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IN EQUAL POWER

Indians take to bossing like ducks to water. Give an Indian the ghost of a chance and he, or she, will immediately start telling others what to do and what to think. Children here know this well — the natural authoritarianism of institutions meant for their care, chiefly home and school, unfailingly teaches them how not to think things out for themselves. From censor boards and touchy individuals to thugs from the lunatic fringe, all are busy telling others what not to see, what not to read, what not to wear, whose hand not to hold, whom not to kiss — and never, never to carry an umbrella in a park in case the urge to kiss becomes overpowering. This ubiquitous bossing would have found its own level had India not been a democracy. Discussion, debate, collaboration, exchange, cooperation, consensus and so on lie at the heart of the democratic structure and its functions. Big boss instincts are a serious hindrance to the construction of the democratic sensibility.

This conflict exposes itself on various fronts in different ways. One recent example is the Gujarat Lokayukta affair. Arun Jaitley, the Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha, has said that he “seriously” disagrees with the Supreme Court judgment that upholds the appointment of the Gujarat Lokayukta that has been opposed by the state government. Mr Jaitley’s analysis of the situation seems to interpret it almost in the terms of this conflict. The law for the Lokayukta in Gujarat states that the chief minister, the chief justice and the leader of the Opposition would consult together and place their recommendation before the governor, who is mainly the appointing authority. In the case under consideration, however, the chief justice’s opinion has been given primacy, since the state government had opposed the selection of R.A. Mehta as Lokayukta. Although the Supreme Court rebuked the governor for undermining the “democratic set up of government” envisaged in the Constitution by ignoring the “council of ministers”, it reportedly felt that the appointment was valid because the chief minister had been in possession of all necessary information.

Mr Jaitley’s contention, that such a judgment gives primacy to the chief justice’s opinion and makes the other advisers “redundant”, challenges bossiness at two levels. The breakdown of the consultative mechanism, through which all participants have equal weight, is directly the result of the tendency to acquire “primacy”. On the higher, subtler, level, the opinion of a representative of the justice system is being passed, by implication, as good enough for all. This, as Mr Jaitley suggests, has wider implications. The judiciary is one arm of the democracy, no more or no less important than the executive and the legislature. To place any one, the judiciary in this case, over the others causes “imbalance”, undermining the concept of the separation of powers essential to the democratic frame. Democracy and the thrust to primacy just do not go together.