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TRADITION IN REVERSE GEAR

In Indian politics, the prospect of imminent elections makes the improbable happen. Take three instances. There is a government to be formed in Delhi but the two principal contenders seem to be in no hurry to make a bid for power. This is something rarely heard of, since political parties are always scrambling for power and the loaves and fishes of office. What could be more bizarre? Look also at the Supreme Court, which has carved a niche for itself in judicial activism. On countless occasions, whenever the apex court has felt that the legislature and the executive have failed to adequately discharge their duties, it has stepped in to make up for the lacunae. Yet in the case concerning Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court shied away from judicial activism and took a purely technical view of the matter. It was open to the apex court to direct the legislature to amend Article 377 within a specified period of time. By refusing to be activist, the Supreme Court appears to have reinstated an antiquated law. Another instance is the silence on the part of India’s most voluble chief minister. She, who is known to express an opinion on all subjects — from aesthetics to foreign policy — has actually withheld her comments on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Article 377.

The search for votes is obviously the better part of valour. Even the Supreme Court preferred to be once active twice shy lest the judicial boat be rocked by too much activism on its part. In Delhi, with the reality of a fractured verdict, neither the Bharatiya Janata Party nor the Aam Aadmi Party is willing to be seen as engaging in horse trading to secure the numbers necessary to form a government. Both are wary of their image and are keen to keep it clean. In normal times, no political formation shows or has shown any such moral compunctions. Similarly, the chief minister referred to earlier has seldom, if ever, shown her preference for silence. She is the living proof of the invalidity of the proverb regarding speech being silvern. Even the prospect of individual liberties being curtailed hasn’t provoked her to declaim.

There is an Indian belief that there are moments in history when tradition moves in reverse — ulat purana, the pundits call it. It is possible that India is caught in that cusp of history when tradition and received wisdom are being subverted. Social anthropologists have noted that during carnival time accepted conventions are challenged and even reversed. The world, for a brief moment, is turned upside down: activists become passive; power hungry politicians become power shy; and the opinionated fall silent. There is no bigger carnival in India than a general election, and one is only a few months away. The season for the ulat purana has just opened. It remains to be seen how short the season will be and when India will return to what it usually is. There is fun in seeing things moving against their usual direction and in improbables becoming possible. India never ceases to surprise.