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Mainstream, VOL L, No 8, February 11, 2012

Frontal Attack on Democratic Values

Editorial

Tuesday 14 February 2012, by SC

As the campaign for the Assembly elections in the poll-bound States, especially UP, gathers increasing momentum with political leaders of all parties of consequence in these provinces trading charges against each other and making tall promises to woo the electorate, several judicial pronouncements have attracted national attention.

First came the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment of January 31 upholding the private citizen’s right to seek sanction for prosecution of a public servant for corruption and simultaneously setting a four-month deadline for the government to decide on such a plea. This verdict followed the SC Bench rejecting the Attorney-General’s argument against the petitioner in the 2G scam case on the ground that the latter had no locus standi to urge for sanction to prosecute the former Telecom Minister now languishing in prison.

Within two days, that is, on February 2 (the day erstwhile Telecom Minister A. Raja completed a year in jail) the SC delivered yet another historic ruling: it scrapped all the 121 2G licences issued during Raja’s tenure as Minister and held the entire process illegal. It further underlined that the scarce natural resource could only be allocated through open auction and not on the ‘first-come-first-served’ basis. However, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who was then the Finance Minister, was given a breather as the Apex Court did not entertain petitioner Subramanian Swamy’s petition for a CBI probe into the charge that the former had connived with Raja to award the 2G licences—instead itleft this for examination and decision by the special court dealing with the 2G case.

Then on February 4 the Special CBI Judge examining the 2G case dismissed Swamy’s application to summon Chidambaram as an accused in the case as he did not find any evidence of “criminal conspiracy” or “malafide” by the then Finance Minister, adding that: merely attending meetings and taking decisions therein do not constitute a “criminal act”. This brought back smiles in the faces of government functionaries and Congress leaders. Swamy; however, made it clear that he would move the higher courts with the same plea.

The 2G scam is the centre-piece of corruption in high places to hit the ruling UPA with massive force in recent months. Obviously the judicial rulings on the issue had their inevitable impact on the poll campaign, especially in UP. While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi waxed eloquent on the huge scale of alleged graft resorted to by UP CM Mayawati in the country’s most populous State, the Apex Court’s scrapping of all the 2G licences issued by A. Raja caused quite an embarrassment, if not trouble, for the Congress General Secretary. The PM and his associates were also worried of the implications of the SC’s stress on auction as the principle of resource allocation in the case of scarce resources like minerals and coal apart from licences to the financial sector.

Thereafter came the most stinging strictures against the Narendra Modi Government by the Gujarat High Court on the 2002 communal carnage in the State. On February 8, while hearing a plea on the damage to religious structures during the violence, the Court severely criticised the State Government for its failure in anticipating the carnage after the Godhra train burning incident 20 years ago and also accused it of “inaction” in preventing the “anarchy” that went on “unabated” for days. This found the BJP leaders and Gujarat Government personnel scurrying for cover.

But as we go to press today a new development has taken place. The Special Investigating Team (SIT), which was set up by the Supreme Court and was being monitored by it to probe the involvement of the Gujarat CM in those riots specially pertaining to the Gulbarg massacre (wherein noted ex-MP and Congress leader Ehsan Jafri perishad), has submitted its closure report to a Metropolitan Court in Ahmedabad and the buzz is that it failed to find any evidence to substantiate the charge of the petitioner, Ehsan’s wife Zakia Jafri. While BJP leaders are predictably elated as this is a big boost to the Narendra Modi Government before the State Assembly elections slated this year, Zakia and all those standing by her have aptly described this as a “betrayal of the people” of the State with Zakia reiterating her resolve to carry on her legal fight for justice for her deceased husband.

These do bring out the complexities of the prevailing political scenario dogging our democratic advance. But these complexities apart, we have also been witness to a frontal attack on our democratic values exemplified by freedom of speech. The treatment meted out to such noted writers as Salman Rushdie (at the Jaipur Literary Festival) and Taslima Nasrin (at the Kolkata Book Fair) with the relevant authorities kowtowing to regressive religious fanatics bears this out. Such a trend needs to be combated with all the strength at our command or else the fabric of our secular democracy will be irreparably damaged.

Meanwhile the coup d’etet in Maldives has caused consternation among the Indian public as this too is a direct assault on democracy as eloquently brought out by the ousted President Mohammed Nasheed who was, as is by now quite transparent, forced to resign at gunpoint. The prospect of a civil war in the island state stares us in the face at present and it is more than clear that the Govern-ment of India has failed to gauge the magnitude of the crisis there.

Most depressing from the democratic standpoint.

February 9 S.C.

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