Letter from the Beyond

Rajendra Prasad and Ambedkar on retrospective changes to laws

Written by Jaithirth Rao | Published:April 2, 2012 3:09 am

Rajendra Prasad and Ambedkar on retrospective changes to laws

To

Dr Manmohan Singh

The Honourable Prime Minister of India

Dear Prime Minister,

We left your world many decades ago; when we left it,we were proud that we had left behind a good legacy. We had spent many years worrying about the fact that India’s history was replete with the arbitrary and capricious rule of different Rajas and Sultans. By giving India a formal Constitution,we thought that we were doing our countrymen and countrywomen a service. They would get to live in a nation ruled by laws and not by men. But now we realise that we were mistaken.

In recent times,we have noticed that your ministers and senior officials have defended the idea of retrospective changes in the law very effectively. Their argument has been that China,not only has not been hurt,but has actually benefited by retrospective changes in laws. This is exactly the argument we love. Our mistake was to give India the Constitution which it currently has. We wish we had given India a Constitution similar to that of the great,glorious People’s Republic of China. We regret our mistake. But we are glad that your cabinet is undoing our error and India is moving in the right direction. We hope you will imitate China in every sphere. If nothing else,India’s infrastructure will be better,growth rate will be higher and the people will be more subservient.

We have noticed that your government has cleverly picked on an easy victim. Who can defend a dirty Western capitalist company that uses infamous tax havens? Vodafone is the ideal starting point of your efforts. They are rich; they are capitalists; they are foreign. It is perfectly in order to pass retrospective legislation that hurts them. We note that with a single honourable exception,India’s parliamentarians,including your opposition,have not protested at this egregious assault on the rule of law and the sanctity of contracts. They haven’t made an issue of the fact that your government has openly and unequivocally stated that the retrospective legislation is designed to undo judicial pronouncements that your government disapproves of. We are happy to note the consequences of this action:

1. Nazi Germany started with legislation against Jews,Communists,Gypsies — all easy targets,just like foreign capitalists. Later,all Germans were at risk. Indian companies are painfully aware that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If today you can go after the dirty Western capitalistic Vodafone,what is to prevent you tomorrow from going after dirty Indian capitalistic firms with retrospective laws? Perhaps this is why so many of them have stopped investing in India and are investing elsewhere. We are particularly concerned for Mr Tata. He must be desperately hoping that the British will stick to their Magna Carta traditions of fairness and not impose retrospective taxes on his companies as a retaliation for what you are doing to Vodafone. While Indian businesses seem to be cold-bloodedly making up their minds,we wonder if opposition parties are aware that your government could in the near future by retrospective legislation open up litigation against opposition parties,for no other reason than that they oppose your government.

2. Your government might make all Indian marriages illegal with a retrospective law and all Indian children illegitimate as a result. Don’t be surprised. The government of Jan Smuts, undoubtedly a hero of yours,did just that about a century ago in South Africa. A young lawyer from Porbandar protested. But your cabinet doubtless knows that the young lawyer in question was silly because he believed in Dharma and that worthy ends (for example,tax collection) cannot be justified by wrong means (for example,retrospective changes to the law).

3. Of course,your government’s stated position is that you are doing what China does. So we can expect in the near future that your government will expel the Dalai Lama,arrest all Tibetan refugees in India,expel all Roman Catholic bishops appointed by the Pope and replace them with UPA 2 appointees,insist that all Christian congregations obtain state permission before having meetings,ban the Falun Gong,eliminate trade union rights and labour protection in SEZs,give unlimited powers to mayors/ sarpanches to demolish homes/ slums/ shanties that stand in the way of airports/ highways/ state enterprises and make the country more efficient. Global investors will start loving India which has a government that works and where dissidents are crushed!

4. No Indians will take court judgments seriously when they oppose the government for now we know that the government can pass retrospective legislation that makes those judgments irrelevant. In fact,no one will bother to oppose the government in a court of law. You would have reduced litigation — do think of that as one more feather in your cap.

5. Given the capricious principles your government has adopted,we note with great happiness that if things were the other way round,your government may have behaved quite differently and rightly so. If Mr Li Ka Shing,who is not only Chinese but a very rich and powerful one at that,had been the buyer and not the seller,it is unlikely that your government would have gone after him and of course no blame can arise. That’s what arbitrariness is all about. From your government’s perspective,hapless Vodafone is a sitting duck. Having dealt with Vodafone,ensuring the servility of Indian citizens,who by definition are not rich powerful Chinese,will be an easy task.

In conclusion,we are happy for you that you will go down in history as having done your best to undo our mistaken legacy and made us more like China. But please do make sure that we get good roads,airports,railways and docile citizens — just like in China!

From the Great Beyond,

Sincerely yours,

Rajendra Prasad

President,Constituent Assembly of India

B.R. Ambedkar

Chairman,Drafting Committee,Constituent Assembly of India.


The writer is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur
jerry.rao@expressindia.com

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