Monday, July 29, 2013

Law-breaking law-makers are becoming a serious threat to our democracy

The Allahabad High Court recently banned caste-based public rallies, a core political gimmick in Uttar Pradesh. Within days the UP Public Service Commission announced a new reservation policy with caste-based quotas from the preliminary examination stage itself. This violated the spirit of not only the High Court's order against caste rallies but also of the Supreme Court's order capping reservation at 50 percent.

There was public commotion, some students took recourse to law, the High Court issued a restraint order, some other students took to the street in support of reservations, charges of malpractices in the Public Service Commission filled the air, there were lathicharges and stone throwing. Indian democracy was once again at its riotous best.

The system is sick when politicians mock the law. Corruption, because it is rampant and involves the highest authorities in the country, is considered the biggest threat to our country. In fact the biggest threat is defiance of the law by those who are tasked to uphold it. Instances of undermining, discrediting, circumventing and simply ignoring politically inconvenient laws have been on the rise. How long can the ruling class do this without the common people losing respect for the law? Perhaps this has something to do with the increasing crimes against women and children across the country.

Look at the example set by elected MLAs in Maharashtra. A police official, Suryavanshi, had stopped and fined Kshitij Thakur for overspeeding on the Bandra-Worli sea link, a bridge on which anyone with commonsense will know that drivers must be cautious. But Thakur was an MLA and he did not hesitate to get Suryavanshi summoned to the Assembly premises. There the policeman who did his duty was thrashed by the shameless Thakur and four other shameless MLAs. Suryavanshi was not only hospitalised but also suspended by an equally shameless administration.

Public outrage caused the MLAs to be suspended. This was meant to be no more than an eye-wash. Last week the suspension of the MLAs was revoked. The explanation added insult to injury. A committee, said the Speaker, had looked into the matter and recommended that the suspension be withdrawn. Opposition leaders also had intervened on behalf of the offenders, we were told. How touching.

When it comes to sharing the spoils, opposition leaders embrace ruling leaders with warmth. They are now coming together again to amend the Right to Information Act so that political parties will be outside its purview. The RTI was perhaps the most enlightened enactment of recent times, making power-wielders accountable and giving citizens the right to know what was being done in their name. This triumph of democracy advanced by a notch recently when the Central Information Commission declared that political parties came within the ambit of RTI. It ordered six parties to appoint Public Information Officers.

The parties defied the constitutional order. All political parties are notorious for the things they want to hide. Naturally they resented the CIC's move to make them accountable. Let us not fail to notice that the parties did not seek legal redress. They did not approach the court for a stay on the CIC order although some party luminaries who are also legal luminaries said that the order was bad in law. Instead of proving that and winning their case, they decided to take the easy route of changing the law itself. They are culprits in cahoot, with the power to pass laws that will put their parties above the law.

Comparatively speaking, Congress factotums who say that you can have a meal in Mumbai for Rs 12 are simply mad and can be put right in a mental asylum. But MPs and MLAs who say that they will only obey laws that suit them are dangerous animals. The caste-manipulators of UP, the speed-breakers of Mumbai, the law-subverters of Delhi have together become a political class that oppresses democracy. To paraphrase Martin Luther King: "Citizen's rights are never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed". If the citizen remains unheard for too long, pressure could build up until it explodes.