Law’s course, puzzling in India
Lawmakers, lawmen and law keepers may disagree; law in India rarely takes a predictable course. Very often, law, which is also regarded as ‘blind’, follows an unknown, or even mysterious and contradictory course, depending upon the profile of the person facing it. If the person is of a prime minister’s status, or that of a chief minister belonging to the party ruling the centre, a super rich like the Ambanis, film megastar of Salman Khan’s repute or Saif Ali Khan’s image, alleged political killers or communal riot engineers such as Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler and hi-profile land scam suspect Robert Vadra, law is most likely to miss its normal course. Law has been unsuccessfully chasing BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi, socially stigmatised for 2002 Gujarat communal riot, through a long labyrinthine course like a black adder in the African jungle for the last 12 years, much to the chagrin of the vocal section of the public and media.
Curiously, law looked somewhat paralysed to make a right and timely move to bring to book some of the Congress party’s big guns who allegedly masterminded a Sikh massacre through the entire north India, from Delhi to Dhanbad, soon after the then prime minister Indira Gandhi was gunned down at her official residence by a uniformed Sikh armed guard in 1984 to protest against her ‘Operation Golden Temple’ to flush out and kill Sikh terrorists. A smaller minority, Sikhs in India are no match for their bigger minority counterpart, Muslims, in political, vocal and muscle powers when it comes to making public protestations or taking law in hands.
For Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, a recent convict in over a two-decade-old Rs 10,000-crore fodder scam case, law is yet to find its right course as he managed to obtain a bail from a higher court with the CBI prosecutors changed their course to play ball with Lalu Prasad ahead of the Lok Sabha poll that helped Congress finally find an ally in RJD in Bihar in search of a higher tally in the lower house. Since the declaration of Lok Sabha polls by Election Commission (EC), a constitutional body, law and the election regulator came under severe criticism from various party leaders for following an alleged discriminatory course to book violators of EC’s model code and the people’s representation act. Law didn’t bat an eyelid to book some highly overawed junior election officials manning some booths at the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency on 7 May for letting Congress’ star candidate Rahul Gandhi trespass into the restricted zone when the process of voting was on, but it went soft on the trespasser and acted mildly even after strong protests from BJP and Aam Aadmi Party and a nationwide media condemnation of the Gandhi scion’s unlawful act. For any other candidate, EC would have probably disqualified the trespasser from the contest.
Law’s course in India depends upon its target or the profile of its offender. While in the case of election law violation, it could just turn blind towards Rahul Gandhi’s illegal booth visit during the casting of votes or law could wait for a complaint to turn away his sister Priyanka Gandhi’s political aide (although she claims he has no personal political ambition), law was, at the same time, become extra vigilant and harsh to drive away AAP’s Amethi candidate Kumar Viswas’ family members from the constituency as they were neither voters nor locals. Priyanka Gandhi’s political aide was also an ‘outsider.’ While a petty burgler is allowed to spend years under custody, a convict for illegally possessing and hiding lethal AK-47 gun at the time of the first major serial terrorist bombing of Mumbai in which scores of innocent people were killed is allowed ‘parole’ on compassionate grounds to escape the jail sentence. Surprisingly, it is said law allows such a facility to convicts in Mumbai.
For the rich, famous and those politically powerful and connected in India, law, paradoxically, lives up to the etymological meaning of its globally-accepted Grecian characterisation that ‘law is blind’, as also ‘justice is blind’. In India, law is very often ‘colour blind’. Intrinsically, law’s blindness means that lady justice or the court of justice feels the weights she hold and makes a verdict on what is right and what is wrong are irrespective of all other frugal considerations such as money, social or political status, popularity, religion, sex, etc. Indian law appears to be quite helpless to ensure execution of even such criminals as those convicted and condemned to death by the country’s highest judiciary, including killers of a former prime minister, a chief minister and the others accused and convicted for wedging war against the state. The time taken to dispose of the mercy petitions of some such death-row convicts makes the judicial verdict almost infractuous, invoking another legal provision called ‘time-bar.’ In most such cases, political considerations before political executives take precedence over law. Death sentence gets commuted to ‘life term.’ Thus, law’s so-called ‘long arm’ often fails to catch up with the criminals and their crime.
Law never looked more impotent and partial in dealing with high level corruption as it did during the Congress-led UPA regime which had, time and again, disowned the prime minister’s culpability in crucial cabinet decisions, be they with regard to coal block allocation, spectrum sale, gas price revision and Delhi commonwealth games cost escalation -- all leading to astronomical revenue losses to the exchequer. The poll-bound UPA government even went to the extent of according constitutional immunity to a former Delhi chief minister, an indirect suspect allegedly involved in the Rs 50,000 crore CWG scam, by appointing her as a state governor hours before EC announced the Lok Sabha election. Law has remained silent and ineffective, if also totally discriminatory, to accord immunity to a private individual holding no official position from personal security check in India’s international airports, long regarded as terrorist targets, a privilege which is not allowed even to the country’s serving four-star generals and Supreme Court judges.
Until the latest ground breaking Supreme Court ruling declaring ‘void’ a long practiced discriminatory law that prevented security agencies to proceed against bureaucrats of the ranks of joint secretary and above at the centre on corruption and other criminal charges without a government permission, law of equality was partial to bureaucrats on seniority ground.
The apex court verdict has already come under public criticism prompted by both the bureaucracy and political executives and leaders who normally take senior bureaucrats on board before a wrongdoing. In fact, the much misused and oft-quoted term that ‘law will take its own course’ both by politicians and those officially involved in protection and execution of law has become almost a joke. IPA