India's Second Freedom

Calling Young Indians

Before the full Supreme Court judgment on the unconstitutional dissolution of the Bihar Assembly was delivered a view had been expressed in these columns - to the effect that all three, the Governor, the Prime Minister and the President, were responsible and therefore deserved to go. Contrary to the media attention that focused only on Governor Buta Singh, a reading of the full judgment has reinforced this view.

The Supreme Court's stringent criticism of the Governor's malafide recommendation which subverted the Constitution needs no reiteration. The media gave it ample coverage. It is the Supreme Court's view of how the Council of Ministers and the President acquitted themselves that deserves close scrutiny.

It must be borne in mind that the Supreme Court was not affixing responsibility for the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly. Under President's Rule it is beyond dispute the central government which is responsible for the dissolution of a state assembly. The Supreme Court was assessing in detail the circumstances in which the Bihar Assembly was in fact dissolved. Inevitably the Governor as the frontline operative hogged most attention. But it may be inaccurate to infer, as the distinguished jurist Mr Fali Nariman seems to have done elsewhere, that the judgment's brevity of allusion to the Central Council of Ministers in any way mitigates the latter's responsibility or involvement. The brief allusion is specific and unambiguous. It should dispel any doubt about the cabinet's culpability.

On page159 the judgment says: "In the facts and circumstances of this case the Governor may be the main player, but the Council of Ministers should have verified facts stated in the report of the Governor before hurriedly (emphasis added) accepting it as a gospel truth. Clearly the Governor has misled the Council of Ministers which led to aid and advice being given by the Council of Ministers to the President leading to the issue of the impugned Proclamation."

The Supreme Court did not elaborate on the midnight emergency cabinet meeting which decided to send the papers for signing to the President in Moscow. But the word "hurriedly" injected in its observation is indicative enough of the central government's complicity in the Governor's role. A little further the judgment says: "The Court cannot remain a silent spectator watching the subversion of the Constitution." So, should the central government have remained a silent spectator as the Constitution was being subverted?

The judgment does not spare even the President. The restraint in language of judicial pronouncements, particularly in a grave constitutional issue such as this, should not obscure understanding about what the Supreme Court has conveyed. On page 125 the judgment approvingly quotes observations from Justice Sawant's ruling against the Proclamation dissolving Karnataka and Nagaland assemblies. Justice Sawant had ruled: "The President's satisfaction has to be based on objective material. The objective material must vindicate that the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. That is a condition precedent before the issue of the Proclamation." There was no objective material placed before President Kalam in Moscow that justified his signing of the Proclamation.

The implied censure of the President becomes clearer on page 195 of the judgment: Referring to Article 361 (1) which grants protection to the President and the Governor, the judgment says: "The personal immunity from answerability provided in Article 361(1) does not bar the challenge that may be made to their actions. Article 361(1) does not take away the power of the Court to examine the validity of the action including on the ground of malafide."

The reaction of Congress party spokespersons to the Supreme Court judgment offers little hope that any sense of rectitude will prevail. Governor Buta Singh's removal is all that ruling party circles are prepared to yield. The only slight hope one might cling to rests with the President. Given the traditional view of the President's role, which is to act as an obedient robot of the central cabinet, President Kalam deserves sympathy for being deliberately misled by the cabinet. Alas, that cannot obfuscate the harsh truth that in light of Justice Sawant's observations quoted approvingly in the Supreme Court judgment, he displayed dereliction of duty. The President is under oath to protect and preserve the Constitution. He failed to do so. If he cannot persuade the Prime Minister and the central cabinet to resign, the President himself should resign. Let the political process take care of the rest.

This case lays bare the malaise in India's polity. It is a polity that has destroyed democratic governance and the rule of law. It has encouraged criminality and corruption to reach unimagined heights. The Supreme Court judgment in the Bihar Assembly dissolution case can act as a catalyst to jolt society out of its torpor. But will it? Make no mistake. The rot has gone so deep that only systemic reform can now save India. All talk of India's emergence as a global power will evaporate like hot air when bad governance, corruption and crime bring the economy to a grinding halt. The law of nature dictates that the instinct for survival and enlightened self-interest should impel society to introduce the much needed revolutionary reform. But who will bring it?

Little hope might be placed on the current crop of politicians occupying both the government and the opposition. India needs a political instrument capable of providing good governance and the rule of law. It is difficult to see any prospect of any party becoming the instrument capable of doing this. Whether an existing party will reform itself, or a new party will emerge, effective leadership of the new political instrument obviously may be expected only from a new generation. How might that come about?

In 1997 India celebrated a half century of independence. To commemorate the event a special joint session of Parliament was convened. The parties and leaders adorning the political stage then were about the same that adorn it today. In his keynote address the Speaker of Lok Sabha, Mr PN Sanghma, gave a call to the nation to launch India's Second Freedom struggle. The MPs of both Houses applauded. The Prime Minster of the day, Mr IK Gujral, endorsing Mr Sanghma's call, urged the people of India to court arrest and fill jails to win India's Second Freedom. The House unanimously adopted an agenda for India to end corruption, criminalization, casteism and communalism. There was not one dissenting voice.

Isn't it time that the young people of India accepted Parliament's invitation to launch India's Second Freedom struggle? From whom freedom must be wrested, and identity of enemies from whom the nation must liberate itself, will doubtless become clear as the struggle commences. Young people should recall the East India Company. Second or third sons of English lords and aristocrats, at age thirteen or fourteen years, came to India as apprentices of the Company. By the time they were in their twenties they were conquerors. To serve their nation and the Company they learnt and studied languages, dialects and habits of the subjects they ruled. They compiled their findings in the Gazetteers of India that remain even today the most insightful study of different sects and classes in India. They were members of the English elite who de-classed themselves to conquer India.

Why cannot young members of the Indian elite de-class themselves and conquer India? They won't need guns. They have freedom of expression and freedom of association. They can conquer India democratically.    


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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