Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For You
A Judicious Warning
“Courts which seek transparency from others must demonstrate it themselves,” Kapil Sibal argues in his article in The Indian Express. Succinctly explaining the workings of the Supreme Court of India and the various responsibilities of the Chief Justice, Sibal points out that the SC is perhaps the most powerful of all courts in the world – with an element of permanence embedded in its decisions, thereby making the CJI, the Master of the Roster, accountable to the people.
If matters pending before a bench are transferred to another bench by an administrative order of the CJI, that does raise issues of concern, especially when the RTI does not apply to matters relating to the SC. If a particular bench or a couple of benches alone handle highly-sensitive matters, that too is not a healthy practice. What we have witnessed of late is that all important and highly-sensitive matters are assigned to a couple of benches alone. Our senior-most judges are excluded from matters which, if decided one way or the other, will have far-reaching implications. Matters that deserve hearing by a Constitution bench are instead heard by relatively junior judges. If after hearing a matter for months, suddenly the judge recuses himself and a particular bench is assigned the matter, it raises eyebrows. Occasionally, midstream, matters are taken out of the bench slated to hear them. Exceptions, if any, have to be justified and explained.
Out of My Mind: A Hole in the Heart
Meghnad Desai writes in The Indian Express that for better or for worse, the press conference held by the four Supreme Court judges has exposed a hole in the very heart of the Indian Constitution.
“It was always an anomaly”, Desai writes, speaking of the court taking over judicial appointments after Indira Gandhi’s misuse of the judiciary during the Emergency. This anomaly has expanded over decades resulting in allegations of gross misuse of power, he opines, adding that the only solution was to have the democratically elected government take back control.
As could be predicted, within a few hours the issue took on a party political colour. If the protest by the four judges is implicitly a critique of the BJP/ NDA government, then the issue has to return to the elected Legislature. The guilt or otherwise of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court cannot be decided by any judicial body as none is above the Supreme Court. It is time therefore for the government to declare that the collegium has become dysfunctional. It should assert the constitutional validity of the NJAC. The power ultimately lies with the people of India and their elected representatives. Desperate times require desperate measures. It would be a suitable act in the present emergency for the government to suspend the collegium and ask for the recusal of the four judges as well as the Chief Justice from all cases till the impasse is resolved.
Grey Eminences: Speaking up For Institutional Integrity
Mukul Kesavan writes to hush “the inevitable tut-tutting” that has followed the presser held by four SC judges in The Telegraph. He believes that the whole thing is not about ‘washing one’s dirty linen in public’ for we must believe the judges are acting in good faith with nothing personal to gain. Why else would heir-apparent to the Chief Justice, Justice Gogoi, attend the press conference and name the allocation of the Justice Loya’s case as the last straw before the third pillar of the democracy caves in? Besides, as Kesavan outlines, this confrontation has been building up for a while; this was just the pressure cooker’s lid finally blowing off.
The first thing to notice about this very public dissent is that it is not ideological. This is not a faction of judges bound together by shared liberal, conservative or left-wing ideas. Lokur is consensually seen as a liberal judge while Chelameswar’s ruling on the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act where he upheld a law that disqualified people not educated up to a certain degree from standing for panchayati office can be fairly described as conservative. Equally, it’s hard to pigeonhole them as anti-establishment mavericks motivated by hostility towards the present government. Jasti Chelameswar was the sole dissenter in the five-judge bench that ruled that the National Judicial Appointments Commission was unconstitutional, a position that clearly put him on the same side as the government in this matter.
Why the Whistleblower Judges Did us a Service
GS Vasu salutes the four judges of the Supreme Court who openly declared that all is not okay in the highest court in this piece in The New Indian Express. Vasu vehemently disagrees that judiciary is above whistleblowing, especially when the rot in the system started spreading a long time ago. More recent examples include the SC striking down the National Judicial Accountability Act (NJAC) and due norm and process not being followed by the Chief Justice of India in assigning cases to benches.
“If exposing ourselves to sunlight to cure a virus is the only option, there is no point in hiding behind closed doors,” concludes Vasu, not unconvincingly.
In fact, Friday’s quake was bound to happen at some point or other. We have to go back a bit into the past to understand this. Our experience during the Emergency, when the judiciary was infamously described as having chosen to crawl when asked to bend, in due course led us to adopt the Collegium system by which judges appoint judges. Sooner than later, we realised that this too had its pitfalls.There were enough warning signals. For instance, the lawyer father-and-son duo of Shanti and Prashant Bhushan went on record that the integrity of at least eight of the previous 16 CJIs was dubious. But after the initial furore the matter faded from our consciousness when in the normal course one would have expected the Supreme Court to either punish those who made the allegation or order a probe if the charges required investigation.
Across the Aisle: Truth, Post-Truth and Again the Truth
In true P Chidambaram fashion, the former Union Minister for Finance pens his response to Arun Jaitley’s statements before the Parliament about the state of the Indian economy in The Indian Express. Addressing issues like growth rates, exports, ease of doing business and investments, Chidambaram provides hard facts and figures from the last four years to shine the light on Jaitley’s “post-truth” statements.
FM: “Over the last three-and-a-half to four years, the government has taken several steps to ensure that the decision-making process with regard to economy is in the interest of both public and economy and remains reliable.” The decision-making process of the NDA government was either opaque (demonetisation) or erratic (GST). Given the many instances of reneging on promises, certainly, there was no reliability. The result is the slowdown, now admitted, reluctantly, by the government. In the seven quarters beginning January 2016, the quarterly growth rate of GVA was 8.7, 7.6, 6.8, 6.7, 5.6, 5.6 and 6.1 per cent. In the same period, the growth of GDP had declined from 9.1 to 6.3 per cent and IIP remained almost stationary between 121.4 and 120.9.
Fifth Column: An Idea Gone Very Wrong
Tavleen Singh voices her concerns against Aadhaar in The Indian Express, this time on behalf of the voiceless. Writing about her experience of visiting a village with no electricity, water or roads, where people make Rs 240 a day to survive entirely, she questions how the government can make it compulsory to upload Aadhaar details online for jobs under MNREGA, when just the trip to the city to do that would cost the villagers Rs 100.
“If anyone needs proof that it is India’s poorest citizens who are most hurt by Aadhaar, let them travel to a village like the one I went to and do a reality check”, Singh writes.
It is unfortunate that protests against Aadhaar have come mostly from educated Indians in towns and cities who have raised issues of privacy and identity theft. These voices are heard louder only because those who are really suffering under the weight of Aadhaar are voiceless. It is ironic that it is those who really need government subsidies to survive the horrors of living below the Indian poverty line now suffer even more because of a card that was supposed to help them. If this information has not reached the Prime Minister’s office it is because his MPs and MLAs rarely visit villages to which there are no roads.
Freeze on Triple Talaq Bill Means Muslim Women Stay Less Equal
Swapan Dasgupta, in The Times of India, browses the chapters of the political history of independent India to reach a conclusion: even though several laws have been enacted towards the cause of gender justice, Muslim personal laws, notorious for being unfair to women, remain untouched. Dasgupta highlights how the Uniform Civil Code remains a reality so distant that any attempt to implement it is perceived as an attack on secularism, a charge most parties want to stay away from.
In practice, this has meant that the ulama, the most organised section of the Muslim community, and its appendage bodies such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board have invariably got their way. The AIMPLB declared that the Triple Talaq Bill “encroaches upon the fundamental rights of equality and rights set out in Article 25 of the Constitution” and proclaimed its total opposition. It was this threat that prompted all those parties over-reliant on the Muslim vote to close ranks in the Rajya Sabha.
Inside Track: Keeping Politics Out
Coomi Kapoor in The Indian Express brings you the latest gupshup from inside the hallowed halls of the Parliament. Look out for details on Amit Shah’s shrewd strategies for the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, an in-depth book about the Sangh parivar featuring interviews given by Narendra Modi, and the current state of Hardik Patel’s campaign platforms.
During the Gujarat campaign, Hardik Patel communicated through several influential WhatsApp groups, with names such as the King of Patidar, Jai Sardar and Royal Patidar, which connected with Patels all over the state who were disgruntled with the government. Now that the results have been declared, Hardik’s pragmatic followers have moved on from politics to other topics. As one member put it: “You still have to pay for the petrol in your scooter.” The messages in the groups are now largely confined to employment opportunities and thrifty purchases. Someone posted that there were 3,162 placements, for those with Class 10 certificates, in the Northern Railways. Another tip offered was on where to buy kites and manja at wholesale rates.
The Heartbeat of Racism Is Denial
Ibram X Kendi writes in The New York Times about Donald Trump reportedly describing countries as “shitholes”. Trump as well as his liberal opponents – who are aghast that a US president could make such a statement – are both guilty of denial, Kendi writes, as he attempts to trace the US’ record of denying racism.
Presidential history also includes the social Darwinism of Theodore Roosevelt, the federal-government-segregating, “Birth of a Nation”-praising Woodrow Wilson — and the bigotry that came from the mouths of presidents who are generally seen as essential to racial progress. President Lyndon B. Johnson said “nigger” nearly as often as Ku Klux Klansmen did. This denial of racism is the heartbeat of racism. Where there is suffering from racist policies, there are denials that those policies are racist. The beat of denial sounds the same across time and space.
Fallin’ in Love with Old Monk in a Jam
Aarish Chhabra pens a nostalgic piece about Old Monk in Hindustan Times. Opening up about the sombre moment when he found out that Kapil Mohan, the patriarch of Mohan Meakin that makes the drink, was dead, Chhabra recounts the journey of the drink that has divided people between “those who feel it’s cool to flaunt their love for the drink, and those who feel cool saying they’re not big fans of it.”
As you do, I was reading the news via Facebook on my phone. ‘The man behind Old Monk is dead,’ said a headline. Moving from one weblink to another, I landed on an analytical report about the fall and fall of the iconic brand. Just then, John Mayer confessed through the car stereo: “I’m a bad boy ’cause I don’t even miss her; I’m a bad boy for breaking her heart. And I’m free, free fallin’, fallin’.” It was the kind of day when you’re fine hearing bad news. It was the kind of traffic jam in which you think of long-lost love affairs. And, after the sad news, it was the kind of day that you want to end with Old Monk. To a heart hardened by the brutality of daily news, I said, “Tonight, we shall raise a toast to Kapil Mohan.”
From The Quint:
- SC Judges’ Protest Against CJI Dipak Misra is a Judicial Emergency
- Dissenting SC Judges’ Letter Points Fingers at the Centre: Tharoor
- Beyond Modi-Bibi Bonhomie, Limits of Indian-Israeli Convergence
- Now’s the Time to Simplify Tax Code for the Salaried Class
- The SC Implosion Hints at a Malady Which Requires a Long Term Cure