By Vijay Darda | 30-09-2013
There were two landmark events last week. First the Supreme Court allowed the right to reject for voters, and then the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi rejected the ordinance that seeks to protect tainted netas. The best part of these two unrelated events was that after a long time it appeared that the apex court and the politician were not at loggerheads. Now critics can discover inadequacies in both these decisions, but the bottom line is clear. Instead of a confrontation between the judiciary and the political establishment, there is a sense of harmony with the objective of achieving the laudable goal of having a cleaner polity.
For too long an impression has been going that the political class resists any reform that can even remotely impact its own personal interests. For instance, the popular feeling goes against the elected representatives when they disrupt the working of the parliament regularly, but come together to pass the bills concerning their salaries and perks. This ‘ganging-up’ by the politicians does not augur well for the public image of the political class.
The current public disgust over the ordinance was also rooted in the same sentiment. By bringing an ordinance, the political class was seen to be acting in unseemly haste to protect the tainted netas who could be personally affected by some impending court verdicts. One Congress MP Rashid Masood has already been indicted, and the other important politician Lalu Prasad Yadav an ally of the government was awaiting a court judgement. The people were upset that the UPA government is moving to protect even those tainted netas who have been sentenced by the court.
They were simply not interested in the fine print that the defenders of the ordinance from the government side were trying to read out in public. For the people, the conflict at hand straightforward and direct- the Supreme Court is trying to cleanse the system, and the political class is intent on preserving the rot. By coming out forcefully against the ordinance, Rahul Gandhi has corrected this imbalance. He has made it clear that he is not for retaining the rot. The beauty and the power of his firm denunciation of the ordinance is that whatever their personal reservations may be, the Congress leaders have no option but to fall in line. So, irrespective of the earlier arguments and compulsions, the government too would have to take a second and revised look at it. Not to jump the gun, the fate of the ordinance is as good as sealed.
Interestingly, it was not just the people. The president Pranab Mukherjee who is the ultimate repository of our constitutional sanctity was clearly not satisfied with the ordinance. Ultimately, he would have assented to it, but then he made his concerns well-known by meeting three ministers who concerned with matters involved in the ordinance-law minister Kapil Sibal, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath. Now the opposition BJP was surely changing its position on the subject having agreed to the language of bill that was converted into an ordinance, by opposing it. But then it too was accumulating political capital in the process.
It is to Rahul Gandhi’s credit that he showed leadership qualities by evaluating the evolving situation and taking a decisive step, that also has several negatives for his party’s government. Ultimately, the ability to take risks and to live with their consequences is the essence of leadership. It would have been weighing on his mind that his critics have been calling him apolitical and indecisive, as someone who does not know his own mind. Now no one shall level this criticism against him.
For the ultimate insider in the power game-he is the prince charming of the first family that has ruled this country for three generations-his father, his grandmother, his great-great grandfather have all been prime ministers- he is playing the role of an ‘outsider’. He has made it clear that he is not for making small compromises in politics that ultimately make it difficult to end corruption in public life. Indeed, he has the courage and candour to accept that his party like all other political parties makes these compromises. His apparent contradiction reminds one of his late father Rajiv who too made the famous statement of 15ps out of a rupee reaching the poor that later became a universal metaphor for corruption in government schemes.
But there is a deeper reality. If the ultimate objective of both these events is to keep the criminals out of politics, and to cleanse the system we cannot be so sure if much has been done. Take the right to reject option. The apex court has not spelt out as to what would happen to the votes in the category of –none of the above. Essentially, the voters who did not vote exercised this option in the past. Now at best they would be counted. Barring exerting a weak and ineffective moral pressure on parties the –‘nota’- votes would count for nothing. Then again, what happens if this-‘nota’ becomes a wave and say no candidate is elected from a large number of constituencies?
To my mind, the answer to this complex situation lies only with the political parties. We may revile the politicians, but the reality is that the solutions to the country’s problems lie with them and them only. Others can at best tinker with the situation. The only way we can keep criminals out of the polity is if all the parties decide that they shall not put them up as candidates. Let us not forget that criminals enter the parliament and the legislatures only after the parties select them as candidates and the people vote them in elections.
Neither the political parties, nor the voters are blindfolded at that time. They take these decisions with open eyes. So, let there ben an all party meeting with the objective of arriving at a consensus on this issue, or else the parties shall forfeit the right to wax eloquent about cleansing the polity.