|Gauhati High Court
Playing with the judiciary
Gauhati High Court’s recent directive that former Jharkhand MP Sukhdeo Paswan should pay Rs 1 lakh for wasting the court’s time on a public interest litigation (PIL) against Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, which has fizzled out, is an eye-opener.
The nadir to which politics has sunk merits no debate, but that politicians would even use the judiciary to settle political scores is a very serious matter. As practitioners of democracy, we encounter hypocrisies from politicians that leave us gasping. But the moral high ground adopted by one politician to crucify another only leaves us more bewildered, especially when the litigant has in a cavalier fashion decided to withdraw the case.
The controversy here is not about Biswa Sarma, but on the petitioner who used the route of a PIL which is actually a redressal mechanism afforded by the judiciary to enable citizens to correct injustices in governance.
That the petitioner then did a complete turn-around and withdrew his petition on the plea that there were “unknown facts” regarding the core issues raised in the PIL after filing the affidavit and counter-affidavit filed by Sarma, smacks of hypocrisy. We come to the oft-quoted adage that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies. But while politicians can change their “bedfellows”, they have no right to make an ass of the law.
In March this year, Paswan, the MP who represented Araria, Bihar, for five terms had quit the BJP because he was not given a ticket. He was later given a ticket from the Samajwadi Party (SP). The SP is known for its proximity to the Congress.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Paswan’s enthusiasm to pursue the PIL against Biswa Sarma dwindled.
When he first filed the PIL in December 2007, he was an ardent follower of the BJP, which is in alliance with the AGP in Assam. At the time Paswan was probably the AGP stooge out to embarrass Biswa Sarma. Now that Paswan has lost the elections he has also probably lost interest in the PIL, which costs both time and money to pursue because lawyers don’t come cheap. This is one plausible reason why the former MP withdrew the case, apart of course from the fact that he and Biswa Sarma could soon be supping from the same political table. This is why politicians make dangerous litigants.
It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that the Gauhati High Court has passed an order asking the next petitioner against Biswa Sarma, AGP legislator Padma Hazarika, to deposit court fees amounting to Rs 1 lakh before they admit the petition.
Going scot free
The Tada cases against Biswa Sarma, which were lodged at Chandmari and Panbazar police stations, are on the face of it very serious. The allegations of extortion at the behest of Ulfa are not to be taken lightly because they point to a link between the Congressman and a notorious militant group that is responsible for bleeding Assam and continues to do so even today.
The stories about the missing case diaries reveal the rot and stench in the police department. And the fact that the police officer, who claimed to have misplaced Biswa Sarma’s case diaries, was let off is an insult to our collective intelligence.
With such a horrible history behind it, how can the police department of Assam claim any credibility? Does this not indicate that the police too are up for sale to the highest bidder, mainly politicians?
It is easy for the health minister to now take a moral high ground and say that he has been penalised enough and that his cases should be quashed once and for all. Without the case diaries and confessional statements how can any prosecuting agency pin him down?
This makes us wonder why the small fries are kept in jail for petty crimes and why the big fish escape big offences. Isn’t this one reason why militancy finds acceptance among the repressed?
We are to blame
Without being moralistic and also with the pragmatism that one is forced to adopt, while using prisms to view the practitioners of politics, one can only aver that politicians get away with the worst of crimes because we patronise them once they are in power.
In other words, we connive with them. No one, not even the so-called Christian states, ostracises a politician even when he is blatantly corrupt and perversely immoral.
So politicians feel they have a blank cheque to misuse public funds and also that they are allowed to bend and break the laws that govern ordinary mortals.
As a people we are as much to blame for our acquiescent behaviour vis-à-vis politicians with a colourful past. Why is it so easy to forgive and forget the sins of politicians even while we murmur with disgust at the degeneration of morals all around us?
It is a pity that the law, too, should adopt different yardsticks for different people. How can anyone trust such a distorted criminal justice system? And if citizens lose faith in the entire judicial process and use their own kangaroo courts to deliver summary justice, would the system have the moral authority to clamp down on them?
Personally one is aggrieved that the police could misplace highly incriminating documents against highly placed accused persons. In whose payroll are they anyway? Politicians, or the public exchequer?
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)