We the people must never let freedom die

The last citadel of freedom, the judiciary, is under attack. While the ruling class has captured all other institutions, the lone one that can protect our freedoms, is the judiciary.
soumyadip sinha
soumyadip sinha

As we celebrate the 74th year of our Republic, we must cherish the memory of those who won us this hard-fought freedom. We must also cherish our Republic’s Constitution, carefully crafted to ensure that our institutions protect us from the intrusions of the ruling class. Ultimately, freedom resides in the hearts of men and women, so beautifully put by the great Learned Hand, a judge in the United States. He went on to say that if it dies in the hearts of men and women, then no Constitution, no law can save it.

It is, therefore, the people of India who must not only cherish but be ready to protect their freedoms. Today, I witness the silence of millions of our people, a silence that troubles me. Most are silent because they have no real voice. Others are silent because they are afraid. The middle class is silent because it prefers to remain silent. Large sections of the middle class are loath to break their silence because the status quo is a more comfortable option as long as their peace is not disturbed.

As far as our institutions are concerned, they are constitutionally obliged to keep at bay the intrusions of the political class. However, these institutions, too, seem to have been silenced. Some of them, in fact, bend over backwards to please the ruling class. The Election Commission, which has the constitutional obligation to ensure free and fair elections, is seen to be a collaborator of the government.

Today, its institutional integrity is suspect. Its inability to ensure free and fair elections, its hesitation to deal with those in the government and those belonging to the party in power (who openly violate the Model Code of Conduct during the course of an ongoing election), the alacrity with which it phases out elections in particular states as well as the timing of the electoral processes, are evidence of its unwillingness to function as a neutral umpire when dealing with electoral misdemeanours. The way it recently agreed to take forward the “freebie” debate—asking political parties to give their responses—was in direct contrast to its stand before the Supreme Court. In an affidavit, it solemnly said that it cannot be constitutionally involved in dealing with issues regarding “freebies” promised during the course of an election; that it was not the appropriate forum to be dealing with these issues. But its compromising attitude, when it comes to safeguarding the interests of the ruling class, is a matter of grave concern.

The independence of our investigating authorities, be it the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, or the National Investigation Agency, has often been compromised by those who head these agencies, particularly in cases where the interests of the ruling class are at stake or can be served. Pursuant to appointments made by the government of the chosen few for its political ends, the partisan manner in which investigating agencies have targeted individuals seeking to besmirch the reputation of political parties, especially the Opposition, is on public display.

Only an independent investigating agency can ensure that its machinery is used in a bipartisan manner for the cause of justice and not for the cause of the government that it is beholden to. Journalists, ordinary citizens, students, teachers, political opponents, bureaucrats, and those who are perceived not to be associated with the ideology of the ruling party, are systematically targeted and their reputations destroyed. Investigations are launched selectively, seeking to protect those belonging to the political party in power despite damaging evidence available against them.

Governors have become the spokespersons of the ruling class. We have, in fact, witnessed a chief minister being installed in the early hours of the morning, knowing fully well that those sworn in had no majority behind them. We have seen governors administering oath to rampant defectors against whom disqualification petitions are pending. We have seen governors violate provisions of the Constitution, resulting in the court castigating them for their actions both in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. We have also seen governors sitting over legislations passed by the ruling party in states, not allowing them to be given effect, and much more.

We are witnessing our educational institutions being slowly driven by the ideology of the ruling class. This is being done by resorting to selective appointments of those who espouse the cause of a particular ideology or have an affinity towards that ideology.

We have watched, in dismay, the media surrendering before the ruling class and becoming its propaganda outfit, ensuring that the Opposition does not get adequate space on its platform. The ruling class has a field day supported by anchors who are openly aligned, by their actions, with the power structures in place. We hear of the government’s achievements but not of its rampant failures. Images are manipulated to create negativity towards the Opposition and sound bites often spew venom.

The last citadel of freedom, namely, the judiciary, is under attack. While the ruling class has captured all other institutions, the one that remains, which alone can protect our freedoms, is the judiciary. The recent unsavory statement by a minister of the government that it must have the ultimate say in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary—shows the government’s mindset in ensuring that “their men” are appointed—so that the entire state is in the hands of not just the ruling class but of a few in the ruling class.

Once these institutions are destroyed or diminished by those who man them, the cause of freedom will be lost. We cannot let that happen. We need to ensure that those who fought hard for our freedom did not do so in vain. As we enter the 75th year of our Republic, let it not be said that we the people failed the Republic. We cannot afford that. We are the largest democracy in the world, a world in which freedoms already are in danger.

Kapil Sibal

Senior lawyer and member of Rajya Sabha

(Tweets @KapilSibal)

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