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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Loaves of office, with butter

When it comes to rewarding government officials for the service they render, the Bhartiya Janata Party is many paces ahead of the Congress. ...

Written by Kuldip Nayar |
March 23, 2004

When it comes to rewarding government officials for the service they render, the Bhartiya Janata Party is many paces ahead of the Congress. After Indira Gandhi came back to power in 1980, she made R. Dayal, then a magistrate, a high court judge, superseding some 30 of his colleagues. He had released her from the police custody during the Janata government’s regime. The police too was finding Mrs Gandhi too heavy a burden to carry. But the Congress considered it a gesture by Dayal.

The ruling BJP is cruder and more blatant. Its government has appointed P.C. Sharma, the retired CBI director, a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). He was heading the CBI when it withdrew the conspiracy charge against Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in the Babri masjid demolition case.

Why was this last appointment cruder? Because the concerned minister — known to be closer to Advani than to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee — straightaway rang up Justice A.S. Anand, the NHRC chairman, to sound him on Sharma’s appointment. Justice Anand rejected the proposal and followed it up with a letter to the prime minister to record his protest and to warn him that the appointment would evoke a lot of criticism in India and abroad. The rest of NHRC members supported Justice Anand and reportedly wrote a joint letter to the government to oppose the proposal. All this was of no avail because Advani was believed to be adamant on Sharma’s appointment. He obviously wanted to clear the debt.

But why was it a blatant move? Because the vacancy arose in November when Virendra Dayal, a member of NHRC retired after two terms. It was kept vacant intentionally because Sharma was still in service. When he retired in February, he was posted against the vacancy. It was of little concern to the BJP that Sharma did not fulfill the qualifications laid down in the NHRC charter and that Justice Anand had opposed the proposal.

That Sharma belongs to the police, which is associated with the maintenance of law and order, is a secondary question. The primary one is that of eligibility. According to the act, the commission has to have five members — a former chief justice of India as the chairman, two retired chief justices of the high court, and two other members appointed from among persons having knowledge, or practical experience, in matters relating to human rights. Where does Sharma fit in? Surely, even Advani’s insistence should not mean that all norms can be flouted.

Apparently, the BJP has no respect for institutions like the NHRC. Even earlier, it had tried to nominate to the commission two other police officials, M.B. Kaushal and D.R. Karthikeyan. But the then chairman’s protest stalled the appointments. In Sharma’s case, the home ministry was determined and Advani showed personal interest at every stage. Sharma has also the distinction of being the vice-chairman of the Interpol, a world organisation of top cops for tracing criminals on an global scale. Soon after joining the NHRC, Sharma wanted to attend a meeting of the Interpol at Geneva. Justice Anand refused to release the necessary funds for the trip. I believe the CBI, or some other government intelligence agency, footed the bill. ‘Shining’ BJP is setting a new precedent by allowing a NHRC member to be part of the Interpol at the same time.

The appointment does not become acceptable just because the Congress has given its approval. The Committee for Appointment, presided over by the prime minister, has five members, including Opposition leaders in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The decision was unanimous. Manmohan Singh, a Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha, was in hospital when the meeting was held. Sonia Gandhi, the opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, was present. She endorsed the appointment for reasons best known to her. Since she is the party, she did not tell anyone about it. It was a piquant situation when the Congress Party’s spokesman, not being aware of Sonia Gandhi’s approval, kept attacking the BJP for undermining the independence of investigating agencies like the CBI.

Respecting institutions is not an easy task but it is their credibility that sustains people’s faith in fair play and democracy. What the BJP has done is that it has violated that faith. Sharma’s appointment has established two other things: one, it has proved that the government gives its dues to such employees who have served it well through thick and thin, by hook or by crook. Two, government employees can expect to benefit after retirement if if they carry out the wishes of the rulers, however illegal or unethical they may be. The experience of the emergency is before us. It showed us how an out-of-turn promotion, a comfortable posting or the mere expectation of a plump posting brought the bureaucracy tumbling down at the feet of Sanjay Gandhi, who was ruling in the name of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. There were scores of examples of how officials took the law into their own hands to placate Sanjay.

In its report on the excesses during the emergency, the Shah Commission has described the response of civil servants thus: “The attitude of the general run of the public functionaries was largely characterised by a paralysis of the will to do the right and proper thing. The ethical considerations inherent in public behaviour became generally dim and in many cases beyond the mental grasp of many of the public functionaries. Desire for self-preservation as admitted by a number of public servants at various levels became the sole motivation for their official actions and behaviour. Anxiety to survive at any cost formed the key-note of approach to the problems that came before many of them.”

The BJP has no compunction in supping with even a devil if it means another Lok Sabha seat. It is rank opportunism on the part of this party to have admitted V.C. Shukla into its ranks and fielded him as its candidate. He is the one who, during the emergency, snuffed out press freedom, twisted the arms of journalists and detained many of them without trial. The BJP has forgotten that it had fought against the doings of Shukla and those of his ilk. All I can say is: God forgive them, for they do not know where they are taking this country.

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