Politicians of a particular kind and breed are, knowingly and unknowingly, setting an unhealthy precedent. They are doing this through an attack on all existing democratic institutions. The latest example of this is the attack on the judiciary by a minister of the government of West Bengal. Carried away by his own rhetoric, this minister said that the judiciary had been influenced by the Tatas and by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) when it had delivered its judgment on the Singur case. He went on to add that if the verdict of the Supreme Court went against the state government then “the people of Singur will descend on the fields and enact a new law’’. These pronouncements, apart from revealing the minister’s ignorance of how laws are made, also show a certain contempt for the judiciary and the rule of law. Embedded within the statements is a refusal to accept an adverse court judgment, and a threat to supplant the rule of law by some sort of mobocracy. Such attitudes are dangerous, to say the least; and when they come from a minister who has sworn loyalty to the Constitution, they suggest that one source of threats to democracy in India is the very people who are supposed to protect and uphold democracy.
It is nobody’s argument that the institutions of democracy in India all function perfectly or as they should. What is important is that in spite of faults and lacunae they function and the solution lies in improving their functioning and thus strengthening the institutions. What is unfortunate is that a contrary tendency is becoming prominent and vocal in West Bengal and elsewhere. According to this tendency, democratic institutions and practices are burdens: the legislature is useless; the executive is corrupt; the judiciary is suspect; and the media have vested interests. All these institutions, which are vital to any democratic structure, are portrayed as obstacles to the fulfilment of a populist agenda or of personal ambition and power. The expression of this is often anger, simulated or otherwise, directed at one or all of these institutions. What India needs today is a strengthening of democratic structures and processes. Politicians who do not understand and thus rail against the judiciary and the rule of law are threats to democracy. The judiciary should take due cognizance of the remarks questioning its integrity. Democracy is more important than populism.