The Congress truly believes India is a banana republic where it can do whatever it wishes and the party’s First Family can get away with deceit, thanks to a complicit media
Politics as practised (as well as preached) by the Congress increasingly resembles the theatre of the absurd that calls for the willing suspension of disbelief. The manner in which the Congress has sought to turn coat on the issue of subverting the Supreme Court’s verdict mandating the disqualification of any lawmaker who has been sentenced to more than two years in jail for a criminal offence is at once laughable and sinister. This is not about conceding to popular demand or heeding to the ‘inner voice’ of any individual, big or small; it is about practising politics of gross cynicism.
It’s laughable because the Congress actually thinks that today’s India is naïve enough to believe what is told to the people through a morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt media willing to be manipulated in exchange of handouts and because of shared traits that are bereft of values and ethics. In the decades when Indira Gandhi imperiously ruled India, state-run All India Radio and Doordarshan served the purpose of propagating fiction, backed up by newspapers that were dependent on newsprint quotas fixed by Government.
Today, when Sonia Gandhi imperiously rules India through an effete wimp of a proxy in the Prime Minister’s office, private news TV channels and newspapers trip over each other to do the Congress’s bidding — AIR andDoordarshan sparkle in comparison. In a sense, nothing has changed in the past four decades: Congress continues to try and sway public opinion using accomplices in the media. After the fall of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime in 1977, LK Advani had famously rebuked the media, “When asked to bend, you chose to crawl.” Thirty-six years later, the media crawls without being asked to bend.
But this is not about the feckless media in our country. It is about a cowardly person who wants to be recognised and respected as the Prime Minister but lacks the gumption to be prime ministerial and is not offended by the high office he holds (not on merit but because the Palace can trust him as the Regent) being crudely stripped and denuded of its dignity, authority and majesty. It is about an upstart, callow politician who enjoys limitless power without either office or accountability. It is about a Queen who can do no wrong and sees herself as the interpreter of India’s destiny.
Let us go back in time for a fuller understanding. On July 10 the Supreme Court gave its verdict making it mandatory for any lawmaker sentenced to more than two years in jail for a criminal offence to be disqualified from being a member of either a State Assembly or Parliament. That sent the Government into a tizzy, not the least because the judgement would seriously impact the Congress and its allies in the UPA as well as those supporting the alliance from outside, namely the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. Much midnight oil began to be burned to try and beat the Supreme Court’s judgement.
Lest we get confused and thus step into the trap laid by the Congress, we should remember that there were two judgements by the Supreme Court impacting electoral politics and elected representatives. The first was about disallowing individuals in custody from contesting polls. This was patently unacceptable simply because any State
Government could use its police to pick up political opponents on the eve of elections and prevent them from contesting the polls. Happily, the Representation of the People Act has since been amended to obviate this order.
It is the second judgement on disqualification which is of relevance here. While there is always the chance of a politician being indicted on false charges and an amenable lower court, for instance a magistrate’s court, being used for an unfavourable verdict which the higher judiciary would repudiate on a later date, in principle the Supreme Court’s judgement is unexceptionable. If the court had struck down a section of the Representation of the People Act as unconstitutional, it stood to logic that it would also strike down any amendment to obviate the verdict. Understandably, Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and one of India’s outstanding lawyers, repeatedly made this point at official and unofficial meetings with senior Ministers keen on an amendment.
On August 13 the Government called an all-party meeting where there was no formal agenda. Both the judgements were discussed and there was a unanimous view that the judgement barring jailed persons from contesting elections should be made infructuous while there were differing views on the other judgement mandating the disqualification of convicted lawmakers. Jaitley and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj made it abundantly clear that the BJP was opposed to any amendment in the law as far as this judgement was concerned. Subsequently, Jaitley reiterated that view to Union Minister for Law and Justice Kapil Sibal.
The Government, however, chose to persist with an amendment. It was discussed and approved first by the Congress core committee, which really means Sonia Gandhi as the other members are merely meant to make up what can be called a ‘committee’, and then by the Union Cabinet. A Bill was introduced on August 30. As the Bill was being introduced, the BJP objected to it, placing on record its view that the Bill would be deemed to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court if it were enacted into law. The Government ignored the objection.
On September 5, the Government tried to hustle the Bill through the Rajya Sabha and take it to the Lok Sabha for a vote. It failed in its endeavour when the Opposition refused to be buttonholed into towing the Government’s line and forced the Bill to be sent to Parliament’s Standing Committee which deals with Law and Company Affairs. The issue should have ended there, but it didn’t. The Congress wanted immediate action as verdicts in two cases dealing with corruption were expected — the first involving its MP Rasheed Masood and the other RJD’s Lalu Prasad.
The Congress core committee met again and decided to take the ordinance route, confident that President Pranab Mukherjee would do the party’s, if not the Government’s, bidding. The Cabinet cleared the ordinance and sent it to Rashtrapati Bhawan on September 24. The BJP decided to take the battle to the President: Advani, along with Jaitley and Swaraj, called on Mukherjee on September 26, pleading with him not to append his signature to an unconstitutional law.
The President later summoned Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Law Minister Sibal and sought an explanation from them. By the time the meeting came to an end, the two Ministers were convinced he would not sign the ordinance. They went to 10 Janpath from Rashtrapati Bhawan and briefed Gandhi. The next morning an irate Rahul Gandhi described the ordinance as “a complete nonsense” which should be “torn and thrown away”.
Instead of reacting to that slur by putting in his papers and stepping down from office, Manmohan Singh has meekly complied. The Congress is desperate to pin the blame on the BJP for a fiasco of its own making. All this and more is known to the people. Hence the attempt is laughable.
But what makes the laughable attempt sinister is the fact that it betrays the mindset of the Congress: It is willing to go to any extent to white wash its mistakes, making a mockery of democracy. Little wonder the son-in-law of the Congress’s First Family describes India as a “banana republic”. That’s what the Nehru dynasty thinks of India — and Indians.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)