Why practise? We feel hopeless: Sibal
The Congress could not resist giving vent to its frustration and hopelessness after Rajasthan High Court ordered continuation of the status quo for now, which prevented the immediate disqualification of MLAs who are allegedly being induced to desert the party the people voted to power.
The high court on Friday directed maintaining the status quo on the disqualification notice issued by the Assembly Speaker to 19 dissident Congress MLAs, including Sachin Pilot.
The Speaker issued the notice to the MLAs on July 14 after the ruling Congress complained to him that the MLAs had defied a notice to attend two legislature party meetings last week. “Counsel for the parties shall be at liberty to file an application for early hearing of the writ petition. Till then, the status quo, as exists today viz-a-viz impugned notices dated 14.07.2020, shall be maintained,” the order said.
While chief minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot has been pointing to the perils of defections induced through allurements, the central party leadership on Friday reflected on the larger threat to democracy if institutions failed to act independently.
Addressing a news conference in Delhi, Congress veteran and lawyer Kapil Sibal said: “The judgment of a constitution bench is not followed by the High Court. Rajasthan High Court orders status quo when there is a judgment of the Supreme Court saying the disqualification petition will be decided by the Speaker and that process can’t be interfered with. The courts are trying to tie the hands of constitutional authorities.”
Sibal expressed his frustration, saying: “Why practise in a court of law? Forget it. We should take off our robes. If the high court has to pass such orders, why argue in courts? If all institutions have to follow what the ruler wants instead of protecting the rule of law, that is not democracy. People were convinced that the judiciary will play an independent role in protecting the rule of law. Don’t want to be critical but we feel hopeless. No need to argue in courts.”
Asked to elaborate on this point, the top lawyer said: “Talk to any lawyer, you will see despondency. We are seeing a new definition of democracy. We see machinations of the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, income tax…. How many political activists are in jail? People of eminence – doctors, writers, artistes, students -– are in jail on sedition charges. What happened in Kashmir, in Bhima Koregaon cases? Why have the charade of democracy? People should wake up….”
The churning in the Congress on these lines was also reflected in a tweet from another party veteran, P. Chidambaram, about academics and activists being held in custody.
“Sudha Bharadwaj suffers from diabetes, high BP, arthritis and ischaemia. Poet Varavara Rao has coronary heart disease and hypertension. Shoma Sen is afflicted with osteoarthritis, glaucoma and high BP. A legal system that keeps them in jail indefinitely on questionable charges of aiding the Maoists is a dysfunctional system. A legal system that denies them bail, having regard to their age and ailments, is turning the law on its head. Who remembers Justice Krishna Iyer’s dictum?” Chidambaram said.
Justice Iyer, known for making bail conditions humane, had famously said: “Bail is the rule and jail is the exception.”
The Congress articulation points to the larger dismay over the functioning of the judiciary and the central government.
Party communications chief Randeep Surjewala said in a series of tweets: “The BJP has turned Constitution into a circus. Democracy is being treated like Draupadi and people’s mandate like a slave.”
He said democracy was being openly disrobed, using the Mahabharat analogy.
Surjewala added: “The BJP was in a hurry for floor test in Madhya Pradesh because MLAs were in their control. In Rajasthan, they don’t want a floor test because there aren’t enough MLAs to pull down the government.”
Sibal pointed to the distortion of the democratic scheme and the people’s mandate from Arunachal Pradesh to Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, and said: “We are seeing a new definition of democracy.”
He added: “Governors are bound to act on the advice of the council of ministers. There was a cabinet decision and the chief minister conveyed to the Rajasthan governor (Kalraj Mishra, a BJP veteran before he moved to the Raj Bhavan) last night that an Assembly session be called from Monday. What will happen to democracy in this way? There will always be some MLAs unhappy and they will be lured away using money power. The party is not allowed to meet, to communicate with the MLAs. And the government is pulled down.”