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Mainstream, VOL LII No 28, July 5, 2014

Facing Manifold Mounting Problems

Saturday 5 July 2014, by SC


So the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government at the Centre has at last been forced to act against hoarding of onions and potatoes. Yesterday it brought these two vegeables under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. This move, whose purpose is to empower State governments to undertake dehoarding operations and control the prices of these commodities which are definitely shooting up, was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) Now the States will be free to impose their own stock holding limits; this is primarily for retailers in respect of the storage of these two products.

The BJP is essentially a traders’ oarty, no matter howsoever much it claims that in the 2014 elections it got electoral endorsement from all sections of the polity. Traders constitute the core of the party’s support-base. It is thus interesting to find the BJP taking measures that would act against the traders’ hoarding operations. This only goes to show how the party is facing the music while in power. After all, governance is not a child’s play. Of course this step is a knee-jerk reaction as the party has run out of options. Already those at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder are groaning under the incessant rise in prices of essential foodstuffs in particular.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of India has spoken out on the Gopal Subramanium issue. In a public speech on July 1 Chief Justice R.M. Lodha said:

The first thing I had taken objection to was the segregation of Gopal Subramanium’s file unilaterally by the executive. It is not proper... It was done unilaterally... without my knowledge and consent.

By this statement the CJI made it abundantly clear that he strongly disapproved of such a move by the executive. But what he said thereafter was even more noteworthy.

What really shocked me were questions regarding the independence of the judiciary. I have always fought for it and I will be the first person to leave this chair if it is compromised. I promise 1.2 billion people of India that independence of the judiciary will not be compromised.

Analysing the CJI’s open disapproval of the government’s act, The Indian Express has aptly observed:

Those are strong words and they go a long way in reassuring those who have watched the building confrontation in recent days between an executive emboldened by a decisive mandate and the judiciary with growing apprehension. Justice R.M. Lodha’s intervention holds out the assurance that a hard-won and delicate institutional balance will be safeguarded. It also demands an answer from the government.

Without a cogent explanation as to why it chose to do what it did in the Gopal Subramanium case, the Modi Government will not be able to remove the shadow of doubt regarding its adherence to the concept of an independent judiciary notwithstanding all the assertions of the Union Law Minister to the effect that it holds the judiciary in the ‘highest esteem’.

Since it assumed power, there have been direct and surreptitious attempts to muzzle freedom of expression generating loud protests from secular democrats of all hues. The Narendra Modi dispensation cannot get sanction from the public at large by diversionary steps including wild attacks on its political adversaries by employing such terms as “pseudo-secular”. In all such matters it needs to mend its ways and not adopt confrontationist postures.

In the wider world the situation in Iraq has turned grave with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) declaring the establishment of a caliphate in the territory under its control in Syria and Iraq, and the self-proclaimed ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the group which now describes itself as the Islamic State (IS), issuing the call for a global Jihad to avenge the violations committed against Muslims (read Sunnis) worldwide. In this scenario India finds itself one of the prime targets of attack. Is the Modi Government prepared to meet the challenge by ways and means suited to the Indian genius and steering clear of any communal approach? The question cannot be evaded for long.

June 3 S.C.

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