Today's Editorial

08 November 2016

Undermining rule of law


Source: By Valson Thampu: Deccan Herald


Political leaders who sought to show, or show case, if you like, solidarity with the family members of the army veteran who took his life in desperation at being short-changed in respect of one-rank-one-pension (OROP), were detained on the excuse that they were endangering the rule of law. The BJP spokespersons have, since then, kept up the chorus that no one will be allowed to take liberties with the rule of law.

So what is law and, by implication, the rule of law? The prevailing assumption seems to be that whatever is convenient to the powers that be is the rule of law. The rule of law, in other words, is the assertion of the will of the ruler over citizens. But this is not rule of law. This is what used to be known as totalitarianism, the ultimate in misrule and tyranny. Now a word about law the creation of law becomes necessary because of the nature of power. It is in the nature of power to be oppressive, corrupt and capricious. It is necessary, hence, to protect citizens against the arbitrary and unfettered exercise of power to the detriment or their rights and derogation of their dignity. This can be done only by creating a force, a centre of authority, outside the framework of executive power, envisaged to function in optimum independence from it.

The basic tenet of the rule of law is the total independence of the judiciary and the law enforcing agencies from executive control. If and when the police, for example, become a mere extension of the arbitrary will of the state, it ceases to be a law-enforcing agency. It then serves as the law-subverting agency. Consider this analogy. In the engine of an automobile, power is generated in its combustion chamber. The generation and release of power needs to be regulated, for it to be benign, by carburettor, the accelerator, the clutch and the brakes. Suppose you design an engine, locating all these regulating parts within the combustion chamber itself to function as per its whims, you no longer have an automobile engine, you only have an auto-explosion engine, which is a public menace. Similar is the case with the autonomy of the judiciary and police in respect of the rule of law.

Now, consider what has been playing out in Delhi in the last couple of days. Political leaders, who allegedly tried to take mileage out of the suicide of an army veteran, were detained or arrested. What the police did, and continue to do, remain a matter of semantics, not of law which is, in it, symptomatic. The police themselves do not seem to know what they are doing! Only the party spokesmen do!

The civil rights of the leaders concerned are in suspended animation. What is right and wrong, what is legitimate or otherwise, what is moral or immoral will all be presumably determined by the police, who do not know what they are doing! Should anyone visit a bereaved family, the police will decide. Should you take a stand on a sensitive matter, the police will decide. Should the grieving members of a bereaved family be free to meet someone, the police will decide. And so on. Surely, this is not democracy! It is hilarious when politicians accuse each other of politicising issues. For goodness' sake, please tell us what politicians are supposed to do? To romanticise, theologise, mythologise, and zoologise issues? Are the politicians telling us that politicisation is a subversive and criminal activity? And, by implication, politics is an immoral and dangerous occupation? Will a teacher be accused of academising, a doctor of medicalising, an engineer of engineering an issue?

The irony is not lost on anyone. It is the pot calling the kettle black. The very anxiety about an issue being politicised stems from having already politicised all issues. 'Politicisation' is the prism through which everything is seen today. Which party in our country can claim to be able to look at issues objectively, from the perspective of the welfare of the people rather than cynical power-and-party calculations? This whole hoo-ha about 'politicisation' stems only from a mindset of compulsive and complete politicisation.

Immorality of politicisation

The raging dispute - to which the citizens are not blind or deaf - is not about the immorality of politicisation, but about who should have monopoly over it. The surgical strikes were politicised. The credit was given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even to the RSS. We were told that it was not politicisation but patriotism. This is the current logic. We are required to believe that this is not politicisation!

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Supreme Court for resisting the move to politicise the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary, based on the doctrine of separation of powers, is a key cornerstone of democracy. It is not in the interests of the citizens that the autonomy of judiciary is sought to be compromised. The situation as of now is that if judiciary does not fall in line, it will be crippled through executive non-cooperation. Judges will not be allowed to be appointed, invoking technicalities of some kind or the other. Traditionally, the media has played a significant role in safeguarding the rule of law by serving as a sentinel of citizens' rights and natural justice. The prospect of the Fourth Estate becoming a tool in the hands of the executive -deferential, glad to be of use - is yet another worry for those who care for democracy.

Listening to some of the TV news anchors these days, one begins to wonder if they are not the masked spokespersons of some party or the other. Nothing is more important - certainly not the proffered plums of magical developmentalism - than upholding the rule of law, undermining which is a nightmare for every citizen.