By Hiren Gohain
Much heart-burning and grumbling seem to have followed the not unexpected SC verdict on Demonetisation.It was a little naive to expect the contrary.For had the SC verdict gone the other way,it would not have been a mere loss of face for the PM.It would have conceivably gone all the way to delegitimise the Modi government,and the consequences might have led to serious civil turmoil.And it would be a turn of events the SC would be the last state authority to encourage.Nothing to rock the boat even if the boat heads into a whirlpool.But this brings to the fore once again the discomforting question : what indeed is the position of the SC in the present crisis of Indian democracy?
Again and again we hear people claiming that the SC is the last standing bastion of democracy before the menace of the howling horses of what is euphemistically called ‘electoral democracy’.And the positive role of some judges and CJIs serm to confirm that perception.
But if we ignore for the moment other particulars,the presence of CJIs on some benches does not seem to influence a general trend that I had mentioned earlier in this column.The SC has chosen for a long time now to distance itself from any decision to annul or void any policy or tendency of the government to overturn serious constitutional principles but uphold as far as possible certain fundamental rights of citizens.Notably these do not include the freedom of the press.
Hence the real grievance about the SC is not the lack of transparency about how the Collegium functions,but about how its verdicts mystify its stand regarding the sustained infliction of damages on the very fundamentals of the Constitution.For any serious consideration of the essential democratic principles of our constitution and their substantial ramifications will seriously raise doubts as to whether their lordships really are aware of them.
For an example I shall cite some current incidents of vandalism of the centre on the states of the Northeast,a convenient shorthand for actually forbidding complexity.The centre with its supervening authority gained by decades of centralization seems bent on reckless complete destruction of the ecosystem that has been sustaining for ages the life and livelihood of the vast majority of its working people.They are yet to get into the rhythm and fit into the commercial pattern of capitalist relations.The local middle class which are getting impatient with the their alleged backwardness, has reaped rich rewards from these phenomenal drives towards raising the infrastructure for the next major push of Indian and allied foreign capital for profitable investment: the ‘East- West Corridor.Entire forests have decimated,rivers have been reduced to little dull streams,wet lands have been buried under earth plundered from nearby hills ,ancient paddy fields turned into arid or sodden soil.The flight of exotic animals from wilderness has prompted a thriving international smuggling business.And the most horrifying result is the daily news about wild hordes of elephants driven berserk by the sudden inexplicable destruction of their habitat and their annual routes of migration coming down to the plains,razing down the huts of villagers,killing or trampling to death an unsuspecting native or two in DAILY RAIDS.
The crux of the matter is whether there is a place for PUBLIC PROPERTY in our Constitution which should have prevented such savage onslaught and saved lakhs of lives and their general livelihood.Or is it to be a document that supports only PRIVATE PROERTY and STATE PROPERTY in so far as the latter serves as an agency to turn every source of wealth to PRIVATE PROPERTY?In that case what has been the consequences for the social values which our Constitution is also supposed to uphold? Can we expect the SC to answer,and not resort to the beguiling rationalization that the government is the sole authority to decide,leaving the common people high and dry?
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator