On the occasion of Constitution Day, in deference to the prevailing culture, politics and morality of India, it is fitting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is exhorting us to protect, preserve and honour India’s constitutional legacy.
Within 24 hours, we would have the privilege of watching the PM’s solemn advice put into practice in Maharashtra, where every party, including the BJP, would do its best to serve the Constitution by forming the government by hook, crook, defections, desertions, abstentions and Machiavellian principles.
Over the past few days, the Prime Minister himself has led by example to uphold the Constitution in its letter and spirit. On Friday (November 22) night, he used the special powers vested in his office to revoke President’s rule in Maharashtra at the crack of dawn, without bothering to wake up his Cabinet colleagues and take a collective decision, which is the norm prescribed in the Constitution.
On cue, the President and the Governor did their bit to honour the Constitution: One of them signed on the Prime Minister’s recommendation in the middle of the night and the other swore in a BJP chief minister at the crack of dawn, without wasting much time on formalities like verification of the letter of support submitted to him. The chief minister deputy, outdid all of them by allegedly serving the Constitution with the help of a forged letter.
With all the top democratic institutions working from midnight to dawn to uphold its principles, we can go to bed every night with the collective belief that like never before in Indian history, our Constitution is in safe hands.
Or, is it?
Since the Maharashtra Governor invited the BJP to form the government, subsequent events have turned Maharashtra into a theatre of absurd, and an ugly spectacle of lust, impropriety and opportunism; a blot on the Constitution. In this malevolent maelstrom, every institute at the top of the Constitutional hierarchy has been exposed as inept and immoral, every person pliable and partisan.
The BJP claims the support of the entire NCP when every single legislator of Sharad Pawar’s party, with the exception of his nephew Ajit, is parading with the Shiv Sena and the Congress, in a show of strength and majority. In politics, as in math, two plus two can only be four, and it is obvious that the BJP’s claim is a pack of lies. And yet, it is not just clinging to the Maharashtra government, but also reading out sermons in the service of the Constitution. The late RK Laxman had once reportedly said that he had stopped drawing cartoons ever since cartoons became politicians.
Since every other institution has failed to uphold Constitutional propriety, it is incumbent upon the Supreme Court to step in and order sweeping reforms to clean up the mess in the electoral system. Given its recent history of judgments in Karnataka and Uttarakhand, it was widely anticipated that the Supreme Court would have disposed of the matter by ordering a transparent, fair and prompt trial as soon as the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP challenged the Governor’s decision.
But, perhaps because of the technicalities of the dispute —this is perhaps the first time the leader of a group of legislators has defected in contravention of the party’s stated position — the apex court took three days to pronounce its judgment.
Still, it has done the right thing by ordering a trust vote by 5 pm on Friday (November 27), banning secret ballots and voice vote and asking the Assembly to stream it live for the nation to see. If only these directives had been issued on Sunday — the day the three parties approached the SC — we would have said justice was done without even a moment’s delay.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can also be argued that the apex court should now give clear guidelines for dealing with such cases, considering the frequency and gravity of disputes over the government formation. This would restrain Raj Bhawans from using their discretion and political parties from bending the rules with the help of pliable institutions and people.
One solution to this recurring problem could be the clear directive to every government to prove its numbers on the floor within 24 hours of being invited to form the government. The other immediate need is of implementing the anti-defection law in not just letter but spirit to stop elected members from making a mockery of the system. Keeping in mind the impunity with which the law is flouted, the SC should crack its whip and issue guidelines that would make horse-trading impossible and those who indulge in it guilty of a constitutional crime.
The other expectation from the SC is that it will punish those who tried to form a government through lies, deceit and forged documents. Only a strict punishment to perpetrators of the alleged fraud of using a fake letter of support would ensure the crime is not repeated. Also, the SC needs to do something about Governors who upend the Constitution in the service of their political masters. In an ideal scenario, they should be held guilty of contempt and criminality, but since they enjoy immunity and several privileges, the SC may find it difficult to restrain them much.
Yet, Maharashtra’s vile politics has shocked the nation, it has drawn the attention of Indians to the vices and ailments of our electoral politics. The SC would do the nation and the Constitution great favour by using the opportunity to overhaul the system and make it as clean and transparent as possible.