir last month, hundreds of Hindu priests and devotees prayed for peace and harmony in the state to honour the great Adi Shankaracharya on his jayanti. Many of them had come from Kanchipuram. As one worshipper put it: “Our Guru (Acharya Sri Jayendra Saraswathi) is for the whole world and he taught us to pray for peace, harmony and brotherhood, especially for Kashmir.” On the holy occasion of Ramadan, world leaders including Justin Trudeau and Benjamin Netanyahu reached out to their Muslim “brothers and sisters” and repeated the blessings of the Prophet.…
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DEFIANT INDEPENDENCE

~By Inderjit Badhwar “Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother … let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs—let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. Let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions keep the rule of law.” This quote from Abraham Lincoln was how the current deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, ended a recent speech at the Bar Association of Montgomery County’s Law Day Celebration in Maryland. Rosenstein is probably the most talked about public official in the Donald Trump administration. He has become the lightning rod for the fury of the White House and its Republican supporters in Congress for refusing to play footsie with them in the ongoing Justice Department investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump administration’s subterranean interactions with the Russians, designed to influence the outcome of the presidential election. The ongoing probe is a textbook case for all constitutional democracies—especially India—on the role and conduct of prosecutors in the disinterested pursuit of fraud, waste and corruption.…
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CHANGING TIMES

~By Inderjit Badhwar That the invocation of Karnataka Pride should have become a focal point during the surcharged election campaign should hardly come as a surprise to anybody familiar with the development of linguistic states in independent India, and the constitutional tug-of-war between ideologies which seek a strong centre with the states as mere irritants, and those favouring stronger state rights and autonomy. Actually linguistic tensions, starting in the 1930s when the idea of a new Indian nation was taking shape under Congress guidance, have been marked by bloodshed, mass agitations, self-immolation, student protests, police bullets, repression, anti-Hindi mass protests until the centre bent and compromised. These mass struggles, many of which matched the fury of the national independence movement against the British, ultimately led to the creation of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Odia-speaking regional identities. You just cannot wish away sub-cultural national pride in a diverse land like India. And the flagship of this social phenomenon is language. It bonds. It unifies. It soothes. It comforts. There is a Tamil saying that even if you hurl abuse at the gods in Tamil, they will forgive you. I am sure the people of Kannada have a similar sentiment. So it is no surprise that, taking a leaf from their Tamil brethren next door, the Karnataka Congress under Siddaramaiah wants to unfurl its own state flag.…
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STRANGLING PARLIAMENT

~By Inderjit Badhwar The cover story this week (India Legal magazine) is an example of the continuing alarms that India Legal sounds to warn readers about a general trend that points to the withering of Indian democracy. Generally defined as the rule of, for, and by the people, democracy is short-changed if you view it simply as the right of a person to exercise an individual franchise in an election. That is only the embryonic stage of a process which is expected to mature into a multi-faceted engine of accountability, transparency and checks and balances under the rule of law. As Right to Information (RTI) architect and activist Aruna Roy says in an interview in this issue: “For Indians to realise that they can shape the destiny of this country they have to go beyond the vote to know what they can or cannot do. We want a shift from representative to participatory democracy.” She expresses deep distress over the intimidation and murders of RTI and free activists and journalists. Also, in his peculiarly modulated and controlled style of expressing anguish, iconic Prof. Upendra Baxi writes in this issue: “The Supreme Court has evoked national concern ever since January 12, 2018, when its four senior-most justices not only released a letter they had written to the chief justice of India (CJI) concerning the ways the roster and collegium systems were working or not allowed to work properly but also appealed to the nation and history to rectify the current unhappy state.” Prof.…
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