Prime Minister’s musings give no clue to his real beliefs!
The benefit of doubt to the PM or to the people?
The passing away of Nani Palkhivala (1920-2002), the eminent Constitutional expert, marks an era in Indian politics and society. The many laudatory articles in the press by peers and others only reinforced the importance of an individual who went on to create history and lay the solid foundations for our Constitution as it is evolving today.
If it had not been for Indira Gandhi’s declaration of Emergency in 1975, we Indians won’t have had the many quick and swift lessons in Constitutional democracy. Mrs.Gandhi’s challenge of the Constitution was a direct threat to parliament democratic way of life which the Constitution ensured so elaborately. The challenge was met with valiant fighters and Nani was the foremost in defending our Constitutional liberties. In 1967, in the Golaknath landmark case, a bench of 11 judges Nani propunded the basic structure theory. This theory was again reaffirmed in 1973 in the Keshavananda case in which also he was the lead counsel. This was before a larger bench of 13 judges.
Three days after the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Basic Structure doctrine, on November 7, 1975, in Indira Gandhi’s election case (a decision of a five-judge bench) the then Chief Justice Ray (appointed by Gandhi) convened a special bench (of 13 judges) to overturn the judgement. Nani again was the sole performer. Before the bench could pronounce its possibly favourable verdict, the Chief Justice rose to say the bench was dissolved!
Yes, one political party with two thirds majority in Parliament, with one political leader determined to amend the Constitution to perpetuate herself in power was prevented to subvert the Constitution. The rest, as they say, is history.Now, the working of the Constitution is laid on still more elaborate structure with so many landmark rulings and one hopes no government in the future, however powerful or intent to do any damage to our cherished democratic values couldn’t get over the many restrictions placed on the rulers in Delhi.Thus, today, the institutions, the higher judiciary, election commission, the role of governors in dissolving the State legislatures, the role of the President to impose President’s rule in the States, to role of CBI, Central Vigilance Commission etc. are all placed on transparent legal bindings. Though there are still the many challenges as thrown by the latest development in our polity and society.
The rising communal tensions, Ayodhya, Gujarat, insecurity of the religious minorities, the large entry of criminals in elections, the new proposed legislation to lay down criteria for those to contest elections are all live issues. Corruption is now entering into higher judiciary, with Punjab and Karnataka high court judges making news are all serious issues.I read with some dismay to find, even in the realm of press freedom India is way down the smaller countries. Lack of enviable press freedom means lack of tolerance in our social order, in spite of an enviable Constitutional tradition, right?
The London, Telegraph newspaper ran a poll seeking to answer the question : how loyal the UK muslims are to the Union Jack, the British national flag? The precise question was how the UK Muslims reacted when the September 11 terrorist attack in New York took place. The Correspondent who covered the poll for an Indian newspaper wrote :
“The UK Muslim leaders didn’t speak clearly, were ambiguous”. Saying this the Correspondent continued : “As Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and his colleague L.K.Advani were speaking when the Godhra tragedy took place.” Why this comparison? An odious comparison? I don’t know. But there was a point in this comparison, as far as I could articulate.
In our current post-Gujarat election atmosphere, there would be many among the thoughtful sections of society, whether the great Indian tradition of tolerance, a tradition about which Prof.Amartya Sen spoke on the BBC face to face talk and at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas while he was in India recently and the BBC talk was viewed by the Indian audience also on the day came the Gujarat election results!
The question must have been on most Indian’s minds must be: How real is the Great Indian tradition today?
Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Goa musings were published on the New Year’s day. It was commented upon variedly. Some things stand out in the Musings. One, the PM is trying to wriggle out of the impression he himself had created in the wake of the Godhra tragedy and what followed in Gujarat. The election victory in Gujarat and the PM’s participation in the swearing in of the government headed by a Chief Minister whom the country sees as Hindutva extremist have all given a strong impression the PM is not being honest to himself. He is otherwise known as a moderate but lately with so many extremist views, from his deputy to others inside the BJP and more alarmingly from the VHP, RSS and other elements, the PM’s one-day moderation and the next day’s twisted remarks have made his many admirers uneasy.
The PM’s unsaid plea is this : “how do you, fellow Indians expect me to lead a motley crowd of power-seekers and hotheads like the ageing RSS, foul-mouthed VHP and the confused lot inside the BJP. I have to confuse, subterfuge and play with words. That is what I have done. Please give me the benefit of doubt! After all, I have proved that a disperate coalition government in Delhi can be successfully put through. Hindutva and Hinduism are worlds apart. While real politik, we tolerate. “You have done India proud. Given us a stable government. In the realm of policy too you seem to be pulling through. The country, ultimately benefits. Hindutva, coarse or subtle!”