Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

Battle lines drawn between the brazen and the courageous

Long years ago, NN Vohra, a respected civil servant, had come out with a report on criminalisation of politics in India that had then shocked the conscience of the nation.

As the candidates declare their assets before filing their nomination, the ordinary citizen of the land is left in no doubt that 75 years after independence, our MPs can’t really claim to be representing us—the people of India. Cutting across party lines, and including independent candidates, their personal wealth is dazzling. Can a ‘Billionaires Club’ prioritise legislation that addresses the problems that plague the life of ordinary people? Becoming a Member of Parliament is like adding another plate to their already formidable armour. They don’t need the perquisites, what matters is privileges and immunities. When the Parliament claims supremacy and denigrates the separation of powers, in the Indian context it is more power for ‘Members Only’.

Long years ago, NN Vohra, a respected civil servant, had come out with a report on criminalisation of politics in India that had then shocked the conscience of the nation. There are far more musclemen, convicted criminals out on bail awaiting final disposal of their appeals, review and curative petition in the House than mentioned in the Vohra Report. We have come a long way since. Nothing shocks us.

Every convict can plead political vendetta, and it’s easy to make anyone an accused. The apprehended unfortunate individual faces extended terms in police or judicial custody. The CBI is no longer the caged parrot, but well-trained fierce hawks that can prey on whoever the masters command. The ED specialises in striking silently like a pack of ferocious blood hounds whose bite comes without a bark.

Fear understandably has cast a dark shadow in the elections that are underway. There is an alarming rise in cowed down heavyweights who used to strut the stage as they reinvent themselves as turncoats. Cases against them are withdrawn with alacrity as soon as they join the BJP. Splitting small parties is accepted in impromptu animal trade fairs that precede and follow elections.

We have already moved dangerously close to an absolute monarch’s regime where slightest criticism of the Supreme Leader can invoke serious charges of lese majeste. Equally serious has been the slide in past five years towards the precipice of blasphemy laws. India isn’t yet a Hindu Rashtra and the Constitution upholds the concept of secularism in public life.

No amount of sophistry can hide the dark reality on the ground. Hurting the religious sentiments of a community is a charge that can be levelled on specious grounds and it’s up to the state government to entangle the poor accused in a mesh of harassing litigation in different states. It isn’t even necessary to utter the word Hinduism. Sanatan even when not prefixed to dharma is enough to ignite public ire and trigger lynching by vigilantes. Forget the religious minorities, even the diversity of sects within Hinduism is threatened with obliteration. The courts most unfortunately have failed to protect them.

The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council is a handpicked toothless assembly of ‘best and the brightest’ who have little credibility as objective scholars. They are welcome like every one else to their opinions, but when it comes out with a report pronouncing that the number of Hindus in the population has declined by almost 8 per cent in the past 65 years and Muslims have increased by over 40 per cent in the same period, one starts getting worried. Purportedly the report shows how the lot of religious minorities has improved in India since independence and this should silence western criticism about their mistreatment. There has been no census in India since 2011, then what is the source of these statistics? The timing of the release of this report can’t be dismissed casually. Even the dim-witted can see that this can only reinforce the communally polarising rhetoric of the BJP seeking to influence the voters in the forthcoming rounds of voting.

The ECI stands totally discredited and has disgraced itself by its supine and shameless supervision of the present elections. It appears petrified enough by the aura of the PM to send him or his Home Minister notices about blatant violations of the code of conduct. The impotence of the ECI has encouraged the hate-mongers in all parties to play with fire.

The Supreme Court has started cracking the whip (symbolically) much too late. Judiciary bending backwards to appear even-handed hasn’t saved it from reckless criticism and accusations of partisanship. A senior leader of the BJP has lost no time in alleging that ‘their lordships that be’ have become parties in the campaign by granting interim bail to the Delhi CM. He grandly overlooks the partisan conduct not only of constitutional functionaries like governors or institution like the ECI. Ill-informed arguments submitted by the learned Solicitor General regarding interim bail to Arvind Kejriwal illustrate how even the constitutional law officers have lost objectivity.

Words like ‘narrative’, ‘discourse’, ‘perceptions’, have lost their power to distract. The battle lines are sharply drawn between outrageously bold criminals and those with courage of their convictions.

Pushpesh Pant

Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

pushpeshpant@gmail.c

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The New Indian Express
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