Our judiciary had an opportunity to redeem its somewhat dubious recent record this last week, but as the saying goes it never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. We were hoping that after its bewildering judgment on the Ram Mandir, its volte face on Sabarimala and the unforgivable delay on Kashmir the higher judiciary would now at least- with half the country in uproar over the citizenship issue- call our rulers to account. But it has once again demonstrated its worrying and lacklustre commitment to defend democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Pronouncing on a batch of petitions on the 18th of this month, the SC refused to provide any relief to the besieged students of Jamia: it did nothing more than issue notices to the govt. and fixed the next date for the 22nd of January next year, no doubt hoping that time is the best healer and it would not have to take any decision. For by the 18th it was clear to everyone that the police violence on the Jamia students was unjustified, excessive and perhaps even pre-planned. Not only was the court oblivious to the reality, it failed to appreciate the fact that Jamia is a minority institution and therefore deserved a more sensitive approach. The least it could have done was to [a] order a judicial inquiry into the incident, and [b] prohibit the police from entering any university campus without the VC’s permission (which in any case is the convention and unwritten rule). The very next day the Delhi High court too chose to prioritise process over justice: it refused to provide any interim protection to student protesters, order any inquiry or do anything more than, (you got it right), issue notices. One cannot but contrast this with the undue alacrity with which it had responded when the police-lawyer clash took place last month at Tees Hazari: it had then ordered that no lawyer should be arrested, even though all evidence on social media then clearly showed lawyers beating up police officials.
Frankly, I think our judiciary has dwelt in its ivory towers for far too long under the pretext of “independence”, to the point where it now sincerely believes that it is an entity apart from this sorry society and that the people’s problems are not its problems. It is in a state of disconnect, as the slogans by lawyers in the Delhi High Court on the 19th (“Shame on the judiciary!”) showed. It is time for our judges to smell the coffee, if not the stench from the burning pyres of rape victims and lynched cattle traders, or a Constitution consigned to flames every session of Parliament. If our democracy and constitutional values collapse, as they surely must if this government is not halted in its tracks, it will not be long before their ivory towers too bite the dust. It is too much to hope for a Solomon in these dystopic times, but will at least a Daniel come to judgment?
* * * * *
Is it possible for our political parties to descend any further into the depths of hypocrisy, duplicity, opportunism and the desperation to stay in power? Yes it is. They have been naked to the public for a long time but now we can even see their suppurating sores. Even in their thrall of the BJP they could not have failed to recognise that the CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill) for the abomination it is, and yet they were concerned only about their perks of power and not the country- the NDA allies as well as some ” like minded” parties. They voted for the Bill, but now that they can see the country-wide backlash against it these despicable leaders are desperately trying to distance themselves and issuing post facto caveats to their support for it. The BJD, which has sat on the fence for so long that the iron has entered the soul of its patriarch, said that it is for the CAB ( now CAA, thanks to another midnight exertion by the President) but against the NRC. So does the JDU and its dissembling leader Mr. Nitish Kumar. These gentlemen are either dyed in the wool liars or ethically challenged- probably both- because anyone could see that the CAA and the NRC are conjoined twins, “joined at the hip” as brilliantly described by Mr. Pavan Verma in a recent interview to Karan Thapar. The spineless AIADMK has suddenly discovered that Sri Lanka Tamils have been left out of the Act. The Shiv Sena, after its disgraceful support of Mr. Shah even after it swore to abide by secular values in Maharashtra, also now finds the Act violative of the Constitution. The Jan Shakti party of the Paswan’s has today announced that it does not support the NRC. The SAD of Punjab fame, another ally with an Achilles heel which Mr. Shah can crush at any time, realised in quick time that the Sikhs were not supporting the Act; this proud community is intensely aware of its minority status and realises it could be on the hit list next time around, and is therefore also protesting against this Act. So now the SAD belatedly wants Muslims also to be included.
None of these vacillating groups, however, are to be trusted; they are hypocritical and prevaricating to the core. If the national protests subside and the judiciary continues to snore out mere rhetoric in its deep slumber this whole sorry lot will jump back onto the BJP bandwagon. One can only hope that the voters in their respective states are making a note of all this, and will remember at the next hustings who stood by the country in this grave hour of peril, and who sold it for forty pieces of demonetized silver.
* * * * *
There hasn’t been much that we Indians can be proud of these last few years, but even as our famed pillars of democracy showed how hollow and cracked they have become there were moments last week we can take pride in. It has been our youth, especially the students, who held aloft the banner of freedom in the face of vicious police atrocities across the country, holding a mirror to the judiciary, politicians and media. Protests by others have only followed the furrows carved out by these youngsters. We can justifiably be proud of people like Kanhaiya Kumar, the Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia Ms Najma Akhtar, Ram Chandra Guha, Swara Bhaskar, Farhan Akhtar, that weeping student of Jamia (a Hindu girl, it may be noted) who asked what the point of education was if they were not allowed to question the govt’s discriminatory policies. We must be proud also of the fact that these protests themselves vindicate the diversity of our nation, for though there were demonstrations against the CAB and NRC throughout the country, each targeted a distinct aspect of its horror: in Assam it was the danger to its culture, in the North-east their tribal identities, in Punjab the implications for other minorities like Sikhs, in Tamil Nadu the plight of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, in Hyderabad and UP its impact on Muslims. And cutting across this spectrum was the over arching concern for human rights, constitutional values and the promise of a truly secular India. The last week has been a reminder to the BJP that this country values its diversity and will not be apologetic about it, that it takes patience and consensus to keep this disparate tapestry together, that there cannot be a quick-fix, one size fits all solution to historical legacies, that jingoism and authoritarianism are no substitute for statesmanship. It is not Section 144 or the suspension of internet or police repression that will keep this country together but the values of Nehru and Gandhi: it is time to return to them.