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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 30, July 13, 2013

Bodhgaya, Sleaze, Judicial Pronouncements


Tuesday 16 July 2013, by SC

Even though as many as 769 villages still remain cut off with restoration of road connectivity that had been severely affected by the landslides during the disaster and telecommunication cables snapped by the calamity nowhere in sight, the Uttarakhand tragedy, overtaken by several other developments, notably the terror strike at Bodhgaya, has been relegated into the background as was only to be expected. However, more than three weeks after flash floods and landslides wreaked havoc in the mountainous State, fresh rains in the region have grounded the choppers which supply essential items to those villages and hence the humanitarian crisis persists in spite of the reassuring fact that communication links have been re-established with 3431 of the 4300 worst affected villages.

Meanwhile the serial bomb blasts which shattered the Buddhist peace abode of Bodhgaya’s world famous Mahabodhi temple complex last Sunday (July 7) morning, have highlighted the audacity of the terrorists on the one side and the laxity of the authorities on the other. When one underscores the complacency and indifference of those entrusted with law and order, one is not in the least seeking to indulge in politics a la the BJP which has assailed the JD(U) for the ‘security lapse’ simply because the latter is holding onto the reins of power in Bihar even after snapping ties with it and moving out of the NDA combine. But the fact remains that, apart from reports of the State administration having received prior information from Central officials dealing with counter-terror intelligence of such a terror strike at Bodhgaya, Buddha’s statue in the complex was miraculously saved on account of poorly planted explosives by the terrorists (for which our security personnel cannot claim credit). There were 13 bombs but at least three bomb placed in mini gas cylinders at the temple complex failed to explode as their analogue clock timer device stopped working under the impact of other bombs which exploded close to them, according to the investigators.

There is as yet no clear idea of the reasons behind the blasts that did not cause any major casualty (only two were injured). While the tweets from the Indian Mujahideen—which claimed that the terror outfit had itself carried out the serial blasts at Bodhgaya and warned of a plot to attack Mumbai by July 13—have been traced to Pakistan, the tourism officials’ assertion that at this time of the year the proportion of Myanmarese and Sri Lankan tourists visiting the Bodhgaya shrine is quite high has given credence to the theory that the terror strike at the complex could have been a backlash to the Buddhists’ attacks on Rohingaya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine (Arakan) province. Now that the Centre has handed over the intestigation into the Bodhgaya blasts to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) following a formal request to that effect by the Bihar Government, the probe will hopefully bring to light all aspects of the incident which was definitely the first of its kind at a tourist spot.

In the meantime both the BJP and Congress have once again been hurt by sleaze: the Finance Minister of the BJP State Government in Madhya Pradesh was first compelled to resign from his post on charges of sodomy (when a CD showed him indulging in such an act with his domestic help) and subsequently expelled from the party and arrested on the same ground. In Kerala the ‘solar scam’ has badly hit the Congress-led UDF Government and especially the office of the CM, Oomen Chandy, whose record as a man of integrity and probity was never questioned so far; here too the allegations relate to sleeze besides large-scale cheating—and this has put the ruling coalition, and Chandy in particular, on the defensive with the Opposition CPM going to town on the issue demanding that the CM step down.

At the same time several judicial verdicts have caused considerable embarrassment to the political class. Apart from the Gopinath Munde affair—the Maharashtra BJP stalwart and Deputy Leader of the party in the Lok Sabha claimed that he had spent Rs 8 crores in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections (far in excess of the Rs 40 lakhs a Lok Sabha candidate in a big State like Maharashtra is allowed to spend, and which figure he had not cited in his affidavit on election expenses that showed just around Rs 19 lakhs) thereby inviting action by the Election Commission which later slapped a notice on him asking him to show cause, within 20 days, as to why he should not be disqualified under Section 10 A of the Representation of People Act, 1951—there have been several observations by the Apex Court that are of far-reaching consequence as far the functioning of politicians and candidates in elections is concerned.

On July 5 the Supreme Court asked the Election Commission to consult all political parties as soon as possible to ensure that they don’t announce freebies in their election manifestos in a bid to lure voters. The Apex Court was also of the view that a separate legislation could help end the practice of political parties attempting to lure specific sections of society with freebies ahead of the polls and thereafter bankrolling their promises at the cost of the national or State exchequer (which is essentially the texpayers’ money) on coming to power. However, as of now any such step is not punishable as it does not amount to corrupt practice under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act.

This was criticised by the political parties of all complexions on the ground that their right to project their policies and economic and political priorities cannot and should not be curtailed in this way. However, the SC has won the support of the public in general as well as activists trying to reform the electoral process.

And then in a judgment aimed at decriminalising politics, the Apex Court yesterday struck down a provision in the electoral law that protects a convicted lawmaker from disqualification pending appeal in higher courts.

The SC categorically ruled that MPs, MLAs and MLCs would stand disqualified on the date of conviction. This has been warmly welcomed by the Election Commission and activists (who have also stoutly opposed the politicians’ attempt to keep the political parties outside the ambit of the RTI Act). The political parties too have cautiously commended the ruling as they can comprehend its deep impact on the people at large.

In a separate ruling yesterday the SC came down heavily on the Centre for not helping the CBI with documents in its probe into coalgate and instructed it to file an affidavit “justifying” the allocation of 164 coal blocks. Simultaneously it affirmed that it would not permit the CBI to share with the political executive (Centre) details of its investigation into the allotment of coal blocks under the guise of “sanction to prosecute”. This too is of far-reaching significance.

These rulings are doubtless valuable as they could go a long way in the direction of freeing our parliamentary democracy of several infirmities whose cumulative effect is to weaken and enfeeble the democratic fabric of our nation. But if we are really serious in safeguarding our parliamentary system of governance and reinforcing democracy that sustains it, we cannot possibly overlook the imperative need to emancipate our polity from the menace of black money for which purpose there is no alternative but to introduce comprehensive electoral reforms which have been discussed at length in the past and must now be given concrete shape at the earliest if we are genuinely interested in making our independence and sovereignty meaningful for the teeming millions.

July 11 S.C.

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