However, public euphoria may be premature. Mr. Shibu Soren was politically expendable. Mr. Siddhu was in the opposition. The Jessica Lal case involved comparatively minor fry. About the same time as these convictions occurred a political heavyweight like Mr. Laloo Yadav was judged innocent in a case of disproportionate assets by a special CBI court in Patna. The judge was transferred midway during the hearing of Mr. Yadav's case. This was not usual practice. A petition challenging his transfer was filed in the Supreme Court. The Court in its wisdom dismissed the petition. After Mr. Yadav was acquitted, eminent lawyer and Rajya Sabha MP Mr. Ram Jethmalani, who in the past had represented Mr. Yadav in court cases, questioned Law Minister HR Bhardwaj in parliament. Mr. Jethmalani asked the minister if the government would devise a system whereby 'good judges like Muni Ram Paswan can be rewarded for their good work.' Mr. Paswan was the judge who acquitted Mr. Yadav.
Mr. Jethmalani's question was astounding. How would the government determine whether a judge was 'good'? Unless one considered any judge good whose views coincided with those of the government? And how might the government 'reward' such good judges? Clearly, it would not disburse pecuniary rewards. Would it be fair to infer that such 'good' judges might be rewarded through promotions and plum postings?
Mr. Jethmalani's brazen suggestion was symptomatic of the cynical values that have come to pervade out political system.
The role of the judiciary has not, in some major cases, been encouraging. Two important cases merit attention. First, there was the case of the Bihar assembly dissolution in 2005, heard by a Constitutional Bench. The dismissal of the assembly was judged unconstitutional and malafide. This was considered much more serious than enactment of an unconstitutional law. There is provision for rectifying such parliamentary errors through the Supreme Court. This was an unconstitutional executive action. The union cabinet was directly responsible. Yet the Supreme Court castigated the Bihar Governor but glossed over the role of the Prime Minister, and also the role of the President, who despite extenuating circumstances, failed to discharge his duty.
The second case is still ongoing. It relates to the Office of Profit Bill which introduced amendment to the existing law. The existing law would have unseated a large number of MPs. The President returned the Bill without signing it because he did not consider it constitutional. Parliament concurred with the President's view. It appointed a Joint Parliamentary Commission for suitably amending the Bill to address the President's reservations. The Election Commission was meanwhile proceeding with cases relating to the Office of Profit Law and was expected to unseat a large number of MPs. The President then signed the returned but unaltered Bill, which he himself had considered unconstitutional. It became law. The MPs were not unseated. A petition has been filed challenging the present Office of Profit Law in the Supreme Court. Given the crucial importance of the case, which could affect the very composition of Parliament, the Supreme Court has been disappointingly tardy in dealing with this petition. The petition is expected to come up shortly when the Supreme Court reassembles after holidays. If the petition is upheld, not only would the MPs be expelled from Parliament. Even the President's reputation could be affected. Because, he deliberately signed a Bill he himself had first rejected ' what of his solemn oath to protect the Constitution?
The mild spurt in judicial activism during the close of 2006 may therefore be just a flash in the pan. The New Year will tell us whether any real change is in the offing. The judicial system needs to be tested to determine whether it delivers justice regardless of rank or station. Readers might recall that last November I wrote an article inquiring if the Prime Minister would abet corruption. The query was based upon the disclosure that incriminatory audiotapes were in possession of our official investigative agencies about which no follow-up action had been taken.
The taped conversation involving Mr. RK Dhawan, Mr. SS Siddhu, Mr. Satish Sharma and the late Mr. Charanjit Singh made revelations about corruption in the HDW submarine deal and the Airbus deal. Mr. RK Dhawan and Mr. Satish Sharma are presently MPs, while Mr. SS Siddhu, who was an official attached to the relevant ministries when the two scams occurred, is presently Governor of Manipur. His appointment was made while CBI was investigating these cases and was questioning him. He was, like Mr. Dhawan and Mr. Satish Sharma, close to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. After he was appointed Governor, he could not be questioned or investigated by the police.
On October 25, 2006, I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister bringing these facts to his notice. The Prime Minister did not acknowledge my letter. On December 5, 2006, I wrote a letter to the President of India, apprising him of the facts in the case and informing him that though I had written to the PM the latter had not replied. I urged the President to look into the matter. The President did not acknowledge my letter.
In my article I wrote: 'Corruption is so widespread that it cuts across the entire political spectrum. The system itself has come to rest upon corruption. For democracy to survive and for progress to continue, the system must be cleansed. It is imperative to demonstrate that the existing law is adequate to fight corruption and preserve democracy. It must be used transparently, taking the public into confidence all the way.'
Let the New Year be the time to attempt this. After the disregard of my letters displayed by both the Prime Minister and the President, is there left any recourse but to approach the judiciary? Should not a petition be filed in the Supreme Court, urging it to intervene in the matter to ensure that the rule of law is not subverted, and that proper investigation is undertaken into the misuse of authority involving the highest in the land? At the start of the New Year it is traditional to make resolutions. The rule of law has reached breaking point. Political corruption enables crime and terrorism to thrive. Should not the nation collectively resolve to fight corruption in 2007?