New Delhi, Dec. 11: Individual censure but no collective outcry.
For a variety of reasons ranging from fear of conservative ire to viewing it as a low-priority issue, the political class appears keen to duck the LGBT ball lobbed into its court by the Supreme Court.
Few were willing to put their names to criticism of the re-criminalisation of gay sex by the Supreme Court; far too many stepped up to say there are too many issues that deserve political attention ahead of gay rights, the LGBT community can wait for its turn. Too far yet from coming anywhere close to political manifestos, gay rights are not even evoking for-the-record espousal from political parties.
The Congress, the only party to put out an official reaction, had its spokesperson, Sandeep Dikshit, say: “We haven’t read the full details but (attorney-general G.E.) Vahanwati has said in the Supreme Court that the government supported the high court’s view. The government’s position is our position. The law minister has said the government will take necessary legislative measures but for that Parliament has to function. Very unlikely that the government will take initiative on this issue in Parliament before the 2014 general election. The new Lok Sabha will deal with this issue.”
From the Left to Trinamul to BJP to AAP, the newest entrant to the club of the elected, all skirted comment.
A senior BJP leader said: “There is a concept called reading down a law. If someone is born with a tendency that prefers a same-sex relationship, the statute can be interpreted to mean that it is not against the order of nature. Therefore, you don’t have to define it as illegal and send a so-called offender to jail. In this case, the court simply had to read down the law.” That said, the leader put a stern condition: nobody put my name to it.
Although the issue has been on the public plate for four years now since Delhi High Court de-criminalised gay sex, political parties have clearly not found the issue important enough to form an opinion on. Part of the reason could be that the LGBT community, a conservatively estimated count of 12 million, is close to electorally inconsequential.
Another, probably more pertinent, reason could be that even though the parties may consider gay rights just, they are reluctant to issue approval because it may bring a backlash in a country that remains mostly conservative.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah’s reaction was intoned along the troubling line between liberalism and conservatism. “People can take whatever stand their religious, moral beliefs dictate regarding LGBT lifestyle choices but is terming it illegal not wrong?” was how Abdullah chose to articulate his position.
It is also because the gay rights narrative awaits processing in political parties that different voices jumped up.
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, touring Delhi, said: “I have no comments. This has nothing to do with political parties. Moreover, there are plenty of other issues in the country to worry about.”
Told that the Supreme Court had referred the matter to the legislature to make a law, Mamata again sought to side-step. “Fair enough. We will see.”
Janata Dal (United)’s Shivanand Tiwari was one of the first to hit out against today’s order but flagged his views as personal, not the party’s. “I don’t support the Supreme Court decision. I think the Delhi High Court order was practical and constitutional. This happens in society and if people believe it is natural for them, why is the Supreme Court trying to stop them?” Tiwari wondered.
CPM politiburo member Sitaram Yechury made it plain his party had not taken a view and, therefore, he couldn’t speak his mind. “The court has referred the matter to the legislature. We will take a view when the matter comes up. The legislature will have to take a call whether it falls in its domain or the court’s,” Yechury said.
Brinda Karat, another politburo member, said: “We had supported the 2009 Delhi High Court verdictů. In that light, the Supreme Court verdict is a step backward.”
CPM general secretary Prakash Karat could not be contacted but party leaders said he had supported the Delhi High Court verdict. Hence, they said, the party was not averse to amending Section 377 in Parliament.
CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy sought more time to study the judgment and then react.
AAP leader Manish Sisodia said that the party had not yet taken a view. “We have not discussed the issue yet,” Sisodia said.
Several UPA ministers seemed upset with the Supreme Court, asking why it didn’t give a ruling as it is doing in every other case. They wondered why this caution in a case where only “interpretation of law” was required when they have been “brazenly encroaching upon the executive’s domain in policy matters and legislative business”.
Asked why political parties in India did not clarify their stand on such socio-cultural issues in their manifestos, one Congress spokesperson laughed it away while one party general secretary said: “We are still grappling with bread-and-butter questions. We have to focus on roads, power, water and jobs as our masses are struggling for a livelihood. A developed country can fight elections on LGBT rights, abortions and legalising prostitution but we don’t face that kind of pressure from the popular opinion.”
But again, demonstrative of the lack of internal debate on the issue within political parties, foreign minister Salman Khurshid seemed to support legislative action rather than put off the issue.
“I would imagine anything the Supreme Court says is the law of the land. I have not read the judgment. If the Supreme Court says the legislature should do something, the legislature should do something. When a legislature does something, it takes into account a whole host of circumstances.
“I would imagine the Supreme Court has taken into account the overall conditions prevailing in our country and if required, the legislature could do something which is reflective of what the people want and within the four corners of the Constitution. The legislature will apply its mind and come to some conclusion,” Khurshid said.