Sunday, August 29, 2021
Are the Ugly Scenes in Parliament Mandated by the Electorate and Sanctioned by the Constitution? Unruly and ugly scenes in parliament and state assemblies have become an order of the day. It is wisely said that when a person runs bankrupt of arguments and logic, he comes to yelling, abusing and, finally resorts to blows. This may or may not be true of the frequent happenings in the temple of democracy, the Parliament. Yet the sanctity of this temple needs to be maintained. Ours is a ‘secular’ country. That is why, it looks, ‘secular’ people do not find any obnoxious in playing politics in the precincts of this temple at the cost of the common man Why should the rebellious individual not be held responsible for the loss and made to compensate the state exchequer. The Chief Justice of India has also expressed his dismay at the goings-on in Parliament. The Supreme Court should ipso facto take cognizance of the happenings and consider whether the MPs have the mandate of the people for such acts in the Parliament and whether such acts violate or not the letter and spirit of the Constitution. By Amba Charan Vashishth In ancient times in India, there was hardly an instance of raja-maharajas having been an autocrat and cruel to his subjects. If there was any, he was dethroned sooner than later. The parliamentary institutions and elections, like the ones in the present times, were something unknown, unheard of then. The institution of village panchayats did exist much earlier. People had great faith and respect for this institution and its members who were hailed as panch parmeshwar. The raja-maharajas discussed every matter concerning their state in an open court where the wazirs (ministers), the saintly aacharyas, heads of the army and elders were always there for advice. The holy gurus commanded great respect as their advice was in accordance with the tenets of morality and ethics. The rulers too held them in high esteem. At times, they even overruled the king who accepted their opinion without protest. They were there not just as courtiers shaking their heads always in agreement with whatever the king thought and wanted. Though not elected by the people, yet they always had their fingers at the pulse of the people. They enjoyed people’s faith and respect. The rulers were always one with the joys and sorrows of the people. In times of natural calamities, like drought, famine etc., they suffered as much as did their subjects. That is why the erstwhile rulers and their dynasties, though not in power now for the last over 75 years, still continue to be held in high esteem by their people. In elections to state assemblies and parliament they, in a majority of cases proved their sway among the people. On the other hand, those who begged for peoples’ votes with folded hands during election campaigns become masters (with very few exceptions) of the people once they get elected. They luxuriate at the cost of the people. The erstwhile princely states surrendered their properties and lands running into ₹tens of crores to integrate with the Union of India. In return, the then government at the Centre promised to pay them privy purses in token of nation’s gratitude to them. The amount of privy purses to them ranged from ₹5000 to ₹one and two lakhs annually. Only 5-6 erstwhile rulers, like Hyderabad and Patiala, were given a privy purse of about ₹42 lakhs, later reduced to ₹ 20 lakhs. The late PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi abolished this constitutional obligation altogether. According to reports, the Parliamentarians are given ₹ 50,000 (increased to ₹one lakh, but reduced by 30% for a year because of Covid-19 pandemic) as monthly salary, electorate allowance of ₹ 40,000, ₹15,000 as office expenses and ₹30,000 as Secretarial assistance expenses, which works out to a total of ₹1,40,000 per month to each person. In addition, they are also provided with 34 free journeys by air and unlimited rail and road journeys across a year. Above all this is ₹5 crore placed at their disposal every year as Local Area Development Fund. India adopted the UK’s Westminster style of parliamentary democracy. The main functions of the UK — and Indian — Parliament are (1) to check and challenge the work of the Government (scrutiny); (2) to make and change laws (legislation); (3) to debate the important issues of the day (debating); and to check and approve Government spending (budget/taxes). The way the two houses of Parliament — the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha — functioned during the just concluded Monsoon session — and earlier sessions too —leaves no one in doubt that parliamentarians in India have just the rights to pay, perks, privileges and other facilities but no duties at all either towards the country and the people who voted for them. The conduct of a section of parliamentarians in the temple of democracy, the parliament, has not made the people of the country to raise their heads with pride. Before the session commenced a section of members had left no one in doubt that they were determined not to let both the houses of parliament to function. The meetings the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman held with the opposition leaders on the eve of the session for a peaceful going proved of no consequence. The Prime Minister and other ministers in the house and outside declared that they were ready to discuss and debate any issue in the house. As the session commenced the opposition looked united not to let the parliament function and discharge its obligation towards the people. The question arises: Did the people give their mandate to their representatives for the conduct they exhibited in the house? Outside the house, the leaders alleged that the ruling party was denying them their right to speak but in the house it was just uproar and nothing else. A section of the parliamentarians demanded repeal of the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the three agricultural laws. A minority of parliamentarians seems to be trying to impose their will on the majority, a negation of the spirit of democracy. They accuse the ruling party of being fascist. But the boot seems to be in the other leg. They don’t have with them the strength of majority or logic but only the road-roller weight of shouting, unruly and rowdy behavior on their side. Further, the house of parliament is not the place where political parties should promote their political agenda at public cost. What was the signal the parliamentarians sent out to children, young, adults and the elders of the country and other democracies of the world? It seems, they think that it is their divine political right to create ugly and rowdy scenes not to let parliament function. The disruptions in parliament have left the public exchequer bleed from two sides. One, the public representatives hold a tamasha at the cost of the people as they continue to draw full pay, allowances and perks. Two, by not allowing the house to conduct its legislative business the state exchequer, this time, was put to a further loss of ₹144 crores, i.e. ₹2.5 lakhs per minute. This situation also raises the question whether what they do in the house has the mandate of the people who elected them? Has it also the sanction of the Constitution? Or does this unruly conduct in the house forms a part of their parliamentary privileges? However, there has been an exception too. A public representative from Biju Janta Dal, Shri Jai Panda, did declare that he will not accept the salary for two months since parliament has not been able to work for the welfare of the people during this period. Amidst the ugly scenes and sloganeering some bills were passed by the parliament. This has attracted the ire of the Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana over bills hurriedly passed without debate and discussion. This raises another question: Can a minority in a house hold the majority to ransom preventing the parliament from performing its constitutional functions? If it can, then it will mean minority sitting lord over the majority, a negation of the spirit of democracy. It is time to remedy the situation lest we are rendered a laughing stock of all. The honour and prestige of the country and the future of democracy is at stake. *** The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator
Friday, August 6, 2021
Constitution and Law Subject to ‘Secular-Liberal’ Nod? Some more innocent than others By Amba Charan Vashishth It is unfortunate that for political mileage people in politics can go to any length. They can dance to the tunes death even. It is immaterial whether the cause of death of a person is an accident, enmity between two individuals or groups, and even rape. It is natural that the victim or the accused must belong to some caste, religion, sex, political party or region, and be rich or poor. That makes it easier for them to make it a case of conflict between individuals and a section of society. The country is replete with such instances. The latest is the death of Jesuit Father Stan Swamy. To an extent this has also resulted in politicalisation of crime and vice versa. Death loves every human being on earth. It is an unrequited love, one sided affair. No person in this universe, on the other hand, loves death. Everybody loves to live; none to die. Demise of any person is a matter of sorrow and grief. It is the greatness of India’s culture and traditions that people do not go uninvited to their closest of friends and nearest of relatives to join them in any celebration of a happy occasion — a marriage, a birthday, a promotion and the like. At the same time, they do not miss to hasten to join, uninvited, to share the grief and sorrow of the family of their fiercest enemy on the loss of their dear and near one. THE DEPARTED SOUL Further, a person’s faults, shortcomings and, even his crimes and sins, get consigned to oblivion with his cremation. Only positive qualities of head and heart are left behind to be narrated and recollected time and again. It is this great tradition that makes us all stand together to condole the death of Jesuit Father Stan Swamy. There are exceptions too. Some of the 84-year old frail Father’s friends and admirers — the ‘liberal-secular’ intelligentsia and a section of the electronic and print media — as is their wont, have gone to the extent of declaring that he, in the words of the prominent writer Nayantara Sahgal, in her article “DEATH OF A PRIEST” in the Indian Express (July 12, 2021) did not die in the normal course, but was “killed”. This, she tries to make everyone believe, she witnessed from Dehradun what happened to him in the far away Mumbai. Although the investigating agency found “No evidence of any wrongdoing” yet, she goes on, he was “arrested and put behind bars” for “sedition and subversion” in the Bhima Koregaon case. It is worth recalling that Mrs. Nayantara Sahgal is the same veteran novelist and writer whose conscience had once earlier in 2015 felt so severely hurt that she launched the ‘award wapsi’ campaign in protest against increasing ‘intolerance’ towards right to dissent in the country and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “silence" on the “reign of terror". She added, “The ruling ideology today is a fascist ideology and that is what is worrying me now. We did not have a fascist government until now... I am doing whatever I believe in." In this way Mrs. Sahgal wishes the Indian people to believe that the state of Emergency declared by her aunt, the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1975 imposing draconian laws, censorship on media, gagging freedom of speech, putting thousands of leaders and workers of political parties in jails, was not a “reign of terror” and not “a fascist ideology”. It implies that the Emergency was an instance of an ideal democracy in letter and spirit because, she adds, “We did not have a fascist government until now”. 1975 EMERGENCY WAS ‘NO FASCIST’ Mrs. Sahgal usurped the functions both of the investigating agency and the court to add that Father Swamy’s house was raided and “No evidence of any wrongdoing is found”. She goes further: “Indian jails are filled with men and women, known and unknown, who have dared to fight for them (Adivasis)”. A letter signed by some eminent members of the ‘liberal-secular’ intelligentsia and politics including the Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, some sitting and former chief ministers, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, and others, was sent to the President of India expressing “deep outrage” and demanding of him to direct “your government” to act against those responsible for “foisting false cases” against Father Stan and his continuous detention in jail on “trumped up charges“. It, in effect, amounts to expression of their lack of faith in one of the strong pillars of the constitution and democracy — the judiciary. The signatories are, thus, guilty of generating, deliberately or otherwise, lack of trust in the rule of law and the Constitution in the minds of the general public. BY COURTS, NOT GOVERNMENT One wonders what made these elite persons to forget that bail to an accused (Father Stan in the present case) is not granted or refused by a government but by courts of law on merits. According to charges, Stan Swamy not only subscribed to Maoist ideology but was also connected to Maoists who used that ideology as a weapon in their war against the state. Further, after considering his medical report about his illness it was the court which had ordered that the Jesuit preacher be admitted in a private hospital (which was not an ordinary medical institution). Furthermore, Father Stan was only technically in jail at that time; actually he was in the hospital as much a free person as were other patients there. The jail or police officials were there outside his room just for his security. One of Father’s disciples has said that he “spoke everyday to Swamy for a month”. An ordinary prisoner in a jail is not extended such a liberty. THEY PREFER HOSPITAL TO JAIL It is a well-known fact that wealthy and resourceful people when denied pre-arrest bail and are arrested, they complain of chest pain, difficulty in breathing etc., in an effort to get shifted to a hospital from jail. The moment they get bail, they do not continue to stay in hospital but get instantly alright in the company of their family in the comforts of their homes. It is very common and normal to say that had the Jesuit preacher been admitted to this or that hospital, his precious life could have been saved. Just to quote a recent instance. Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee was admitted in the country’s premier Military Hospital at New Delhi. Unfortunately, despite best medical treatment, attention and efforts, his precious life could not be saved. One cannot say that he did not receive proper treatment he deserved as a former First Citizen of the country. No hospital, however prominent it may be in the country or the world, can claim that it had no history of deaths of patients. GUARANTEE HUNDRED PERCENT In this connection a joke is very relevant to this controversy. A patient went to a doctor and asked whether he would be fully cured of his ailment. The doctor forcefully assured: “Hundred percent”. To stress his point further he added, “Only one out of ten persons suffering from this disease is cured and nine of my patients suffering from this very ailment have since died”. NO HUMAN RIGHTS OF INNOCENTS Naxalite and Maoist organizations are guilty of killing thousands of innocent civilians — men, women, children and senior citizens —, police, military and paramilitary personnel performing their official duties towards the nation. Yet these diehard criminals and those acting as go-betweens get the protection of their Human Rights (HR). What an irony? Our HR activists and organizations burn midnight oil and shed tears for protection of HRs of those guilty of brutally violating the HRs of innocent people to their right to life and live peacefully. These HR organizations lack any record of having worked for protection of the rights of innocents and having done anything for them. The innocent people, in their view, seem to have been born to be slaughtered, like animals, at the hands of Naxalite-Maoists and other criminals. But even animal rights are recognized and protected. Torturing and slaughtering of animals is a crime, punishable. There are organizations for protection of animal rights and these rightly do. A few years back, to cite a single instance, Dr. Vinayak Sen was found guilty of sedition for helping Maoists and sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Chhattisgarh. Presently, he is on bail granted by the Supreme Court. He is hailed by Indian and international human rights organizations as a “renowned civil rights activist”. The court had found him guilty of carrying letters with seditious content between dreaded Naxal prisoner Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata-based businessman Piyush Guha, an alleged Maoist sympathiser. In the police diaries, Sanyal is the mastermind behind the attack on former Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu and the Jehananabad jailbreak in Bihar that facilitated escape of 340 prisoners including Maoists. Dr. Sen’s appeal against conviction is pending with the SC. Yet, within days of his being released on bail by the SC, he was appointed by the UPA government of Dr. Manmohan Singh to a prestigious health committee of the then Planning Commission. This single case of Father Stan who died in a hospital has made the ‘liberal-secular’ society cry aghast but they have always remained blind, dumb and deaf to other cases, to quote just the recent ones, of dozens of people killed, women raped and property destroyed in the aftermath of West Bengal elections, The HR commission has castigated the TMC government. Palghar lynching of Hindu priests, Kashmiri Pandits who were made to leave their homes and hearths to live a miserable life as refugees in their own country. But in these cases the HR activists and organizations remain silent. THEY FORGET DR MOOKERJEE DEATH Former J&K chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah were very sporting to sign a letter to President about the death of Father Stan. They forgot that it was in the custody of J&K police under the then CM Sheikh Abdullah that All-India Jana Sangh President Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee died in mysterious circumstances without any medical aid. He was not charged of any heinous crime. He was a political leader who had just entered J&K without a permit to show that it was just like other States of the country where a citizen India did not need a permit to enter. Why did their father and grandfather or PM Jawaharlal Nehru not hold an independent and impartial inquiry into Mukherjea’s death? Was Dr. Mookerjee less innocent and his life less precious than others? It is interesting to recall the way another signatory to the letter to President, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar too sat on judgement on the conduct of his party leader and Maharashtra Home Minister (HM) Anil Deshmukh against whom allegations of bribery had been made in writing by no less a person than his former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh. Shri Pawar on March 22, 2021 declared that the charges against HM Deshmukh were false and reiterated that they will back the minister and not seek his resignation over the allegations. But later Deshmukh not only resigned but is also at pains to save his skin. It is a travesty of the politics and the right to freedom of opinion and expression that whenever people in politics, media, intelligentsia are hauled up for an alleged crime, there is a chorus of voices to counter allege that people in opposition to the government are being denied their right to criticize and oppose the government. HABITUAL CRIMINALS, HABITUALLY INNOCENT From the nature of commotion that is raised when police, CBI, Enforcement Directorate or any other agency acts against a politician, a newspaper magnate, a journalist, a non-Hindu seer, anybody from the film world, it looks, there is need for the Constitution to be amended. During the British rule, some castes and tribes had been identified as “habitual criminals”. On that analogy the Constitution needs to identify all these individuals, groups and institutions as “habitually innocent” who cannot, directly or indirectly, under any circumstances commit a crime and, therefore, these sections should be declared touch-me-nots for the government agencies for violation of any law of the land so that the controversies, the like of which arose in the aftermath of action taken against Father Stan Swamy and Dr. Vinayak Sen, do not arise. *** The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator.