Expedient to blame judges
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would sure be a market leader if he were to publish a book on quotable quotes. Jaitley’s finesse with speech, intellectual depth and experience at debate both at the University and later in the courtrooms, makes him one of the finest speakers in Parliament. However, despite the fine selection of words and impactful delivery, his oration seldom qualifies for statesmanship.
Last week, he once again gave a very fine speech in the Rajya Sabha, wherein he raised an alarm with regard to the judiciary encroaching upon the authority of the legislature. “Step by step, brick by brick, the edifice of India’s legislature is being destroyed,” Jaitley said urging MPs to protect budgetary and taxation powers from being handed over to the judiciary.
Though Jaitley made the remarks in the context of the GST Bill, he was for certain targeting the Supreme Court, which had on the day reinstated Harish Rawat as the chief minister of Uttarakhand, following the Congress party’s victory in the floor test in the Assembly. Jaitley’s worries were that if it the legislature failed to find a consensus on GST Bill, the judiciary may intervene and pass a direction in this area too.
His worries are not misplaced. However, politics is all about floor management and nobody should understand this better than the Finance Minister. He had everything going his way in the first half of Budget session and there were ample signs that the Congress could be brought around to get the GST Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha. However, somebody in the ruling BJP had the brainwave to topple the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand and thereafter the crisis began.
The unfair manner in which the Centre acted, gave ample scope to the judiciary to intervene. It also made the Congress once again harden its adversarial stand inside the Parliament and seal the fate of the GST Bill. No wonder Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a few days after Jaitley’s address to the House of Elders, was left ruing the fact that GST Bill could not be passed.
Speaking at the session to bid farewell to 53 retiring members of the Rajya Sabha, Modi said, “I wish the GST would have been passed during your tenure in the Rajya Sabha. People in your states would have benefited from it.” The Prime Minister added that he hoped that those who would return for fresh terms to the Rajya Sabha would help pass the bill, which gives effect to a unified tax regime in the country.
Mr Prime Minister, among those who would come to Rajya Sabha to fill the vacancies, those from your party would definitely support the GST Bill. However, those belonging to the Opposition would look forward to a positive outreach from your end.
If you needed evidence, Uttarakhand is a case in point. Every political pundit or even the common man in the trough and peaks of the Himalayan state has failed to comprehend the logic behind Centre’s misadventure. Why did it not occur either to the Finance Minister or the Prime Minister that such a move would jeopardise its legislative agenda completely during the remaining half of the Budget session, including the passage of the crucial GST Bill?
The move by BJP president Amit Shah and his close aide Kailash Vaijayvargia could not have been without the blessings of the Central government. The order to impose Central rule a day before the floor test inside Uttarakhand assembly has been the most reprehensible political action of Modi government so far. It brought the judiciary into play, resurrected the fortunes of the Congress party and left the Centre and the BJP with a bloody nose.
Thus to complain about the judiciary encroaching upon the authority of the legislature “step by step, brick by brick,” has to be understood in the context of the executive’s misadventures. Modi-Jaitley duo understands very well that under the structure provided by our constitution, the executive is controlled by both the legislature and judiciary.
It was not only the judiciary which did not endorse of the Centre’s misadventure in Uttarakhand. Its attempt to ensure passage of Uttarakhand appropriation bill, to justify the imposition of President’s rule in the state, too met with the tough opposition inside Parliament. Uttarakhand fiasco cannot be blamed either on judiciary or legislature but the sheer frailty of the executive’s political strategy.
Jaitley would do well to appreciate that increasing judicial activism is largely on the accord of a large number of people approaching the courts to give directions to the government. To this Jaitley had countered once saying, “It is never too difficult to deliver justice within the boundaries of the law and Constitution. But it is very difficult to find the truth between perception and reality. It must be pondered over whether five-star activists are driving the judiciary today.”
There may be some degree of truth in what Jaitley said but then in matters of public perception, the political class is today at its lowest. There was an opportunity when the people decided to vote en masse in favour of Narendra Modi-led BJP. However, misadventures like the one just witnessed in Uttarakhand has indeed only added to a fraying of the edifice of India’s legislature. The onus is on the Centre to provide such leadership to the legislature that the judiciary has no opportunity to intervene.
The challenge before Modi and Jaitley is to not stop the judiciary in its tracks but provide such strength to the edifice of legislature and executive that the judiciary seldom takes recourse to activism.
(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal.)