While schools, colleges, examinations, business meetings, social and cultural gatherings are cancelled or postponed, the horse-trading of MLAs continues in Madhya Pradesh. While the medical practitioners and sanitation workers are courageously battling to prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus, a recently retired Chief Justice of India took his oath as a Rajya Sabha member.
.In the time of corona, it is business as usual for the political class in India. While schools, colleges, examinations, business meetings, social and cultural gatherings are cancelled or postponed, the horse-trading of MLAs continues in Madhya Pradesh. While the medical practitioners and sanitation workers are courageously battling to prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus, a recently retired Chief Justice of India took his oath as a Rajya Sabha member. Mr Ranjan Gogoi’s nomination to the upper house and the floor-crossing of elected representatives in Madhya Pradesh should have created more of an uproar, debate, and discussion, but for the media’s focus on the coronavirus.
Both the issues are not new, and therefore, a particular party or a leader can’t be blamed solely for continuing these practices. However, these practices continue to prove that no leader adheres to the required high moral principles, nor can any party claim to be different from the others. Asking the political parties and their leaders to maintain high morals is in itself an injustice to them. Their fall is just a symptom of the deeper malaise in society. The MLAs who are deserting Congress to install a BJP government in Madhya Pradesh will contest on their new party symbol, i.e. that of BJP’s lotus, and most of them are likely to get re-elected. The voters who elected them just a year ago to defeat the then incumbent government, would in all likelihood re-elect them for the installation of that same government. The voters are likely to be bribed with money, liquor, household goods, and lots of promises of development, while the entire government machinery will be pressed in the services of candidates from the ruling party of the time. But can we blame these voters without talking about the highly treacherous ways of thinking of our celebrated middle class? And can we continue to blame these voters without talking about the hunger of power amongst the top office-bearers of the country?
If a person at the highest echelons of society such as the Chief Justice of India, the Chief Election Commissioner of India, or the Army Chief of India is attracted to the stature of being a member of the Upper House or a Governor of the state or a Minister of State in the Union Ministry, who can blame an ordinary voter? If people with maximum possible personal recognition, social connect, and economic security can be lured away by political power for the sake of political positions, the common voter must not be castigated for their short-sightedness. The voters’ narrow mindedness arises due to the hunger for power of the people who are expected to set high ethical standards in public life. In politics and public life, ethics and morality flow from the top to the bottom.
The corruption of minds at the top results in the percolation of corrupt practices at the bottom. One really wonders what made Mr Gogoi accept the nomination to the Rajya Sabha, where he would just be one amongst the 250 members, whereas he was only one in the entire country as the Chief Justice of India? Mr Gogoi’s decision raises more questions than answers, as he himself had proclaimed in one of the judgments that he presided in the Supreme Court in 2018 that post-retirement jobs for judges were a scar on the idea of judicial independence. What has changed within two years that Mr Gogoi either does not think the same way or that judicial independence is no longer a matter of concern for him? An individual can fall from grace. It cannot be an excuse for anyone, but one can still understand the effects of inducements. But what about the government? The government is not an individual. It is a collective of persons and ideas. Did no one in the Modi dispensation consider that it was wrong to nominate a very recently retired Chief Justice of India to the Rajya Sabha? How is it that the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the principal secretary to the Prime Minister, or the President of India not think for a moment to nominate a scientist or a medical practitioner instead of Mr Gogoi to give the correct message to the people in the time of corona? It seems like a pre-conceived arrangement between the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the government of the day.
An equally important question is about the political behaviour of India’s ‘conscious’ middle class. Why doesn’t it smell something foul in Mr Gogoi’s nomination to the upper house just within four months of his retirement? If it seems like unethical decision making in this process, why can’t it raise its voice? Either it is the fear of asking questions to the government or the total abandonment of reason at the service of the supreme leader! It means the middle class cares only for its safety vis-à-vis the government or submitting to the interests of the supreme leader, but is unthinking of the Nation First!
Either the project of the installation of fear amongst the middle class is almost complete, or the process of the destruction of reason is nearing its completion. Neither a country with a fearful society nor a nation without the blossoming of reason will be a great power in the world. At this moment, can the middle class and the civil society that represents this middle class gather the courage to demand two political reforms with immediate effect?
One: No post-retirement jobs for top judges, top bureaucrats (including those in the election commission and police services), and top military personnel.
Two: Disallowing MLAs and MPs from contesting any election and holding any public post for a minimum of five years if they resign during their elected tenure.
These two simple and straightforward political reforms will make a qualitative difference in public life and would strengthen institutions. It is time for civil society to move beyond knowing the assets, educational qualifications, and criminal cases attached to the elected and rejected political candidates. There will be less requirement of knowing it if the dishonest and the greedy are disqualified through the system. These two steps towards political reforms will be a giant leap in safeguarding Indian democracy, but only if we still care about democracy!
Parimal Maya Sudhakar
20th March 2020
Read this article published in Asiaville on 20th March 2020