The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The working of a democracy is not amenable to imitation. But it often should be. In Great Britain, the original home and nursery of democratic practice, the death of David Kelly and the allegation that the prime ministerís principal spin doctor, Mr Alastair Campbell, had deliberately exaggerated Iraqís arms potential led to a far-reaching inquiry. The inquiry under Lord Hutton was comprehensive and swift and resulted in the resignation of Mr Campbell. The entire episode, the background to which were Britainís joining the war against Iraq and the suicide of a scientist, was a landmark in the political history of Britain. It highlighted the level of transparency, the power of the media as well as its responsibilities, and the independence and clarity of the judiciary. For most Britons, there was an underlining of the importance of some of the fundamental features of an efficient and vibrant democracy that refused to compromise on matters of principle. More than guilt and innocence, it was the importance of these aspects in a democracy that most people took home.

It will surprise nobody that in India, in very crucial instances, many of these features of democratic practice are either not present or are not respected. The case involving the demolition of the Babri Masjid is one in point. Take the time the case has taken despite the best efforts of the judiciary. It has dragged on for over a decade and only now the decks have been cleared for the framing of charges. From the way the case has unfolded since 1992 and from the way the original chargesheet was amended and questioned, it is difficult to commend the methods of the Central Bureau of Investigation. The case has travelled back and forth between the Supreme Court and the lower court in Uttar Pradesh. Justice delayed may not be justice denied. But when an important case takes an inordinate amount of time to resolve itself, the entire process of discipline and punish loses its relevance and its exemplary edge. Similarly, there are other examples where the innocent have been harassed or presumed guilty. Instances where the reverse has happened are also many and not infrequent. These features, because they are recursive and so predominant, are often seen to be systemic. No individual or no one arm of democracy can be held to be responsible. Despite all the intentions to follow the Westminster model, Indian democracy has failed to acquire its transparency and its swiftness in handling matters of public significance.

The immediate response to the Rae Bareli judgment has predictably focussed on personalities and on groups within the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr L.K. Advaniís camp followers are delighted, Mr Murli Manohar Joshiís are dismayed; the secularists and the communalists are both unhappy though for different reasons. In this the bigger issues run the danger of being lost or obfuscated. It is for the judiciary to decide who is guilty and who is not. The public debate must continue on issues of principle, on upholding the working of democratic processes and on the swiftness of decisions. A former colony can still learn from its former rulers.

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