Deformed democratic persona
Only true autonomy will ensure robust functioning of the pillars of democracy
The recent tossing of the matter of transfer of judges proposed by the Supreme Court and the suicide by a retired IPS officer in West Bengal may appear to be routine and not even remotely connected issues. But, in the ethos of crippling of institutions due to politicisation, they are symptomatic of the debilitating malaise that has afflicted our democratic persona. One pillar of our democracy, the political executive, that has already subdued its partner – the bureaucracy, has been trying to bulldoze all the other pillars – the legislature, judiciary, and media, and institutions to deform our democratic body, as against the dreams of our founding fathers. It requires systemic corrections, which is possible if real autonomy is given to SC and Lokpal for which the country needs a great leader.
It was only after a careful thought and exercise that our founding fathers sculpted the beautiful body of democratic India and installed a heart in the form of Constitution, with a dignified soul that does not discriminate anyone on the basis of caste, creed, community, religion, sex, poor or rich; vital organs and fluids were placed to make the body alive and kicking, breathing ethics and values. A steel frame of bureaucracy, with a judicious coat of laws, rules and procedures, was designed to guide the political executive in keeping the body upright and sturdy and prevent deformities. Furthermore, provisions were made for the cells – the people, to join together and clothe the body, parts of it in states, and fully at the Centre, with new outfits, once in five years during election festivals, like how we change into new attires in festivals.
At the same time, wary of the vulnerability to the cancerous diseases like unethical practices, compromise and corruption, power-hunting, and tinkering with the heart, the Constitution, they designated an allopathic doctor, SC, for conducting surgeries and administering medicines and other prescriptions. Finally, satisfied with all their efforts, they wished that their creation would in course of time grow up into a robust and muscular democratic persona.
Unfortunately, instead, over the years, cancer from some cells spread, and the metastasis has reached almost every vital organ and fluids in the body. The diseases of money and muscle power, corruption and compromise, communalism and caste, etc., have overrun the systems affecting the strength of the pillars and structures.
Firstly, the legislature. The essence of democracy is voting as per one's conscience to help form the legislature. But it is distorted or discarded by mesmerising people with a string of sops, illusions and false promises, money and muscle, illusions and promises, caste and community, religion and sects, etc. Recently, characters from the film world, including Jackey Shroff, took money from BJP to promote their interest in elections, as a sting operation has exposed. Two leaders, flush with ill-gotten money, are accusing each other in Andhra Pradesh. The CM has alleged that the recent visit of Jagan to London was to bring in slush money through Hawala transaction, while there are rumours that Naidu has already stacked himself well with slush money for the forthcoming elections to pay Rs 5000 per vote to as many as possible. Alas! The much touted and much-abhorred demonetisation to purge out black money has ended up only as harassment to the common man; not to politicians and others in the game.
Then, it is rightly said, freedom of the press is limited to the pleasure of the publisher. A publisher or a media-house, being a businessman, is vulnerable to the diktats of those in power and thus toes their line, as is seen in abundance during this present regime.
Although the political executive and the bureaucracy together form executive, the steel frame of the latter has been made porous and malleable by the former so that it can be bent, used, and misused. Laws, rules and procedures have become symbolic and the diktats of those in power based on new principles of compromise and corruption have become the real guiding factors. Dangling the weapons of postings, transfers and victimisation, they have usurped the powers of bureaucracy. A new culture of 'committed' bureaucracy has emerged with corruption acting as the catalyst, rendering the truly honest bureaucrats an endangered community.
Every government is acting the same way. The recent suicide of a retired IPS officer in WB only symbolises it. He was sidelined by Mamata Banerjee since he was the 'man' of the Communist Party when they were in power. But the witch-hunting went to the extent of delaying enquiries against him and even denying his retirement dues. It is true that using CBI, ED, IT, etc., to target the weaknesses of opposition parties has become a norm to subdue them into silence. Institutions are crippled – recent CBI imbroglio being a glaring example.
Now, the most important pillar – the Judiciary; SC. It was this allopathic doctor that had prevented the tinkering of Constitution, especially during the Emergency days; and has disciplined governments. People look up to it whenever there is a serious infraction of law; activists seek solace here. But, how much can they do when their surgeries and medications have not prevented the metastasis of cancer reaching every organ of our democracy? How much more can they do when they are made to depend on the not-forthcoming support for sustenance and performance from those in the political executive?
Unfortunately, in their mission to overrun the institutions, political authorities have even targeted SC. Otherwise, there is no rationale in tossing the file in a simple matter of transfer of the judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court to Calcutta High Court, proposed by the collegium of SC in the interest of better administration of justice, except that it is to assert their supremacy or for some vested reasons. Further, it is fresh in the memory of the country how several hurdles were placed in the elevation of Justice KM Joseph to SC. Was it not for the reason that through his incisive judgement he had quashed the President's rule in Uttarakhand that was upheld by SC and had left the BJP government at the Centre red-faced?
It is known that SC for long is concerned with the justice delivery system – the huge backlog of cases in courts, the judicial drags, the manipulations in the system, creation of additional courts, filling up of vacancies of judges of higher courts and judicial officers in others, etc., which are in the hands of governments. In this context, the emotional breakdown of CJI Thakur in a public function is still relevant along with the wry face of PM Modi. Yet, there is no action to date. Judicial Commission recommendations for the appointments in higher judicial service are still gathering dust. Why?
It has become too apparent that the political establishment does not want judicial reforms. Judicial delays only help the high and mighty who indulge in wrong-doings. Mulayams, Mayawatis, Jayalalithaas are only examples. Such elements in society, particularly among the political, business and industrial classes always manage to get their cases listed before preferred Benches and judges. The public cry of four conscientious judges, like the present CJI and justice Chalameswar, has only exposed it. Is it for this reason that those in governance want the judiciary to depend on them for sustenance? SC needs to be completely autonomous.
Presently, CAG is the only institution in the country that can be called autonomous since it gets finances for its sustenance directly from the Consolidated Fund of India, although appointments to this institution not being transparent, doubts arise about its impartiality. Yet, the country relies on its credibility.
It was against this backdrop that Anna Movement erupted and demanded the creation of an autonomous Jan Lokpal as alternative medicine, and placing of CBI and CVC, presently functioning with government nominees appointed through brazen or subtle manipulations, under its control. But, all the political parties colluded with the UPA government and created only a non-autonomous Lokpal. It is only after five long years that even this is now being set up, that too due to pressure from SC. But, is it adequate to meet the challenges? No. It has to be made autonomous.
At the same time, real autonomy will also cast on SC and Lokpal huge responsibility to ensure that corruption and compromise in these institutions are nil. For this, a counter-balance has to be put in place. The Lokpal Bench should have the freedom to initiate action against errant judges of higher courts, and the collegium of SC should deal with errant Lokpals. A sick doctor needs to be taken care of only by another doctor, not by himself.
In fact, people of the country have always been wondering why corruption in the judiciary is kept under wraps. Rampant corruption in the lower judiciary is well-known. Former CJI KG Balakrishnan's case is still in the dark. Similarly, in spite of the suicide note of Kaliko Phul, former CM of Arunachal Pradesh, about the kickback wanted by Justice Khehar through his son, he was made the CJI without any transparent enquiry, and he, in turn, helped Modi wriggle out of the Sahara-Birla diary affair. As tax-payers, don't people have a right to know why? It is hoped that similar things would not happen in Lokpal.
As such, the conjoined Siamese twins of compromise and corruption have transformed our democratic persona only into a silhouette; an apparition. There is an urgent need for restoring its health and rejuvenating it. Autonomy, if given to SC and Lokpal will set things right. Minus corruption, the culture of 'committed' bureaucracy will also vanish, and they will gain confidence and do the ordained work. It will also have a cascading effect in all other institutions, media and public.
In spite of all his failings in governance, his empty talk on curbing corruption, and creating only illusions, Modi is still a tall leader. Since he is again singing the song of freeing the country of corruption and unethical practices, and is fresh with the well-deserved glory of surgical strike on the Balakot terrorist camp, would he at least now act as a statesman and work for providing real autonomy, including financial autonomy, to SC, and to the Lokpal after placing CBI and CVC under its control? Will the leaders of other parties think on similar lines? People are watching as the general elections are closing up.
(Dr N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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