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Mainstream, VOL LX No 33, 34 New Delhi, August 6, August 13, 2022 [Independence Day Special]

How Shall We Defend our Democracy? | Mahi Pal Singh

Saturday 13 August 2022


by Mahi Pal Singh *

This August in 2022 we are going to celebrate the 75th anniversary of our Independence and pay our homage to the freedom fighters, who spent their lives in jails and even laid down their lives so that the people of their country may breathe in an independent country and live a dignified life. This is also an occasion for stock taking whether the rulers of Independent India have fulfilled the dreams of our forefathers and lived upto the expectations of We, the People of India and how the four pillars of our democracy have worked in that direction, or the State has failed the people of the country.

A lot can be said about the Legislature and the Executive wings of the State. They are elected, directly or indirectly, by the people. Obviously, the people have great expectations from them. They are also accountable to the people of the country for their acts of omission or commission. The experience of the last 75 years shows that most of their hopes and aspirations have been belied by them. Once elected for five years, the legislators by and large do not care for those who elected them. A large number of them do not even show their faces in their constituencies before the next elections are declared. They remain busy in amassing large sums of black money through illegal means. In order to come to power or to remain in power, political parties indulge in all kinds of immoral acts and the legislators get sold or purchased like commodities in the hands of power hungry politicians. Anti-defection laws passed by the Parliament fail to deter them from doing so. Once they acquire power and money, they find it easy to get re-elected through the use of ill-gotten money and muscle power.

The Executive wing of the State, which is supposed to be accountable to the legislatures, hardly cares for them because the people in the government are leaders of the parties which have majority in the legislatures. The higher the number of the legislators of the ruling party in the house, more the chances of the head of the government turning into an autocrat. This exactly is happening in our country today where the Prime Minister at the centre and some Chief Ministers in the States, like Yogi Adityanath in UP, act like autocrats. They have become even greater autocrats by adopting the majoritarian agenda of Hindutva supported by a large number of religious fundamentalists in the majority community. In order to remain in power and enjoy the support of the majority community during the elections, they have to keep the pot of religious polarisation boiling all the time even if it means dividing the society. For that they allow the hate mongers to issue statements inimical to the minority community and also spread communal riots after which members of the minority community are further persecuted by the state police leading into further division in society as the suffering community is bound to alienate further.

The media, which is the fourth pillar of democracy, seems to have fallen prostrate completely, with some honourable exceptions, at the feet of the ruling party and keeps singing their paeans 24*7 for fear or favour, perhaps more for fear as those speaking against the ruling party or its leader mostly find themselves hounded by the police/ED/CBI/IT or other officers of the State.

The only hope of saving the democracy, fundamental rights, civil liberties of the people, the rule of law and the secular character of our country was from the higher judiciary of the country which is the custodian of the Constitution of the country. There is no doubt that whatever freedom and democracy has remained protected is because of our judiciary. But it seems that it has not remained true to its character and reputation in some judgements. People like Muhammed Zubair, the Alt News co-founder, who is being hounded by police in several cases filed against him, at least three by known Hindutva supporters, is just one example. A Delhi court granted him bail in one case relating to his alleged objectionable tweet in 2018 observing that “the voice of dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy, on 15.7.2022 but he will still remain in jail in UP as there are six FIRs against him in Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar and Hathras districts in UP for the same tweet. When he is out in one case, he is arrested in another. Obviously, the forces behind these FIRs do not want him to go free. And of course, they want to keep the hate mongers like Nupur Sharma, a former spokesperson of the ruling BJP, and other leaders of the BJP like Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma and Abhay Verma free, and they will remain free. In all these cases, the judiciary has not shown its commitment as a defender of the rule of law, protector of the civil liberties of the people and the custodian of the Constitution of India. It always had the power to suo motu take cognisance of these matters/violations and punish the guilty. But it failed to do so. In the matter of Nupur Sharma the Judges did make scathing comments against her. But these comments were made orally and, as some people have opined, not at the right time. So they only invited adverse comments from some motivated people.

In the Zakia Jafri case relating to the 2002 riots, Teesta Setalvad, the rights activist who pursued 2002 riots case against Modi, and R.B. Sreekumar, and Sanjeev Bhatt, two IPS officers from Gujarat, (Sanjeev Bhatt – already in jail for another matter) at that time, have been sent to jail on the suggestion of the Supreme Court. In another case, the Supreme Court has imposed a fine of Rs. 5 lakhs on Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian and rights activist, for seeking a CBI probe into alleged torture and extra-judicial killings of 17 people by the Chhattisgarh Police and Central forces during the anti-Maoist operations in Dantewada in 2009. “The stiff penalty on the petitioner also echoes the stance of the state in case after case — of labelling or ascribing ulterior motives to all those who raise questions, and demand answers, justice, or redress,” as an editorial in The Indian Express says.

If the court had acted in right earnest in all these matters, it would have immensely increased the faith of the people in the judiciary and also resulted in the punishment to hate mongers and dividers of our secular society and also encouraged those who help the poor and the destitute in seeking justice.

But the greatest defenders of our democracy are the people themselves. They must remain vigilant, support the Constitutional rule in the country and also punish in a legal manner the wrong doers and the hate-mongers. They must understand that the whole edifice of our democracy stands not so much on the four pillars of the Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary and the Press or Media but on their own shoulders. If they buckle down, the other pillars will not be able to hold the weight of the falling structure. But if they stand upright, even weaker pillars will be able to support it. But it is they who will have to bear the main burden to keep it standing stronger.

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