Saturday, 25 March 2017

Justice Karnan, Quite Wrong Again

      Justice C. S. Karnan is in the news, for wrong reasons again.  He made  a statement unrelated to his functions as a judge of the Calcutta High Court.  That made him look really sorry.

      Seven judges of the Supreme Court sat together to enquire into a charge of contempt of court against Justice Karnan after summoning him. When he remained absent at the hearing without justification, the judges issued a bailable warrant of arrest to secure his presence in court.   Learning about the warrant he said publicly, as a party called to court, that he was being targeted since he was a “Dalit”, i.e., one belonging to certain caste groups which some other caste groups might look down upon.  Of course, no one becomes anyway low in status by birth, but that is a different issue. 

      Justice Karnan’s accusation against the seven Supreme Court judges is plainly unimaginable.  It can only be untrue.  He says, in effect, two things:  one, the contempt-of-court charge brought against him is groundless; two, he has been spitefully charged because he is a Dalit.

         Justice Karnan has no quarrel with the law of contempt  of court, and he accepts it as a desirable law.  All he says is that he was slapped with a charge of contempt of court for dishonourable reasons even as he committed no contempt.  As one trained in law and legal procedures, he should know that first and foremost he should explain himself to show that he did not commit any contempt.   He could do that only by coming to court, and that is the way to go about for anyone similarly charged.  If he is not keen to answer the charge and merrily makes counter charges against judges who try the case, he will not convince anyone.  Assume you are driving, a traffic policeman stops you and he asks for your driving licence.  Without producing your licence if you yell at him, “You are checking my papers because of my caste!” what can anyone make out?  

       Look at another scenario.  A judge, also a Dalit, issues notice to someone to answer a charge of contempt of court.  The person summoned belongs to a different caste group, he refuses to answer the charge and says publicly, “The judge calls me to court out of ill will since I belong to a particular caste group”.  Here, that man is unconvincing as Justice Karnan.  

        I am sure there are millions of Indians who are not Dalits and who don’t feel any superiority over Dalits.  That is the reality, showing that many men and women anywhere in the world are generally good to fellow human beings.  Many such good souls in India are not expressing their disapproval of Justice Karnan’s reaction to Supreme Court’s move, so they may not be misunderstood.  Their silence would not mean that Justice Karnan attracts less opposition to his utterance.

        Dalits who face oppression or other misfortune in life are mostly uneducated and poor, usually residing in villages.  Among them if one acquires some university education and gets to do well in life – especially if he shifts to bigger cities and works there – he will not stick with others of his group who are not so well-educated or well-placed.  He will keep more distance from them as he gets more affluent, privately relishing his good fortune among the less fortunate.   The less fortunate would also naturally shrink from the more fortunate in their group, feeling a little scared.  This happens between an affluent person and a poor person in any caste group, Dalit or non-Dalit.  This is a common human trait all over the world, in every walk of life.  This is because affluence creates a class of its own, and earns a respect of its own.  Like the Americans and the Saudi Arabians have it in the eyes of poorer nations.
        So when Justice Karnan has come up in life, holds the high status of a High Court judge and is fairly affluent, it is impossible – for a worldly reason – that he will suffer discrimination or hatred at the hands of others. Certainly not from seven judges of the Supreme Court at one go.

       With a false and fanciful accusation, Justice Karnan might induce some Dalits to guess a contempt action is brought against him because he is a Dalit.  He might also leave some others wondering if his brazen disrespect to Supreme Court’s authority points to a flaw in India’s public policy on appointments to high posts.  Both these lines of thinking are incorrect for different reasons, in different measures.  In any case, in the present controversy India’s poor innocent Dalits are not being helped though they are mentioned.  The consequence is as grave as any contempt of the Supreme Court. But, sadly, no remedial action can be taken by anyone in the cause of the unfortunate Dalits.

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2017

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Supreme Court Found Jayalalithaa Guilty. What Next?

      Last month the Supreme Court of India delivered a judgement the entire nation wanted to know what it would be.  It found the AIADMK supremo and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, her close friend Sasikala and two others guilty.  In a second-level appeal the top court overturned the Karnataka High Court’s clean chit to the accused persons, and fully approved the trial court’s findings that justified convicting all of them.

      The Supreme Court determined that Jayalalithaa amassed assets valued far more than her verifiable income during a five-year period when she was Tamil Nadu’s chief minister.  Possessing such unexplained assets is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.  The court further found that all the four were in criminal conspiracy to advance Jayalalithaa’s object, and that the chief minister was aided by the other three to acquire her surplus assets.  Jayalalithaa did not live to learn about the Supreme Court’s judgement.  She died ten weeks before it was announced, and so the Supreme Court recorded that the criminal case against her 'abated'  that is, it had to be discontinued  though the judges opined that available proof clearly pointed to her guilty conduct under the anti-corruption legislation. 

      Did the trial court or the Supreme Court return a finding that Jayalalithaa took bribes in specific instances? No. That was not also required for their adjudication. When it was established in court that Jayalalithaa, a public servant, had acquired assets exceeding her income but could not explain how, anyone figures out how she could have made money to buy her questionable assets. If she had earned her money cleanly to finance those assets she would have revealed it to the court and cleared her name.  When she did not show proper lawful sources for her surplus funds which funded her excess assets, that was enough to consider her guilty under the anti-corruption law.  

      Most of the voters have not  grasped  a central fact recognised by the Supreme Court. That is, the Supreme Court declared that out of the four brought to justice, it was chief minister Jayalalithaa who had amassed all those excess assets, retaining much of them in the names of the other three and with some businesses floated by those three.  That means, Jayalalithaa had leaned on the other three to amass wealth by wrong means, not the other way around. The major offender was Jayalalithaa, the elected representative of people. That was the Supreme Court's finding.

        Laws in a democracy  place government  work in  the hands  of two classes of people – civil servants, and elected representatives who belong to political parties. Between them the elected representatives control and oversee the civil servants. When the two classes go about their jobs honestly, whether efficiently or not, people have their best chances to work and prosper.  This is basic to the working and growth of a democracy.  Here, if efficiency is lacking in administration there is always room for efficiency to enter.  The most stealthy way of undermining a democracy, while retaining its outward form, is by letting bribery and corruption flourish in government transactions. Then efficiency in administration too gets stifled and sidelined by design.

     If a ruling political leader in India makes money by corrupt deals on some government contracts and through special government favours, the common people would not know it easily.  Other politicians sniff out his corrupt ways, but most of them are not clean themselves and have either made their moneys the same way or are biding their time.

         Remember, a person in charge of  a  government has authority to make postings of key officers and personnel at places and in positions he wants them to serve.  If he makes gains through bribes or devious methods, he will also demand a routine share of unaccounted money and ask irregular favours from his ministers and officers he chooses for key government postings, knowing that they will take bribes or secure other personal benefits in their official work.  So the stream of corruption flows down.  It travels faster downstream – it seldom moves upstream from the bottom - and spreads wider too downstream.  The result is, a corrupt man at the top of an elected government picks the pocket of every citizen.  He won’t care where he takes it, whom he robs, in what amounts or for how long.  He would just want to cover his tracks as he keeps hunting.  And taking to corruption is like going in for luxuries.  You never feel you had enough.  

      A corrupt leader  heading  a government  could be efficient in keeping the government going, and be quite intelligent too.  He might remain popular through tricks and good luck.  But he blocks the best chances of progress and prosperity for the people. That is the chief reason why lots and lots of talented young Indians go to the US to do well and prosper easily, rapidly and surely. So, unlike other crimes of an elected leader, corruption hits ordinary citizens the hardest, though not quite visibly.  It is more devastating when an elected leader, like a chief minister, is the villain.  So our laws should deal with proven corruption among elected leaders more sternly than they do now – to leave a disheartening effect on those waiting in the wings.

        Adolf Hitler of the Nazi Party wrecked havoc in Germany through oppression and dictatorship.  It happened step by step after he was sworn in its Chancellor in January 1933 to head a coalition government.  He could get a law passed in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, called the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave the German Cabinet powers to enact legislation bypassing Parliament and departing from the German Constitution.  With that, he abolished labour unions and all other political parties and put his political opponents in prison.  From 1933 to 1945, he made his one-man rule by whim look legal. He presided over the genocide of about 6 million Jews in a hate campaign.

       After Germany was defeated in the Second World War and Allied forces occupied the country in 1945, the Nazi Party was banned.  The present German Criminal Code outlaws use of all symbols of unconstitutional organisations, except for purposes of art or science, research or teaching.  It is a punishable crime in Germany to celebrate or promote Nazi symbols such as Swastika, Celtic Cross or the Nazi salute in support of the banned political party.  The country has legally prohibited any act to eulogise or revive the despotic Nazi Party, rather than leave it to the good sense of the people in the light of past experience.  Today you can't also see a statue of Hitler at a public place in Germany.

      We should  look upon corruption  among elected leaders as bad for the pride and development of our country as Nazism is viewed for Germany.   If we do that we need a change of law, somewhat to this effect: If the Supreme Court holds an elected representative, whether an MP, MLA or local councillor, guilty of an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, no one may say he was not guilty of that crime and no one may publicly say anything in praise of him or do anything publicly to preserve or propagate his name or memory in the political sphere.  Using any of his pictures or possessions for that purpose will also not be permitted.  The convict should also be banned from undertaking any political activity, being a member or leader of any political party and contesting elections for any political office, for the rest of his life.  Any co-conspirator or abettor, as confirmed by the Supreme Court, and his pictures and possessions, will also be subject to like prohibitions.

        Are we harsh or  unfair in  talking of a new law like this? No, we aren’t.  All political leaders humbly claim that people are their real masters.  If a servant is caught swindling his master’s funds, will the master dismiss the servant for ever or ban him for some years and welcome the culprit later?  Our legal system of today allows the corrupt political servant to be back working at the same place, or even a bigger household, after his jail term plus six years.  Meanwhile his sharers and associates keep singing his praise and awaiting his return.  Or if the culprit dies sooner, they openly adulate him and pep up his memory so they may cash in on his remaining fame and step into his shoes quickly – we know this will happen for sure. Then who are the real masters?    

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2017