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Chief justice slams politics of division

New Delhi, Nov. 18: Politics aimed at polarising voters threatens the society’s foundations, Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said today, a rare instance of such public criticism by a Supreme Court judge.

“Differences based on caste, religion, gender, class and regionalism continue to be the root causes behind organised and often institutionalised violence… one can recount several instances of disruption of routine life… in many instances, such extreme measures are clearly a strategy to polarise the electorate,” Balakrishnan said.

The observations, made at a meeting of an NGO attended by politicians, came with an appeal to the “political class” to follow Barack Obama in choosing dialogue over confrontation to resolve conflicts.

Balakrishnan said protests were being launched “on the flimsiest of reasons, threatening public order “in circumstances where an inclusive dialogue is the best solution”.

He didn’t name any agitation but appeared to be alluding to the protests by Gujjars in Rajasthan earlier this year and the attacks on north Indians by Raj Thackeray’s party in Mumbai.

The apex court had earlier this year come down heavily on the Gujjar protests for reservations that had crippled Rajasthan for weeks. Last week, it sent the Maharashtra government a notice asking it to explain the measures it had taken to protect people from other states in the wake of the attacks.

Balakrishnan blamed recent instances of “senseless violence” and disruptions on the regressive politics. “Such a regressive brand of political action is threatening to undo the very foundations on which our constitutional order has been built, namely respect for rule of law, equal treatment before law and due process,” he said in his keynote address at the first summit of the newly floated Foundation for Restoration of National Values.

Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who has in the past accused the judiciary of encroaching on legislature’ powers, was present, as was Delhi Metro chief E. Sreedharan.

Balakrishnan also touched on the prickly issue of corruption in the judiciary but said legal and judicial measures to fight the problem were “only part of the solution”. “There have been allegations against higher judiciary.... It has raised the question on who would watch the watchdog (judiciary). Our national values are deeply eroding at this time.”

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