Different Reactions to Trump’s Presidential Victory: The reactions to Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential race are diverse and amusing. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, assured the press that the US will not abandon the Paris Agreement under the Trump administration.
He told a packed conference room at the Bab Ighli venue of the 22nd Conference of Parties, “I have spoken to President-elect Donald Trump last week and I remain optimistic about our efforts to control climate change.” According to Shalabh Shalli Kumar, founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, Mr Trump will take India-US relations to a new height and both countries will fight radical Islamic terrorism together. Kumar said that this is the best thing that could have happened to the Hindus and that Trump is committed to fighting Islamic terrorism to its end. Time alone will tell.
Alleged Torture by US Troops: It is depressing that US troops and CIA agents could face investigation and possible charges by the International Criminal Court after its chief prosecutor said in a report that they may have committed war crimes by torturing detainees in Afghanistan. According to the report issued by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s office, members of US armed forces are said to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture between May 1, 2003, and December 31, 2014. There are Conventions against Torture, but regrettably this reprehensible practice persists.
Judicial Activism and National Anthem: The Supreme Court’s judicial activism has generally been for the benefit of the marginalised and exploited segments of our society. The Supreme Court rightly commands the executive not to transgress the Lakshman rekha and to act strictly within statutory limits. The judiciary should also observe its Lakshman rekha, namely to refrain from dealing with matters which are inherently beyond the judicial sphere.
Unfortunately, the Lakshman rekha was not observed when it recently issued certain directions regarding the national anthem. According to the Supreme Court’s directions, every person in the cinema hall has to stand up when the national anthem is played to prove his patriotism. This is a bizarre notion of patriotism. It presumes that the acid test of patriotism is standing up when the national anthem is played. In reality, many people who stand up may be devoid of any sentiment of patriotism. The assumption that making people stand when the national anthem is played will instill a sense of ‘constitutional’ patriotism is far fetched.
There may be various reasons why a person may not or cannot stand up when the national anthem is played. Eg. (a) physical difficulty in standing up; (b) genuine religious or conscientious reasons. For instance, persons belonging to the sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not sing any national anthem, whether, Jana Gana Mana in India, God save the Queen in Britain, the Star Spangled Banner in the United States, and so on. They desist from singing because of their genuine belief that their religion forbids them to do so.
In the words of the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment in Bijoe Emmanuel, pronounced in August 1986, they do not hold their beliefs idly and their conduct is not the outcome of any perversity. Their reasons may appear bizarre, but if the belief is genuine and conscientiously held, then it is protected under the fundamental right of freedom of conscience guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution. Judicially mandated duty of a citizen cannot override his or her fundamental rights.
Under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, any person who intentionally prevents the singing of the national anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing can be punished. No one can object to this statutory provision.
The worrying part is that these Supreme Court directions, though certainly well intended, could usher in judicial authoritarianism based on the belief that judges are infallible and are the most competent persons to run the country. It would also provide ammunition to those opposed to judicial activism, and worse, portray the judiciary in a ludicrous light. Hopefully, the Bench which passed these interim directions will reconsider them at the next hearing keeping all relevant constitutional, legal and practical aspects in mind.