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Redeeming the Republic!
|by Rajinder Puri|
There is little dispute that the Indian Republic is in crisis. Corruption is rampant, soaring inflation is unchecked and governance has collapsed. The three main current rival political dispensations castigate one another. The BJP is accused of not checking communalism, the Congress of not checking corruption and the Aam Admi Party (AAP) of not checking anarchy. However all three political groups might be accused of a common failing. And that is, the failure of each group at one time or the other, of not strictly observing the law. Communal rioting, corruption scandals and anarchic law and order situations can all occur only if some law or democratic procedure is violated. The primacy of law as the guarantor of governance and democracy therefore is indisputable.
Sixty-four years ago India formally became a democratic Republic. How did it become a Republic? It adopted a Constitution to govern the nation. To survive and thrive as a Republic it must therefore follow the Constitution and all the laws contained therein. This is the simple one point measure to ensure that there is good governance and a healthy democratic system. And it is the failure to observe this simple axiom that is the root cause of all the ills that plague the nation under different political dispensations. Consider the current crisis.
Since the Delhi government could not be carried on with the provisions of the Constitution, what with its chief executive defying authority and the law on the streets, it was incumbent on the President to dismiss the government and impose President’s rule. The Lieutenant Governor (L-G) was grievously derelict in responsibility for not submitting a report to the President recommending this. Instead the L-G sought an escape route for the CM and sent him hot food while he protested on the street. The President should have pulled up the L-G and if required dismissed him.
This can be done by using law as a weapon to counter the government and not by breaking it. If bad laws need to be scrapped it must be achieved through legal means. If new laws need to be enacted, it must be accomplished through legal procedure. Not only can law be used through dissemination of views through free speech, by resort to courts of law, but even by use for public protest. One may draw attention to two occasions when this was done long before globalization and the media revolution that have transformed communication. In 1978 on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary 3000 activists descended on the nation’s largest government owned five star hotel to protest the deployment of more public funds for another five star hotel instead of using the resources for providing drinking water and electricity to slum dwellers in the city. The activists came as owners of the hotel and as customers to drink tea. Their volume choked the hotel’s functioning. But no law was broken. An infuriated Prime Minister sought arrest of the leader and launched prosecution. After three years the activists won the case because the court ruled that no law had been broken. It was the first and perhaps the only time that a public protest in favour of disinvestment had been launched.
What should not be tolerated in democratic functioning is to sanction violation of law to justify protest. This view will be disputed by many and will be hard to accept. But this is the new way forward to further the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi in a sovereign democratic nation. Therefore instead of attacking the personalities of rival politicians it would be more rewarding to focus on the single issue whether leaders observe the law in the pursuit of their political objectives. This single axiom will restore the health of the Republic. If an umpire commits an error of judgment the game of cricket is not abandoned but criticism voiced against the umpire subsequently. There can be no cricket without rules of the game. There can be no Republic without the laws of the land. Needed most is not great innovative vision but the simple will to implement existing law. Will any leader summon the requisite will to fulfill this simple task?
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