Saving democracy, really?

Is last week’s move by the Congress to impeach the Chief Justice of India part of a crusade that began even before Narendra Modi became Prime Minister?

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published: April 22, 2018 12:07:29 am
Congress leads 7 Opposition parties in bid to impeach Chief Justice of India Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal and others addressing the media on Friday. (Express Photo by Arun Sharma)

Is last week’s move by the Congress to impeach the Chief Justice of India part of a crusade that began even before Narendra Modi became Prime Minister? Is it of a piece with making Parliament dysfunctional so that Modi can be blamed for weakening the institutions of democracy? Of a piece with the charge that the BJP wins elections because of EVMs being tampered with? Disappointed though I personally am with Modi’s many failures, I have to say that I believe it is.

Congress leaders announcing their decision to impeach the Chief Justice said grandiloquently that they were doing this because if the judiciary is weakened then democracy will not survive. In their exalted realms, they seem not to have noticed that the judiciary is already very, very weak. Most Indians cannot afford the cost of going to court, and if they can, they know that it takes decades to get justice. Instead of squabbling among themselves, this is what Supreme Court judges should be trying to fix.

Something else is going on here, and it’s time to spell it out. When you have been ruling India as long as the Congress has, with an imperial family at the helm, it is not easy to be an opposition party. So ever since the uppity chaiwallah from Gujarat usurped the role that the Congress believes is Rahul Gandhi’s birthright, there have been efforts at every level to undermine Narendra Modi and his government. Since he foolishly allowed Hindutva fanatics in his team to start lynching Muslims and Dalits on the pretext of saving cows, he helped the Congress make the case that he was unfit to be Prime Minister. But, attempts to paint him ‘communal’ began earlier than the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq.

Within days of his coming to office, a student was killed in Pune by a Hindutva mob. He was blamed. Rationalists were killed before he became Prime Minister. He was blamed. When that awful Shiv Sena MP tried to shove food down a Muslim waiter’s throat during Ramzan, Modi was blamed. When Mohammed Akhlaq was dragged out of his home and beaten to death, and his son nearly killed, on the suspicion that they ate beef, the Prime Minister made the mistake of remaining absolutely silent. So he was justly blamed. And writers, poets and intellectuals launched the award-wapsi movement. A fine gesture till you remember that these were people who lived through hundreds of equally hideous acts of violence without saying a word, without returning an award.

We in the media noticed the hypocrisy and whispered about it privately. But few wrote against the award-wapsi movement because we are mostly ‘secular’ and most of us despise Modi. It was because of being blinded by our secular glasses that most of us failed to gauge the groundswell of popular support Modi aroused in 2014. But, recent by-election results from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh indicate a waning in his popularity and the Congress believes it is now months away from returning to power, and so thinks it is time to go for the jugular.

Last week a group of retired bureaucrats wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister that they claim they felt compelled to write because of what happened in Kathua and Unnao. “We have had enough,” they wrote “of these belated remonstrances and promises to bring justice when the communal cauldron is forever kept boiling by forces nested with the Sangh Parivar”. Fine words.

Hard to disagree until you read the names of the bureaucrats and notice that all of them held high office in Congress times and failed to speak ever before. Not when the Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of the Valley for entirely ‘communal’ reasons. Not when thousands of Sikhs were massacred in Delhi. Not when Muslims arrested from Hashimpura in Meerut were gunned down by the police. Not when Nirbhaya was brutally raped in Delhi. And not when hundreds of little girls suffer the same way as the little girl did in Kathua.

The ‘institutions of democracy’ are made up of bureaucrats, judges, journalists and elected representatives. When it comes to this last category, the Congress has been pushed to marginal status from losing badly in the Lok Sabha and doing almost as badly in state elections since 2014. What has not changed is the loyalty they have cultivated over many decades in power, in the media, the judiciary and the bureacracy.

These are powerful tools and they are being deployed very effectively against Modi because despite his impressive chat show in London last week, he is clearly no longer as invincible as he seemed mere months ago. He has been weakened by his Hindutva supporters and his failure to lead when leadership was urgently needed. But, this does not mean we should ignore the Congress party’s hypocrisy in the name of ‘saving’ democracy.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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