As India votes patiently over 39 days and seven phases and the noise of campaigning begins to lessen, a deafened electorate may have hoped for transient peace. But the country has again erupted in debate over the harassment charge against the Chief Justice of India. It was the Supreme Court that had given the country the Vishakha guidelines on the basis of which the law against sexual harassment in the workplace was based. No institution can know better how a complaint of workplace harassment must be presented and processed. The Supreme Court is also the fountainhead of justice. Hence there should be no doubt in people’s minds that the complaint will be addressed as would be necessary and correct.
But public life in India has become so riddled with controversy, confusion and the fear of conspiracies over the last five years that nothing appears straightforward. The cause behind this is the perceptible weakening of national institutions that are supposed to be autonomous. Their job is to guard the country against injustice and corruption, and their independence is fundamental to their functioning at all levels of society. But this goes against the vision of full control — inimical to the idea of democracy — that seems to be the driving force of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government under Narendra Modi. Undermining such institutions by a combination of tricky technicalities, plain defiance and simple bullying is the BJP-led government’s chosen strategy. The Central Bureau of Investigation, often accused of complying with the wishes of whoever is in power, may not be the best example of this. But the mildness of the Election Commission whenever Mr Modi is concerned, or the raids on Opposition politicians by financial investigative agencies, the strange lethargy of the police in finding the murderers of rationalists and scholars contrasted with their alacrity in arresting and jailing writers, teachers, lawyers and journalists for being ‘anti-national’ bear frightening evidence of what is going on. One of the worst examples of this kind of corrupting is the BJP’s shameless politicization of the defence forces that are famous for their integrity, neutrality and secularism. In this atmosphere, the complaint against the CJI and its timing have caused more confusion. Funnily enough, Arun Jaitley has piously expressed support for the CJI and the judiciary, accusing the Left, ultra-Left and the Congress as ‘institutional destabilizers’. That is quite a revealing interpretation.