Issue :   
December 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         December 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Dec' 2017


Decriminalizing politics

The increasing murkiness of Indian politics, combined with the corrosion of public life, has shaken the people's faith in the system and politicians who are known to pander to criminal mafia. The nexus of netas and anti social elements is, unfortunately, a fact of public life in India today. The people often find themselves helpless since no firm action is initiated against them. I see a ray of hope now as our judiciary has taken a tough line against the country's obnoxious facets of politics.

The mushroom growth of unscrupulous politicians is in itself a result of bad laws and the faulty and inadequate electoral system that has put a premium on moneybags and mafia power. The time has come to say 'no' to criminalized politics and crime-linked politicians.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi The Supreme Court deserves all praise for directing the Centre to constitute Special Courts on the lines of the Fast Track Courts to exclusively and speedily try criminal cases involving politicians. The Apex Court has come into the picture since the Government had been dragging its feet on its March 2014 directive to dispose of cases against 1,518 lawmakers facing prosecution in 1.35 lakh cases 'within a year'. It is said that on an average 4,200 cases are handled by each of 17,000 subordinate courts, due to which cases against politicians cannot be fast tracked.
Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha have asked the Centre to frame a scheme to fund the setting of the Special Courts so that states are spared of the burden of finding resources. We welcome this pro-active face of the Apex Court to decriminalize politics since netas happen to be groomed and nurtured by the establishment's 'soft state' attitude which makes it dither in this critical task of cleansing the polity.
It is a pity that the political track record of our rulers over the years has been far from flattering. That is why the judiciary has taken an interventionist role in several dubious moves by the ruling class of the day. For instance, it quashed a provision in the Representation of the People Act which allowed convicted law makers to escape disqualification.

The Election Commission has, of course, taken a very clear stand in this matter. It is in favour of a life ban of convicted MPs and MLAs from contesting elections. It has conveyed to the court that such a law is needed to curb a growing menace of criminalization of politics.

It is also no secret that the criminalization of politics has been a major problem before the nation for the past several decades. What is regrettable is that political parties have looked the other way whenever the issue of putting an end to criminalized politics has come up for action.

Justice Navin Sinha The moot point is: how can we improve the quality of our democratic polity if persons with doubtful credentials are allowed to contest elections? Who is to blame? Obviously, political parties which give tickets to candidates with a shady past.
Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADG) from election affidavits show one-third of law-makers face criminal cases. Apparently, in the country's murky politics, political parties solely see the winnability of their candidates, based not on their character and integrity but on their money and muscle power. How come our leaders, who swear by principles and morality, happen to be so casual about this problem?
Looking back, I was disappointed at the way the country's major national and regional parties had rejected in 2002 the Election Commission's order that asked candidates to disclose their criminal antecedents in the form of an affidavit along with their nomination papers. The Election Commission then was only following the directions of the Apex Court.
It is interesting to recall the information then sought from candidates: One: the details of candidates' involvement in any criminal case.
Two: any pending criminal cases six months before filing of nomination. Three: assets of candidates, their spouse and dependents.
Four: liabilities and debts in government and public institutions.
It is a fact that our leaders, by and large, have been indifferent to the question of information sharing with the public. But, any bid to cover up the credentials of candidates is not only undesirable but also counter-productive in the long run.

The question here is not of the legislature versus the judiciary. The judiciary legitimately intervenes if the legislature and the executive fail to perform their constitutionally-assigned duties. Call it judicial activism. But it must be noted that the power vacuum cannot remain for long in the critical area of governance!

The people have the right to get correct information about the persons they have to elect as their representatives, who frame laws to govern the world's largest democracy. This is how we can ensure transparency and accountability in our legislative bodies and Parliament. This is essential, if democracy has to reflect the people's hopes and aspirations. I shall, in fact, go a step ahead.
I believe that the people have the right to know what goes behind a policy decision-making process.
Of course, I would exclude operational security and defence matters from this information flow. But I would not suggest this on the critical issue of Demonetisation which directly affects the life of ordinary citizens. Regrettably, the country is yet to know who and what went behind Prime Minister Modi's Demo brainwave. In fact, the political decision on Noteban cannot be justified even on ethical and moral grounds as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has done. The sufferings of common men and loss of jobs of lakhs of workers speak louder than the thundering voices of the Prime Minister and his ministers in defence of DeMo.

Justice B Lentin As already stated, the people have the right to know. The current air of secrecy has to end. Secretiveness, for that matter, is the antithesis of democracy. In India, the political class has made a virtue of it. As things stand, even honesty is at a discount for all practical purposes.
Crime and crimeoriented tendencies of big and small political parties and politicians negate the democratic norm of social, economic and political justice and equality of status and opportunity enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution.
The economics of politics and electioneering processes have actually weakened the political will to make the country's democratic structure a mirror of the common man's hopes and aspirations.

The question here is not one of saving the Constitution, but of saving the Nation and making the polity transparent, accountable, functionally and democratically more liberal, just and caring for ordinary citizens.

Here I wish to recall the observations of Justice B Lentin, former Bombay High Court Judge. He said: The Constitution has not failed the people, nor have the people failed the Constitution. It is only the unscrupulous politicians who have failed both! Herein lies the challenge.
The mushroom growth of unscrupulous politicians is in itself a result of bad laws and the faulty and inadequate electoral system that has put a premium on moneybags and mafia power. The time has come to say 'no' to criminalized politics and crime-linked politicians.
To say this is not to brush all politicians with black ink. Here, we have to draw a line between genuine politicians and bad ones having criminal cases of serious nature like murder, rapes, crimes against women and children and corrupt practices.

Will 'Citizen K' click in Tamil politics?

Will Tamil Nadu's ace cine star Kamal Hassan, who has launched himself in politics under the brand of 'Citizen K', prove to be a politician with a difference? It is too early to predict the direction Tamil Nadu politics would take in the months ahead. Kamal has, of course, all the elements of charm and charisma for success. Right now, there a vacuum in the state's turbulent politics after the demise of ever popular Jayalalitha. Even another popular cine star Rajnikanth is toying with the idea of taking a plunge in public life. This will give an interesting turn to the state's traditional two-party syndrome of Karunanidhi's DMK and MGRJayalalitha's AIDMK.

Jayalalitha The two parties have their own well-entrenched grassroots network. Tamil Nadu's politics has actually revolved around these two outfits for decades. How the entry of new popular stars changes or upsets the existing power equations is difficult to say at this stage. We know politics is an art of the possible as well as the impossible. It can be safely said today's new generation of young voters desperately look for a change better in all facets of political culture and idioms. The youth concept of New Politics is not based on rhetoric. It seeks firm commitments to perform and deliver on promises made to people. In any case, Tamil Nadu politics seems all set for change, hopefully for the better!
Kamal Hassan's starts his public journey with a clean slate, sans any scam or scandal. This is a big Plus Point in today's murky politics. Tamil politics has quite a messy track record in this regard, whether it is

Kamal's advantage is his freshness of ideas and concepts for new generation of voters. He regrets that the whistle-blowers in the media have been silenced. He wants to "strengthen the voice of truth" and looks at the Ashoka Chakra on the national flag as "the virtuous cycle of the nation".

the DMK or the AIDMK. Still, for a new comer in Tamil Nadu's Political Theatre, it will not be easy to register a breakthrough in the state's complex political setting. One never knows. Theoretically, even a Kejriwal could happen. But Chinai is not Kejriwal's Delhi. The people in Tamil Nadu are made of a sterner stuff. So, it is going to be tough tasks ahead, both for Kamal and Rajnikanth.
At 63, Kamal Hassan gives the impression of evolving himself as a thinking person with a mind of his own. He wishes to build his political strength from the grassroots. He will formally launch his party after understanding the people's problems and expectations.

Rajinikanth A versatile actor, Kamal belongs to a traditional Hindu family. He, however, calls himself "a rationalist". Hinduism and rationalism, I believe, are two faces of the same coin. Certain aberrations like blind faith in rituals, touch-me-not ism continue to be part of Hindu orthodoxy. But these factors do not dilute the Vedic purity of thought and sense of values. Kamal's advantage is his freshness of ideas and concepts for new generation of voters.
He regrets that the whistleblowers in the media have been silenced. He wants to "strengthen the voice of truth" and looks at the Ashoka Chakra on the national flag as "the virtuous cycle of the nation".
He states, "if you do one good deed, it sows the seeds for more good deeds forming a virtuous circle", and adds that "there is virtue in people's hearts but it has not translated into action". He feels that "this cycle has been poisoned and turned into a vicious circle. Our dream is to make it virtuous again". This in itself will be quite a task. However, this puts Kamal in a

Karunanidhi different class of the political divide. The moot point is: will he be able to stick to high moral grounds in public life in today's dirty politics? Be that as it may. What has angered the custodians of Hindutva forces is his indiscreet remark on 'Hindu terrorism'. In his weekly column in the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan, Hassan wrote: "In the past, Hindu right-wing groups would not indulge in violence, but hold a dialogue with opposite parties on their arguments. But now they indulge in violence" In this context, he said that "one cannot say there is no Hindu terror anymore".

Kamal's use of the words "Hindu terror" may not be intentional but it has evoked sharp reaction from large sections of Hindu society. Perhaps, Kamal Hassan soon realized his lapse and immediately clarified that his real intention was to focus on violence that has entered Hinduism through the action of some of its 'defenders'.

Nani Palkhivala It is no secret that the so-called defenders of the Hindu faith have indulged in reckless lynching in the name of cow vigilantism. The victims in such obnoxious acts are Muslims, Dalits and other low caste groups. These senseless acts of violence in UP, Bihar, Assam or Gujarat are not H i n d u i s m . Irrational behavior on the part of these fringe elements pollutes the public discourse and threatens rational concepts and cultural openness, freedom of expression and the people's sacred r i g h t s . Regrettably, those Indians who have taken a hardline position on Hinduism hardly understand its sublime nature. Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is right in saying that "we have regressed as a nation".

Hinduism is the world's oldest religion. It derives its strength from its liberal roots of tolerance and understanding of other faiths. It is flexible in approach as well as in practice. It acknowledges an individual's right to differ, provided dissent is logically presented.
Here, I wish to recall certain observations by Nani Palkhivala, the Indian I admire most. He talked about innate paradoxes in the Indian situation in his booklet "India's Priceless Heritage" published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1980. The late eminent jurist and thinker observed:

"It has been my long-standing conviction that India (today) is like a donkey carrying a sack of gold – the donkey does not know what it is carrying but is content to go along with the load on its back. The load of gold is a fantastic treasure – in arts, literature, culture and sciences like ayurvedic medicine – which we have inherited from the days of the splendour that was India. Adi Sankaracharya called it accumulated treasure of spiritual truths discovered by the Rishis".

Deepika Padukone I do not blame the "donkey" (the Indian nation). It is its job to carry the burden of this "treasure". What is regrettable is that ignorance as well as indifference of the masters of this "donkey". They hardly understand what to make of the "treasure" and how to utilize it for the enrichment and greater good of society as we see "fringe elements" indulging in violent acts like flogging of Dalits and Muslims in the name of cow vigilantism or wordy duel of secularism and Hindutva.
It is a pity that India today has an overdose of smallminded politicians who overlook the fact that the Hindu is basically secular by tradition. Distortions in the faith are an afterthought by a "lunatic fringe" at the other end of the fence! Hinduism is a way of life, a way of thinking and conduct leading to the path of higher values which make life sublime and all-embracing. I do not view Hinduism through peepholes of RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal or pre or post Modi BJP. Nor do I look at it through politicized angularities of the likes of Digvijay Singh or so-called "secularists" who put on a garb of logic and rationalism but conduct themselves like "brown sahebs" with old colonial mindset of divide and rule.
Will Kamal Hassan's "rationalism" woven around the ethical tapestry of life click in muddy waters of Tamil politics? Let's keep our fingers crossed and wish him good luck!