OROP suicide to NDTV ban: Is rule of law under threat?

The sensitive issue is not the immorality of politicisation, but who should enjoy monopoly over it.

 |  5-minute read |   05-11-2016
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Political leaders who sought to show, or showcase, if you like, solidarity with the family members of the Subedar Kishen Singh Grewal, the Army veteran who took his life in desperation at being short-changed in respect of OROP, were detained on the excuse that they were endangering the rule of law.

BJP spokespersons have, since then, kept up the chorus that no one will be allowed to take liberties with the rule of law. So what is law and, by implication, the rule of law?

The underlying assumption seems to be that enforcing whatever is convenient to the powers that be, is the rule of law. Rule of law, in other words, is the assertion of the will of the ruler over citizens. But this is not rule of law. This is what used to be known as dictatorship, of which Totalitarianism is the most virulent form.

Why else is NDTV smarting now? This is only an early shot. The turn of others will come, if they don’t learn the lesson. The time to crawl, as Advani would say, is round the corner.

A word about law. The creation of law becomes necessary because of the nature of power. It is in the nature of power to be oppressive, corrupt and capricious. It is necessary, hence, to protect citizens against its arbitrary and unfettered exercise to the detriment or their rights and derogation of their dignity.

This can be done only by creating a force, a centre of authority, outside the framework of executive power, envisaged to function independently of it. The basic tenet of the rule of law is the autonomy of the judiciary and the law enforcing agencies vis-a-vis executive control.

If and when the police, for example, become a mere extension of the arbitrary will of the state, it ceases to be a law-enforcing agency. It then serves as the law-subverting agency.

Consider this analogy. In the engine of an automobile, power is generated in its combustion chamber. The generation and release of power needs to be regulated for it to be benign by carburetor, accelerator, clutch and brakes.

Suppose you design an engine, locating all these regulating parts within the combustion chamber itself to function as per its whims, you no longer have an auto-mobile engine, you only have an auto-explosion engine, which is a public menace. Similar is the case with the autonomy of the judiciary and police in respect of the rule of law.

Now consider what has been playing out in Delhi in the recent days. Political leaders, who allegedly tried to take mileage out of the suicide of an Army veteran, were detained or arrested. What the police did, and continues to do, remains a matter of semantics, not of law which is, in itself, symptomatic. The police themselves do not seem to know what they are seen to have done! Only the party spokesmen do!

The civil rights of the leaders concerned were in suspended animation. What is right and wrong, what is legitimate or otherwise, what is moral or immoral will all be presumably determined by the police.

Should anyone visit a bereaved family, the police will decide. Should you take a stand on a sensitive matter, the police will decide. Should the grieving members of a bereaved family be free to meet someone, the police will decide.

And all this, strictly in accordance with the purest spirit and practice of democracy!

It is hilarious when politicians accuse each other of politicising issues. For goodness’ sake, please tell us what politicians are supposed to do? To romanticise, theologise, mythologise, zoologise issues?

Are we being told that politicisation is a criminal activity? And, by implication, politics is an immoral and dangerous occupation? Will a teacher be accused of academising, a doctor of medicalising, an engineer of engineering an issue?

The irony is not lost on anyone. The pot is denouncing the kettle for being black. The very anxiety about an issue being politicised stems from having already politicised all issues. "Politicisation" is the prism through which everything is seen today.

Which party in our country can claim to be able to look at issues objectively, from the perspective of the welfare of the people rather than of cynical power-and-party calculations? This whole hoo-ha about "politicisation" stems only from a mindset of compulsive and complete politicisation.

The sensitive issue is not the immorality of politicisation, but who should enjoy monopoly over it. The surgical strikes were politicised. The credit was given to Modi, even to the RSS. We were told that it was not politicisation but patriotism. We are required to believe that this is not politicisation!

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Apex Court for resisting the move to compromise the inviolability of the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary, based on the doctrine of separation of powers, is a key cornerstone of democracy. It is not in the interests of the citizens that this is compromised.

Traditionally, the media has played a significant role in safeguarding the rule of law by serving as a sentinel of citizens’ rights and natural justice. The prospect of the Fourth Estate becoming a tool in the hands of the executive is yet another worry for those who cherish democracy.

Listening to some of the news anchors these days, one begins to wonder if they are not vying with the spokespersons of a party. Nothing is more important – certainly not the proffered plums of magical developmentalism — than upholding the rule of law, undermining which is a nightmare for every citizen.


Valson Thampu Valson Thampu

The writer is former principal of St Stephen's College, Delhi and former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

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