6 Mar 2011
Autocracy & Arrogance Re-surfacing in Congress
By Amba Charan Vashishth

In the 1971 elections to Lok Sabha, the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi won a landslide victory. But that did not make her bend with the weight of people’s love and support. On the contrary, it made her more arrogant, aggressive and autocrat. She started thinking, as the then Congress President the late D. K. Baruah, dubiously remarked, “Indira is India and India is Indira”. That feeling got into her head.

She then started speaking of a ‘committed’ administration – committed executive, committed legislature and committed judiciary. To an extent she succeeded too in having it when she arbitrarily imposed emergency on the country in June 1975. All the organs were too pliant and too willing to serve her whims and fancies. It was after more than 35 years that the Supreme Court had to admit that “a majority decision of a five-member Constitution bench upholding the suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency in the Additional District Magistrate Jabalpur vs Shivakant Shukla case (1976) was "erroneous".(The Times of India, January 3, 2011)

Of late, the old signals seem to be emerging once again from the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. History may be repeating itself. He too seems to be indirectly hinting at what Mrs. Indira Gandhi then wanted: a committed legislature, a committed executive and a committed judiciary. The signals are all the more intriguing as these today emanate from the person of Dr. Manmohan Singh who has never been a man of the masses but product of a nomination. During the last about seven years he has failed to identify, nurture and seek mandate of the people from any of the 545 parliamentary constituencies in the country.

Even late P. V. Narasimha Rao who had been denied a Congress nomination to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 1991 did contest and win a seat from Andhra Pradesh after he became the Prime Minister.

For all intents and purposes the present Congress-led UPA government has a pliant executive. It has been able to put in place men of its own confidence be it the bureaucracy at the highest level at the Centre, the constitutional offices of the Election Commissioners, governors in States, CVC, CBI and who not.

Somehow or the other it has so far been able to carry its will in the two houses of parliament too, except perhaps with two exceptions in Lok Sabha on the Women Reservation Bill and the demand for JPC.

When the institutions of the constitution, like the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) and the judiciary have tried to discharge their duty as enshrined in the Constitution and their conduct is sour to the peculiar taste of the Congress, Dr. Manmohan Singh has not hesitated from pontificating them. From the day one when the controversy over the illegal conduct of his telecommunications minister A. Raja surfaced, both Dr. Singh and Congress supremo Mrs. Sonia Gandhi had declared in no uncertain terms that Raja had done nothing illegal and against the policy of the Government. 

A few days after the CAG presented its report on 2G spectrum scam Dr. Manmohan Singh could not help hiding his feelings of dismay at the report when addressing a conference of CAG officers he advised them to make a distinction between “genuine error” and “wrongdoing”. Obviously, Dr. Singh was trying to put what Raja did in the category of “genuine error” and not a crime. Subsequent events have just mocked at his words.

The Congress and its government at the Centre are feeling uneasy at the turn of events in the Supreme Court of India be it the CWG scam, 2G spectrum scam or the appointment of CVC that came before it for judicial review. 

He has now a word of advice for the judiciary too. Addressing the national conference on 'Law and Governance' to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Bar Association of India in New Delhi on May 8, 2010 Dr. Manmohan Singh said: "Even though their (of judiciary, legislature and executive) jurisdiction may be separated and demarcated, it is expected that all institutions would work in harmony and in tandem to maximise the public good," he said. "It is assumed that none of the organs of the state, whether it is the judiciary or the executive or the legislature, would exceed its powers as laid down in the Constitution," he added. (Zee News)

Congress is nervous on the CVC appointment under judicial review in the Supreme Court. In the backdrop of this feeling, inaugurating the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference at Hyderabadon February 6, Dr. Manmohan Singh said: "While the power of judicial review must be used to enforce accountability, it must never be used to erode the legitimate growth assigned to other branches of the government." He kept harping on the diffusion of sovereign power. "It is necessary to preserve the integrity and sanctity of the constitutional scheme premised on the diffusion of sovereign power," Dr. Singh said.

There is not gainsaying the fact that the three pillars of democracy should be strong in their own sphere and must not intrude into the domain of the other as defined by the Constitution. At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that if one branch leaves a vacuum in its sphere of activity, it is but natural that the other must intervene to fill the space left vacant by the other. 

Even Dr. Manmohan Singh cannot deny the fact that for political considerations and reasons extraneous to the national interest, governments have failed to act and it was on an appeal by the people that the courts had to step in. The steps like introduction of CNG, ban on late night playing of loudspeakers, shifting of industrial units from residential areas and the like have had to be ordered by courts. There are numerous instances where the executive and the legislature were on one side and the judiciary on the other. But it is the judiciary with which the people have stood by and not the executive.

It also cannot be ignored that judiciary has not volunteered to act but was forced to intervene when the executive and the legislature crossed the Lakshmanrekha of ethics and morality.

The nervousness of the government can be gauged by the fact that while on the one hand Dr. Manmohan Singh stands by “the power of judicial review …. to enforce accountability” and, on the other, his government even challenged the authority of judicial review. In the Supreme Court on January 18 it strongly defended the appointment of controversial bureaucrat PJ Thomas, facing a corruption case in a Kerala court, as Central Vigilance Commissioner, saying he was an "outstanding officer" with "impeccable integrity". 

In an affidavit it said there was no need for "consensus" of the three-member high powered committee for his appointment and claimed that no statutory norms were violated. It added: "It is well settled that a question of suitability should be left to the wisdom of the appointing authority”.

Our Prime Minister is alive to the provisions of the Constitution earmarking separate compartments of functioning for the legislature, executive and judiciary but is oblivious, ironically, of that Article which makes the council of ministers “collectively” responsible for all its acts of omission and commission to the house of the people.

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