There should be no second thoughts to this observation that, we, the Indians, are living (or forced to live) in a pseudo-democratic set-up in the world’s largest democracy.
It is true democracy doesn’t mean unrestricted freedom. The restricted freedom that it provides with some fundamental rights is intended to maintain a healthy socioeconomic growth in the country and its tenets are uniformly applied (in theory), for the high and mighty as well as for the low and feeble.
But that is not so in India, the world’s largest democracy. The clear divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, between the politicians and the voters and between the bureaucrats and the ordinary men is getting wider.
And that is why some recent developments to restore the true spirit of democracy by pushing and promoting probity and transparency in Indian politics give stimulus to the grey-matter to think positively though there exist the pertinent questions that such developments are not free from the tentacles of the political manipulation. Politicians are already on the job to undo the good for the country (but bad for their convoluted reasons) that these decisions can bring.
On June 3, the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled that six major political parties were public authorities and thus were under the purview of the Right To Information Act (RTI Act).
A major setback for the ‘corrupt type’ of politicians but the decision was a relief to a democracy forced to function in a suspended animation. With funding, earnings and expenditure running into billions of Rs and with enjoying multiple facilities from the government agencies, the indiscriminate run of the finances of the political parties must come under the public scrutiny to ensure transparency. Answerability to the public – it becomes all the more important with an Indian politics that is deeply soaked in corruption.
On July 5, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines as early as possible to regulate the poll manifestos of political parties. The court observed that freebies and promises like laptops or TV sets or gold ornaments ‘shake the roots of free and fair elections to a great degree’.
It was indeed a step overdue and must have been taken a long ago. It is silly to make promises like giving free laptops or TV sets when there is no electricity to use them. It is inhuman to promise gold ornaments when millions of the families cannot afford the basic minimum education and health expenditure. The fund that should be diverted to build resources to bring long term prosperity and so self-reliance is wasted by the politicians in these silly and senseless acts.
On July 10, the Supreme Court upheld a 2004 Patna high court ruling that had invalidated a provision made in the Representation of Peoples’ Act (RPA) to give undue benefit to the politicians. Part of the ruling by the apex court also debars politicians from contesting elections while in jail.
The provision (Section 8(4) of the RPA) by the lawmakers was a farce aimed at enabling the convicted politicians to contest elections until they had exhausted all the legal avenues like their sentencing being upheld by the Supreme Court. And given the pace of the judicial process, the political career of a politician gets over before he is sentenced ‘finally’ by a court.
There would be parleys among the politicians and sure, we are going to see the review appeals but even if we don’t analyse the long-term opportunity window that this decision would provide, even in the short-term, it is going to pay handsomely as the country is going to have important assembly and parliamentary elections in the coming months. The SC decision is going to be a milestone in checking the rapid criminalization of Indian politics.
On July 11, the Allahabad high court, in yet another landmark ruling, came down heavily on political parties holding caste-based political rallies.
The Lucknow bench of the high court banned the caste-based rallies in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state where the development politics has not been on play for quite some time to act as the call to fight the electoral battles.
Politics of India’s electorally most important state is riddled with the divisive elements of caste, religion and sectarianism. Though the court has banned such rallies in Uttar Pradesh in its decision, it is only natural that, being a high court decision, it is going to be a precedent for whole of the country.
Politicians, as they are, will try to scuttle these moves, especially the first three, in every possible way. We are already hearing the reports about an ordinance to amend the RTI Act to keep the political parties out of the ambit of the RTI Act. Then there are reports saying the government is to consult political parties on SC’s decision on ‘disqualification of lawmakers’ before approaching the top court with a review appeal.
But there indeed is hope where the courts are involved, especially the top courts like the high courts or the Supreme Court. No doubt politicians can go to any extent to manipulate the system for their selfish goals, but encroaching over the rights and decisions of the top courts, at a time when the top courts are seen as the only recourse for justice and hope available to the common man in the tidal wave of the political corruption, would be electorally unpleasant and so a tough call that no political outfit would like to take openly in the election season.
But it doesn’t mean they would take it as it comes.
Obviously, the Brethren council of politicians would keep on meeting clandestinely to see how they can still kill the spirit of these important landmark decisions.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/