Fifty shades of grey in politics and the collapse in rule of law
By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 14th July 2012 11:28 PM |
First, a disclosure. I have not read the runaway bestseller which Salman Rushdie has so eloquently described, on Twitter, as Fifty Shades of Tripe. Reviewers say the book is about a relationship between the powerful and the naïve, of domination and bondage, of the promise of a future Cinderella would approve. The same could be said of the relationship between “we the people” and the government, of the domination of politics over the rule of law. The relationship is just as riveting except the big O here stands for obnoxious. And this bestseller, by the way, is being written for nearly 65 years.
The past week provided snapshots of the many failures that haunt India, each leading to the same conclusion—the collapse of the rule of law.
● On Monday, a young girl was molested by a mob of nearly 30 for nearly half an hour. Till the visuals went viral on YouTube and the national news channels picked up the story on Thursday, no arrests were made. The police was scarcely shamed that the incident took place in downtown Guwahati. The DG of Police, Assam, instead said “that the police was not an ATM which can be present at the crime scene the moment one inserts a card in the machine”. Pray what the police is for if not to be available for public safety.
● On Tuesday, India was shocked to discover that in the 21st Century, a warden of the school in Shanti Niketan forced a young girl to lick her urine for bedwetting. First the officials of Shanti Niketan were in denial and then for hours they held forth that there was nothing wrong in what the warden did. Two days later, in that very state of West Bengal a girl from Class VIII in 24 Parganas District was strip-searched by the school teacher on suspicion of theft. Such cruelty from those in whose trust parents leave their children!
● On Wednesday, India discovered that a ward boy in a hospital in Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh was suturing patients instead of trained medical staff. On Friday, the state government suspended the ward boy and shifted out the chief medical officer. Are they the only ones responsible? What about the fact that there was just one doctor available that morning in a 150-plus bed hospital? Where were the other doctors and nurses? Where is the allocation for health—`7,000 crore in 2012—going?
● On Thursday, the government set aside the draft rules on General Anti Avoidance Rules issued after the last budget and created a new committee which will submit its draft by September 30. Are we to assume that what was done under Pranab Mukherjee in March was wrong? If it was so, why didn’t the government act in March? How can something deemed right in March be defined as wrong in July? Can the rule of law be contextual? It is widely acknowledged that GAAR is one of the reasons for the erosion in the value of the rupee. So shouldn’t the government bear the responsibility for wanton neglect?
**On Friday, BJP MLA Devendra Phadnavis was struggling to get the Mumbai Police to file an FIR under Section 304 against Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and the chief secretary, holding them accountable for the fire that engulfed Mantralaya on June 21. The fire started ironically in the Department of Urban Development which crafts and implements fire safety laws. Three weeks later, nobody has been found accountable. If the owners of private property—whether Uphaar Theatre in Delhi or the hospital in Kolkata—can be charged, shouldn’t public servants be as accountable?
● On Saturday, we have been informed that the government has set up a panel for locating an alternate site for the construction of a new house for Parliament. The rationale is that “the 85-year-old heritage structure could not cope with the growing foot falls and is now endangered due to wear and tear”. It is pointless to ask who is responsible. Suffice to say that the Capital Hill in the US has been functioning since 1800 with regular attention, modification and modernisation.
These are not isolated instances. The molestation of girls and safety of women is a regular punctuation in the national narrative. Remember the Mumbai Keenan case? Shoddy medical treatment is par for the course for the poor. Within hours of the Bulandshahar incident, news channels had at least half a dozen similar cases on air. The World Bank and Pratham have regularly highlighted the bane of teacher absenteeism affecting millions of children. The fire in Mantralaya was big. But there have been nearly a dozen fires in government buildings in recent months.
It doesn’t matter which party is in power. Politics operates in fifty shades of grey, each governed by its own vote bank. The inefficiency and lack of accountability in government is legendary. Two successive commissions on administrative reforms have suggested tomes on instituting accountability. Scores of court judgments have highlighted the lack of accountability but no government will dare act. Who wants to lose 100 million votes? Indeed, India and Indians have mastered the art of normalisation of the abnormal.
The rule of law demands that the law be upheld in each and every instance to ensure its sanctity. In India those tasked with a responsibility seldom shoulder it, which is why Indians are eager to deify those who simply do their job. India needs a citizen’s charter that can ensure individual and institutional accountability—from those paid for a job and those elected to ensure this. Till such time, the submissive will live in bondage and the powerful will enjoy domination.
Shankkar Aiyar is a senior journalist who specialises in the politics of economics