Following One’s Conscience ? Or The Gravy Train ?

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Please call me out if I’m wrong, but I firmly believe that the average Indian is no longer shocked at anything that happens in this continent of Circe. Violence, child rape, lynchings, corruption, road rage, sewer deaths, exam fraud, police atrocities, political venality, bureaucratic apathy – no one bats an eyelid at these happenings, for our society and governments are so diseased that we expect nothing else. As Arun Shourie says: this is the new normal. But shocked I was last fortnight by an eight centimeter piece of news tucked away quietly on page thirteen of my paper: MECCA MASJID BLAST CASE JUDGE KEEN TO JOIN BJP. Incidentally, I have not seen this report anywhere else, not even on our breathless news channels (the new normal?): it has sunk like a stone into the stygian depths of forgetfulness. And yet it should have made headlines for it marks an important inflection point in the decay and degradation of our institutions, which have become crumbling ruins, of interest only to some future political archeologist.

Do you remember this judge, Mr. K Ravinder Reddy? He was the judge of the special anti-terror court who, on April 16 this year, had acquitted Hindutva preacher Aseemanand and four others in the famous Mecca Masjid blast case. This was one of the infamous “saffron terror” cases which the BJP was accused of back-pedaling. Just hours after delivering this verdict the judge had resigned from service! And, according to the report in the Hindustan Times, he has now expressed a desire to join the BJP because it is “a patriotic party” and does not have “family rule.” The alarm bells, which should have started ringing when he precipitously resigned in April, have now become deafening but all we hear is the silence of the damned. Last I heard the local BJP workers had prepared a gala reception for the hon’ judge to welcome him into the party, perhaps a candidate for the ticket in the forthcoming elections.

We have become accustomed to bureaucrats joining political parties, and frankly I see nothing wrong in it: if they can bring their experience of public service and insights into public administration to bear on their political careers that would be good for the nation. But I view with deep suspicion a civil servant who precipitately resigns from service a few months before an election and decides to plight his troth to any political party. Just in the last few months two such shameful instances have been reported. The Collector of Raipur in Chhatisgarh resigned to join the BJP, and since he belongs to a dominant caste he appears to be more or less assured of a ticket. A senior police officer did the same in UP, but he went a step further: in a letter to the Chief Minister he confessed his undying devotion to the party, expressed a wish to campaign for the BJP in the elections, and helpfully suggested that he if he was made Chairman of some state PSU he could use its resources to strengthen the campaign! There are good reasons why I consider such people as mercenaries, and why their actions should be discouraged.

Their actions could not have been sudden epiphanies: most likely they had to be well considered over a period of time. And since there are no free lunches in politics, these officers would have thoroughly compromised themselves during this period in order to curry favour with the party of their choice. They would have used all the considerable clout of their offices in our colonial system of administration to bend rules, misuse discretion and exercise their authority in a partisan manner to please their future bosses. After all, why would the party accept them if there was nothing in it for them? Conversely, and equally true, why would the officers resign their powerful and lucrative jobs if there was nothing in it for THEM? A fine dog’s breakfast of motives, if you ask me.

To return to the hon’ble judge, however. If such mercenary and self-seeking behaviour is bad for our democratic system, it is positively dangerous if practiced by a member of the judiciary. This is so because there is much more finality in a judge’s decisions, because he is the arbiter of what is wrong and what is right, because he has the power to convict or to acquit, because he is the last court of appeal for a citizen, because any judicial system is founded on a presumption of fairness, objectivity and lack of bias. And any action by a judge which casts any doubt on these values has to be viewed with suspicion. Bureaucratic misdemeanours can be corrected by the judiciary, similar malpractices by the latter are much more difficult to remedy. And therefore, the action of Mr. Reddy to resign just hours after delivering the acquittals in a very sensitive case with communal and terrorism overtones, and thereafter announcing his intention to join a party with open sympathies for the main accused in the case, is bound to raise some disturbing questions: Given his prediliction for this party (and his intention to shortly join it) should he not have recused himself from this case? How objective could his assessment of the evidence have been given his ideological leanings? Could the acquittal have been a quid pro quo for a future political career? Was there a mis-trial, and can the judgement be appealed against on these grounds? Frankly, I am not a little surprised that the High Court or the Supreme Court has not taken cognizance of Mr. Reddy’s sudden, suspect decision and decided to look into it, particularly his past judgments to see if there is a discernable pattern in them.

In this MAD MAX world I find it easier to raise questions than to provide answers, and so it is in this case too. For all I know judge Reddy could have had a genuine change of heart like the great king Ashoka, or he could have seen the light like the Buddha after years of meditation on the IPC and CrPC, and decided that the BJP was the Middle Path between dynasty and disaster. In that case, of course, his departure would be a loss to the world of laws. Somehow, however, I doubt it.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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