Archive for the Politics Category

Mr Katju and the Perils of Being Earnest

Posted in India, Law, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2013 by salaamreaders

“A mere busybody or a meddlesome interloper or wayfarer or officious intervener without any interest or concern except for personal gain or private profit or other oblique consideration cannot be allowed to abuse the process of the Court by initiating vexatious or frivolous litigation.” This is what the Supreme Court had observed about locus standi in Janata Dal Vs H S Chowdhary. Though, one might even agree that Mr Katju was just being earnest, and not moved by any personal gain or profit, in appealing for pardoning Mr Sanjay Dutt, he would be well advised to consider the above observation of the Supreme Court. And that the affected gentleman has publicly declared his disinclination in seeking such a pardon, could provide the perfect occasion for such introspection too. It is indisputable, that, like any other ordinary citizen, Mr Katju too has the right to hold an opinion in the matter. The only difficulty is, that, he is no ordinary citizen. He is a former judge and currently holds an office under the government. Judicious, if not judicial, rectitude is highly commendable even for retired judges! Such, alas, are the perils of being earnest!

Be that as it may, the law, in India, relating to pardon etc has once again become a subject of fierce public debate. The last time was in 1961, when the Governor of the erstwhile State of Bombay had suspended the sentence of Commander Nanavati who had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife’s paramour. His case had become such a cause célèbre that it was not only debated intensely in the press but also resulted in abolition of the jury system in India.

In India, the President and the Governors can grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment. They can also suspend, remit or commute sentences. The relevant provisions are contained in Articles 72 & 161 of the Constitution. It has been argued by Mr Mahesh Jethmalani and also accepted, so graciously, by Mr Katju, that the President alone can grant pardon to Mr Dutt who was convicted under the Arms Act. It cannot be anybody’s case now that Mr Dutt was involved in any terrorist activity as the Supreme Court has exonerated him under the TADA. He has been convicted only for illegal possession of a firearm and awarded the minimum prescribed punishment of five years imprisonment. He has already served about eighteen months thereof.

A pardon is a matter of grace; an act of mercy. It not only removes the punishment but wipes out the guilt attached to the offence also, notwithstanding any  judicial verdict. It is as if the offender had never committed the offence. So, if Mr Dutt is pardoned, “it makes him, as it were, a new man, and gives him a new credit and capacity” in the words of Justice Field. But would the President do it if Mr Dutt were to appeal to him? Or rather would the government recommend it, for it is actually the government which takes a decision in such matters? In our Constitutional scheme, this being an executive function, the President is obliged to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers.  In the present circumstances, the chances are remote that the government, accused as it is of being a lame duck and struck with policy paralysis, would want to be seen to be soft on the son of its owmn former MP. Mr Dutt has perhaps, therefore, been advised to disassociate himself from the kite flying of Mr Katju. And rightly so, for has Kautilya not said that, “It is the power of punishment alone, when exercised impartially in proportion to the guilt, and irrespective of whether the person punished is the King’s son or an enemy, that protects this world and the next.” In the present case, nothing could be more apt, for even those arguing for Mr Dutt would concede, that, he had been treated fairly, if not sympathetically, and his sentence is the minimum prescribed under the law.

If Wishes were Horses-Hitler would have been a Painter!

Posted in Books, Politics with tags , , on January 29, 2010 by salaamreaders

I am reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf- My struggle- these days. It is a thick volume and makes for heavy reading for it is packed with much obtuse political philosophy. However one can not but be struck by the rather humble beginnings, and common sense, of the boy who was to become the “Fuehrer” and a symbol of German nationalism.

He was born on 20th April 1889 in the frontier town of Braunan-on-the-Inn. His father was a minor civil servant and mother looked after the household and the children. He remembers his father, with respect, as a self-made man who became “somebody’ from a poor boy.

As a boy Hitler was not a ‘stay-at-home’ type as he gave ‘anxious moments’ to his mother for his association with the ‘roughest boys’ of their neighbourhood. He thought of himself as a ‘juvenile ring leader’, who had an ‘inborn talent for speaking’ and ‘learned well at school’ but was rather ‘difficult to manage.’ He was fond of reading and pondered deeply over what he read. He was good at drawing and drawn to geography and history. Even as a boy, he had a mind of his own and opposed his father’s plans for him to become a civil servant. He wanted to be an artist, instead.

After the death of his parents, he did odd manual jobs in Vienna to survive. After a while he made architectural drawings to meet both ends meet. His love for history and his experience in Vienna shaped his world view to a large extent. He fondly recalled his history teacher who could not only transport them magically in to the past but also to illustrate it with examples from the present and draw lessons from the past. Hitler was intelligent to realize at a young age that history was not merely memorizing dates and facts. It was tobe used to understand forces which cause historical events. As he delved deeper into history, he realized the pernicious influences of the then prevalent political system and became a staunch nationalist.

He was fond of reading. He realized that he was considered somewhat of an eccentric because he spent most of his free time reading. He did not consider reading as an end in itself. To him, it was a means to an end. He thought that the purpose of reading was to equip a person with the knowledge and skills necessary for his vocation and secondly to give a general knowledge of the world that he lived in. In that way, knowledge served a practical purpose to meet the demands of every day life. He thought that the general knowledge that one obtained from reading should make one interested in politics which was an obligation of every thinking man. He believed that those who had no understanding of the political world had no right to criticize and complain.

So far, his life was not different from that of thousands of other children. His ideas too could not be faulted with. How, then, did he eventually turn out to be a megalomaniac and a perpetrator of genocide-the like of which is unsurpassed in recent history? What if he had indeed become a painter as he initially wished for? Oh, how the world would have been saved a holocaust then!

26/11

Posted in India, Politics with tags , , , , on November 27, 2009 by salaamreaders

It has been a year since 26/11/08, when a city, of almost two crore people, was held hostage for sixty hours by ten gunmen. The carnage left over 350 people dead including nine terrorists. The macabre drama was televised, live, by a host of TV channels- all promising exclusive action by their intrepid correspondents. Frankly, it was a little sick for them to have jostled for prime positions to cover it as if it were some theatrical performance. It seems, that, the terrorists were watching the show themselves and getting valuable updates on what the police were doing to flush them out.

The authorities were caught with their pants down-as always. The terrorists had managed to travel from Karachi to Mumbai, after hijacking an Indian fishing vessel, inspite of the Navy and the Coastguard. They managed to land on the shores of Mumbai, carrying arms and ammunition, without being challenged once by any of our policemen; who otherwise can be found harassing the common man everywhere. It was only at CST that a RPF policeman had the guts and the gumption to fire at them. But they walked away after mowing down innocent passengers in a hail of bullets.

It was after several hours that the police could make out that it was a well planned and executed operation  carried out by a suicide squad having some semblance of military training. By then the police had lost three senior officers who had been gunned down by two of the fidayeen. It looks as if these officers had no idea what they were up against. Imagine a vehicle full of armed policemen being cut down by two men, who had the time to throw out the bodies before driving away in the police vehicle! By the time anti terrorist squads could be deployed, hundreds had been killed by the terrorists. The situation came under control only after two and a half days. Nine terrorists were killed and one captured alive. The manner of his capture showed what normal policing could achieve. It was no fancy sharp shooter who captured him but an extraordinary policeman who had the courage to grapple with the armed terrorist. It was not institutional excellence but personal bravery which had carried the day for Mumbai police.

The sheer lack of common sense of the authorities was displayed by the way in which television crews were allowed to film the whole episode as if it were some tamasha. The streets around the epicenters of action were crowded by thousands of people who had come to have a dekho at what was happening. They were not a help in any way but a hindrance to the authorities who did nothing to keep these curious bystanders away. It looked as if a movie was being shot and not a life and death situation.

It’s been a year since then. As expected, it’s time again for the glitterati to adorn television studios. They are not amused, no sir, for the battle was carried to their haunts- South of Mumbai- this time. No one has heard one practical suggestion from them so far. They are all mouthing the well-known cliches-about how the political and bureaucratic classes are corrupt, how we must take the war deep inside Pakistan, etc. But what analysis can one expect from television debates where the issue hangs from one commercial break to another?

It is the time to face the truth. This was not the last outrage of this kind. There will be more in the future, not only in India but abroad also, for the perpetrators are willing to die in their so-called holy war. And we must be prepared. It is not the government alone who have to fight this war but common people also. We must be prepared to undergo the inconvenience of body frisking, intrusive camera surveillance, and police check posts-the works- while in public places. We must be prepared not to let our curiosity get the better of us and crowd places as we did during the last carnage. We are quick to appreciate the Israelis or the Americans on their handling os similar situations, but how many of us are prepared to face conscription like the Israelis or show the same kind of civic responsibilities as the Americans? Let us also be like them.

It’s also time to remember those who died in vain, for no fault of theirs. They were just unlucky-to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have been any one of us in their place, really.

The High Life- Interrupted!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on September 14, 2009 by salaamreaders

A debate has been raging in the Indian media for the last few days over the Congress party’s diktat to two ministers of the Union government to shift from the five star hotels they were residing in, on their own expense, to show solidarity with the ‘aam aadmi’ who is reeling under the twin burdens of global recession and deficit monsoon. A high moral ground is being taken by the ruling party when it says that public representatives must be seen to be empathizing with the common man, in his hour of financial crisis, by eschewing trappings of luxury and conspicuous consumption not only in public expenditure but in their personal lives also. The missive has not gone down well and already murmur of protests are being heard.

It is no secret that all sections of the ruling elite-netas, bureaucrats, army men, journalists, judges- live well. And they live well on public money. Apart from their wages, which are handsome in comparison with the national average, there are a host of other freebies too.  The best of accommodation, transport, telephones, an army of servants, domestic and foreign travel, an ability to grant sundry favours. The list is practically endless. And it is highly unlikely that they will they give them up without a fight- drought or recession notwithstanding. After all we have had all sorts of natural and man made calamities earlier also but that did not stop the governmental juggernaut of fiscal profligacy from  gathering steam and be where it is now.

But this time it is different. While at all earlier occasions, austerity measures were confined to governmental expenditure, it is for the first time that public representatives are being exhorted by their ruling party to practice an austere life even if they are able to afford a grander life from their own resources. And the difference is significant at least in some respects. Though it has always been well known that our public representatives are not exactly poor, their wealth-a part of it at least-is now publicly declared in affidavits filed at election times. The people too believe that netas may not be in the wrong if they put their hands in their own tills to live well. And hence, most reacted to the instructions of the congress party by telling it not to be hypocritical and sanctimonious at the same time. They think if their netas have wealth which has been declared openly what is the harm in their spending it as the liked?

The congress is hard put to defend its position. On one hand, it knows that its diktat is at best an exercise in public relations and on the other hand it knows it is downright naive to expect that the people would not see through the gimmick. It would have been another matter altogether if the party had decided to donate the amount saved by its netas as a result of its austerity drive to the Prime Ministers’ Relief Fund. The proof of the pudding would then have been in its eating.

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