Arun Shourie speaks his heart on everything from the Modi government to the state of the judiciary.
Arun Shourie’s latest book–Anita gets bail—offers a scathing indictment of the judiciary, while suggesting remedies to stem the malaise.
The author, journalist, economist and former cabinet minister holds forth on Karnataka politics, the Modi juggernaut and more.
How do you feel about the Supreme Court’s intervention in the formation of the Karnataka state government?
It was a very good thing that the Supreme Court (SC) did. They gave very well thought out orders—that the BJP would need to prove majority by 4pm, it will have to be done under a visual recording, it will be an open vote and not a secret vote, and so on. The governor reflected the attitude of the ruling party, but the SC checked the abuse of power by the governor. It’s one of the few good examples of SC rulings in the recent past.
But the Congress had moved the SC on the grounds that the Governor’s order be set aside, which the Supreme Court did not do…
Generally speaking, in the past, the Court has said that it will not go into the grounds of why the governor recommended President’s rule.
That is deemed to be the discretion of the governor. But the court has said that it will go into whether he had any ground to do so at all. Here, the provision of the Constitution is that the governor will invite that party or combination of parties which he thinks can provide a stable government. So, the court said it will not inquire into his judgement, but would put the judgement to test. I think they did a wonderful thing by giving them just 24 hours to prove majority, thereby minimising horse trading.
Speaking of which, can coalition governments be stable?
Narasimha Rao headed a coalition and was responsible, according to Vinay Sitapati’s book, for transforming India—look at the defence programme. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government was a coalition government. Coalitions are not bad or good by themselves. In Karnataka, it really depends on the leaders. It’s heartbreaking to read that they are still disagreeing about crumbs—portfolios and the appointment of the Deputy CM and such—while the country is in danger. It’s very shortsighted of them—they are not seeing how much rides on this coalition, especially if it doesn’t perform. If Kumaraswamy does a Nitish Kumar and allies with the BJP tomorrow, the recoil among people will be such that they will say only Modi knows how to rule. Today, the Modi government is doing as little as the UPA. But it is dividing the country and endangering our defence, while our foreign policies are a complete failure. But these people are disregarding all of that and behaving in a manner that will lead citizens to conclude that they need to bring Modi back. It’ll be a great betrayal of the country’s and their personal interests if they don’t see the avalanche that is descending on them.
And is that the avalanche that will descend in 2019?
The avalanche is gathering up to come down. If these people don’t take precautionary measures, everyone will be buried including themselves. I don’t say it is inevitable—I feel Modi can be checked. After all, at the height of his popularity he got only 31% of the vote.
You need to come to a pledge—that in every constituency we will have only one candidate against a BJP candidate. One person working very hard to ensure that that is done is Modi himself. It has happened in Gujarat and UP. And I’m sure today Nitish Kumar is feeling sufficiently suffocated. Look at the statements of the Shiv Sena and the lukewarm statements coming in from Akalis in favour of Modi. So, there are many straws in the wind which should encourage us.
Is that what needs to be done in Karnataka?
I have been pleading that you need to rely on the person who controls the fort in a particular state or part of state and leave the distribution of seats to him or her. In Bengal, let Mamata Banerjee decide what seats the Congress will get. Similarly, in Bihar and so on.
Otherwise, because of two-three seats, the understanding will fall apart. And there must be discipline and an embargo on speaking about other parties. In Karnataka, the ministry has not been fully formed and you are talking about each other. Why will people believe you?
Is Karnataka a microcosm of what we might see at the centre in 2019—a combined opposition to the BJP?
There can be an attempt, but every day there is a new statement by politicians. Mayawati has just said that she may fight the elections alone if she doesn’t get the full seats she deserves. The fact is that if Mayawati and Sharad Pawar had not put up candidates who did not win at all in Gujarat, maybe BJP would not have been able to form the government. So, nothing is a foregone conclusion—Modi’s victory is not a foregone conclusion. I think the time to read election forecasts is always after the elections.
What would it take to haul the BJP juggernaut, considering there hasn’t been one galvanising face on the other side?
Like I said, leave it to the good sense of regional bosses to decide the distribution of seats. Work on a minimum programme for everybody. And there doesn’t necessarily need to be one face. Morarji Desai and Charan Singh were not alternatives to Mrs Gandhi. But she was defeated—from Amritsar to Bhubaneshwar she got only one seat. Was VP Singh an alternative to Rajiv Gandhi? What needs to be done is to have one candidate in each constituency against the BJP so that the 69% is not split. That is what Modi capitalises on.
The judiciary is under duress, to which you offer a good many solutions in the book…
Judges need to be put under scrutiny. The media, for one, should not just focus on judgments of the higher courts. At random, go to the local court and write what happens during the day. Address this disconnect between courts and what the public knows. It will make the judges more aware that they are being watched. At present, the judiciary is operating in a bubble. They are protected. They know nobody will read their judgements and see how many adjournments there have been in a case. Every time a case comes up in court, the billboard outside should prominently display how many adjournments have been there.
The other problem is that impeachment is the only remedy. Can the Indian Penal Code prescribe only one punishment—beheading? You have to have a grade of measures. Plus, impeachment is a completely political process. In the Rajya Sabha, everyone votes along the party whip, because of Schedule 10 of the Constitution.
Then, there is the matter of judgements themselves—nobody reads them. If a journalist, a law graduates or a professor made the effort, it would alert people to the idiocy of what is often being said.
What also happens is that the courts issue a decree and then don’t bother to follow up. They need to take up random orders and see whether they are being implemented, and haul the offending officers for contempt of court. Instead, there is a lack of seriousness and a lack of confidence in the judiciary—they quote poems and make grand pronouncements in judgements.
We need to name and shame—like in the case of Jayalalitha’s disproportionate assets case, where it didn’t take much to see the idiocies and perversities in Justice Kumaraswamy’s pronouncements. They need to be held up as an example in law schools as what not to do. And nobody pursued him and questioned him after that.
Lastly, we must have stricter rules for admission of cases. To decide whether ‘Vande Mataram’ was written in Sanskrit or Bengali, a whole research team was set up by a judge who gave a lecture on the importance of language. They want to waste time—they think this is eloquence. The Supreme Court should focus on cases where there is a clear violation of law; if the lower court has completely violated the law in pronouncement or distorted the facts; if some new facts have emerged; if a provision of the Constitution has been violated. Instead we have minor traffic offences going up to higher court.
Is that why four Supreme Court judges took the unprecedented step of calling the press conference – a move others have criticised but you have defended?
They tried talking to the CJI. They had a complaint about the benches that were being fixed by him, saying that it was striking at the heart of the administration of justice. They wrote a letter to him and waited for two months. Then there was the handling of a case as sensitive as that of Justice Loya. What else could they have done? It was their duty to inform the ultimate sufferer—the people of India—about what was happening. And the fact that no corrective measures were taken on the ground after that shows that the judges were completely right in their apprehensions. It shows that there should be even more scrutiny of the judges by the media and by people.