The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The Supreme Courtís firmness has put rather a damper on the Bharatiya Janata Partyís frenzied enthusiasm for early elections in Gujarat. The court has made it clear that it would not be possible to give an early verdict and that it finds no reason to interfere with the Election Commissionís timetable for the Gujarat polls. The BJP is trying frantically to pretend there is no egg on its face. Worse, the court has said it will take the details of the ECís report as fact and proceed simply to examine the legal implications of the presidential reference. Since the last sitting of the Gujarat assembly had been on April 6, the BJP had been confident that Article 174 would force the EC to conduct elections before six months elapsed on October 6. But the ďconstitutional crisisĒ bogey has not worked, either with the EC or with the Supreme Court. The latter has calmly dismissed the BJPís pet obsession by saying that Gujarat is not an issue before it.

On the face of it, this is perhaps the best thing that could have happened. Mr Modiís steamrolling of the truth has suddenly been pulled up short and the BJPís reckless disregard of the realities of genocide and the proprieties of governance has been shaken. Since the party had even begun to question the ECís right to ensure free and fair elections, fears for democracy were becoming more real by the day. And now that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief, Mr Ashok Singhal, has actually said that Gujarat was a successful experiment that will be repeated elsewhere, the Supreme Courtís decision seems perfectly timed. But, once again, the Supreme Court has been forced to tread where it need not have. It has correctly insisted on the legalities of the presidential reference, but its decision, willy-nilly, has had the indirect effect of endorsing the ECís position and blocking an unethical political move. But that is not the courtís job. At the heart of the imbalance lies the moral bankruptcy and criminal abuse of power among the political class, and the resultant weakening of democratic institutions. The relationship of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary is delicately balanced. The abdication or perversion of responsibility by any one of the three is a threat to the balance of the democratic structure. The courtís decision is welcome, but the issue at the core of the presidential reference should have been worked out in another arena.

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