Friday, July 23, 2010
By Manuwant Choudhary
India’s Supreme Court falters once again….this time on a petition challenging the oath of allegiance by political parties to the word `socialism’…recently the petition had to be withdrawn as the judges felt that while it was an important issue it was only of `academic’ interest presently and that they would hear the case as and when the time came.
In effect what this means is that the world’s largest democracy is not a democracy…since only socialist political parties can be registered with India’s Election Commission and hence only they can contest elections. A liberal cannot have a political party.
The petition was filed by Good Governance Foundation India and individually by Mr. Sanjiv Agarwal and their lawyer was constitutional expert Fali Nariman.
So I called up Mr. Sanjiv Agarwal to find out his understanding of the Supreme Court view and he said, “There are two aspects. One is that our case was not thrown out at the first instance and we were heard. The Supreme Court also recognized that the issue we were raising was an important one but that it was only of `academic’ interest right now. I am happy with this part of the view but the Supreme Court goes on to say that we will hear it when the time comes. God forbid but I fear that when the time comes it may be too late…a despot will do what he wants in such a scenario…”
There are again two interpretations to this court view …one is that the judges want liberals to first form a political party and seek registration and when they are denied registration they can come back to it and file a fresh appeal. The second part is more serious in that the present view means that citizens and NGOs who file public interest petitions have no bona-fide to do so vis-à-vis democracy and that only a political party who has been denied registration has a cause of action.
This latter view worries me ….but Mr. Agarwal says, “Its one interpretation but who can question the highest court in the land? The Supreme Court in India is not as great as western courts but its still better than Africa or many Asian courts. Although I do not agree with their view that a citizen cannot question the preamble.”
Mr. Agarwal has challenged both the 42nd and 44th amendments to India’s constitution. “By introducing the word socialism to the constitution and then by quietly removing private property from a citizens fundamental rights our politicians have destroyed the very constitution we gave ourselves at independence. You see whats happening in Bengal it is the small farmers who are suffering because their land is being taken over by the State and given to private industry.”
He said, “At least I have succeeded in raising the issue.”
My own association with this campaign goes longer…as a student at St. Paul’s School Darjeeling I came across an interview of Mr. Minoo Masani in Imprint magazine. A photograph of Mr. Masani sitting on Marine Drive looking at the sea and a para saying…`I have always swum against the tide…’ caught my attention. I said to myself if I ever go to Bombay I would like to meet this man…
Living away from the heat and dust of the plains amidst the majestic Himalayas with the sun rise and sunset over Kanchenjunga one would normally forget the mess India was in…but coming from backward Bihar I always felt education is worthless if one cannot bring about any change.
So while most of my colleagues aimed to go to America I had a different dream…my dream was to find a link to India’s past..to its greatness…to Mahatma Gandhi.
Chance took me to Bombay and as a student of history at St. Xavier’s College I was assigned a history project. I picked up a telephone directory and searched for Mr. Minoo Masani, found a number and called. The voice at the other end said, “Yes, this is Masani speaking”. I introduced myself and asked for an appointment as I wanted to interview him.
Mr. Masani, “Whats the issue?”
I replied, “Economic Policies of Jawahar Lal Nehru.”
Mr. Masani, “Disastrous. Come and see me tomorrow at 10 a.m..”
I recall three of going to the Army & Navy Building 15 minutes before 10 and Mr. Masani spoke extempore for more than an hour and it was an education that one cannot get at India’s best educational institutions.
My association with liberals begins and my years in Bombay working with a youth association and then accidently walking up a rickety stairs at Kala Ghoda and discovering a Swatantra Party office…
Its only later that I met Mr.S.V. Raju and 15 years ago when Mr. Raju and others tried to register the Swatantra Party Maharashtra they were faced with a roadblock…they were asked to swear by socialism and which Mr. Raju rightly refused. So going to court was the only option which the party did.
I remember in those early days calling oneself a liberal was not yet fashionable and in fact there were very few liberal NGOs although we believed that India’s people are by and large liberal and if a credible liberal party is offered to the Indian people..Indians would vote for it.
But as things stand the Bombay High Court has not heard the case even once in 15 years! The Swatantra Party lawyer is now a judge of the Bombay High Court!
Another brave attempt was made by the veteran Shetkari Sangathana leader Mr. Sharad Joshi who appealed to Mr.T.N. Seshan, the then Election Commissioner of India, to at least give him a common symbol to contest but Mr. Seshan refused and said he would only get that if he swore allegiance to a socialist constitution.
Mr. Joshi refused and fielded some 180 or more candidates all contesting as independents with different symbols. Two won the elections.
Mr. Joshi is now a Rajya Sabha member and he has placed a private member bill challenging this very clause that makes it mandatory for political parties to swear by the socialist constitution.
This Supreme Court view in effect means, `Where is the party?"
For the past five years I have been speaking to liberals individually to form a party but the response has been poor. There are many many more liberals in India today than there were 15 years ago..most run successful NGOs...but at best they are competitive and at worst self-centred ..happy to run NGOs instead of running India. Liberals lack unity.
If India fails I would blame us liberals.