India’s apex court stands its ground

Verdict on Karnataka assembly offers a ray of hope to all those who seek propriety in political life and value a rules-based order

It was a ‘bloodless coup’ of sorts — commandeered and blessed by none other than the Supreme Court of India!

A special three-member bench was constituted by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Dipak Misra, in the early hours of May 18 to hear a petition filed by the Congress party, the country’s principal opposition entity, to prevent the swearing-in of B.S. Yeddyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the chief minister of Karnataka, following the recent elections in the southern Indian state in which no party won a clear majority, although BJP emerged the single-largest. The special bench, comprising justices A.K. Sikri, S.A. Bobde and Ashok Bhushan, ruled that while the Supreme Court had no legal authority to stop the swearing-in the next morning, Yeddyurappa will have to prove his majority on the floor of the House within 24 hours — drastically cutting short the 15-day time period initially granted by Governor Vajubhai Vala.

The point-counter point started in the Supreme Court well past midnight and the verdict came in the wee hours of the morning, ending an edge-of-the-seat courtroom ‘thriller’ that even Bollywood would perhaps find hard to match. With one stroke of the pen, the special division bench reinstated constitutional sanctity and people’s faith in jurisprudence — yet again. It was undoubtedly one of the surest signs of the judiciary coming to the rescue of a political structure that had started showing signs of falling victim to a moral sclerosis.

And all those who were busy casting aspersions on the nation’s judiciary, all those who had raised the bogey of suspicion over the impartiality of the legal apparatus in the world’s largest democracy, please take note: Come what may, India shall continue to bask in the glory of its highest court’s commitment to rule of law and constitutional authority. The legal tussle in the apex court may have been over the election to just one state legislative assembly out of 29 in a country of 1.3 billion people, but with that one verdict, India’s apex court yet again saved the day for democracy and political propriety in a country that has often seen blatant opportunism and an unbridled greed for power trump conscience, morality — and people’s choice.

And it is indeed ironical that the very same Congress party that had earlier this month moved a half-baked and eventually stillborn impeachment procedure against CJI Misra — citing impropriety and lack of transparency in the discharge of his duties — was the chief beneficiary of the same CJI’s responsiveness and proactive gesture in not trying to push the petition to the back burner but instead assigning a special bench and ensuring a hearing in the middle of the night. What Misra did was exemplary and it should stand India and its polity in good stead in the years ahead.

The May 18, 2018, Supreme Court verdict will find close parallels with the June 12, 1975, ruling by Allahabad High Court, declaring former prime minister and Congress behemoth Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election to the parliament as null and void on charges of electoral malpractices.

In the recent past, India’s apex court has repeatedly been in the news over rather unsavoury circumstances — be it the clash between the Union Government and Supreme Court judges over the appointment of senior judges or the open ‘revolt’ by three senior Supreme Court judges whose very public ire over lack of clarity in the court’s procedural issues and assigning of judges to various politically-sensitive cases served as sources of endless embarrassment for the CJI.

But May 17-18 had a different story to tell. It proved yet again that the haloed portals of the colonial-era red sandstone edifice in the heart of New Delhi continues to be what it is meant for — in letter and spirit — capable and worthy of being the repository of people’s faith in legality and in whose able hands the basic tenets of a democratic order and the principles of justice and equality stay well and truly secured.

The ruling to grant Yeddyurappa just 28 hours, to be precise, to take a floor test and prove his majority was a masterstroke in the true sense of the term — one that helped nip in the bud all possibilities of money-power and muscle-flexing taking centre stage and aiding the formation of a government not on trust and moral fortitude but on mischief and power-broking of the worst kind. The dictionary meaning of ‘horse-trading’ states that it is an exercise in ‘hard and shrewd bargaining, especially in politics’. But anyone with even an iota of knowledge about how back-room machinations have time and again stifled people’s voices at the hustings in India know only too well that such a naive definition of ‘horse-trading’ is alien to the country’s long history of bitter political rivalries and one-upmanship in securing public offices.

And that is precisely the reason why this Supreme Court verdict offers a ray of hope to all those who seek propriety in political life and value ethics. Let this ruling on the Karnataka assembly be the lodestone to judge all future political disputes and improprieties that seek to challenge India’s commitment to a rules-based order.

You can follow Sanjib Kumar Das on Twitter: @moumiayush.


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