The bullies' raj

Erosion of democracy



It is strange and worrying that so many people in India appear to believe that punishment should not fit the crime. Manu Sharma, now serving a life sentence in Tihar Jail for murdering Jessica Lall in 1999, was granted parole for a month in September and then for another month on the grounds that he needed to observe his grandmother’s death anniversary, visit his sick mother in Chandigarh and attend to the family business. He voluntarily returned to Tihar a few days ago after a hue and cry about his parole in the first place and his conduct while out of prison — such as pub crawling.

The modalities for granting parole are said to have been correctly observed under the law. The grounds however, do not appear to have been properly checked, as the death anniversary was antecedent and Sharma’s mother was not ill. The parole procedure followed in this case is now being probed. But even granting the reformative aspect of imprisonment, should parole for heinous crime be granted as easily as it is in India and should preference be given to people with wealth and connections while lesser breeds have none to speak for them?

A grandmother’s death anniversary and attending to the family business appear trivial grounds for parole. So perhaps are weddings. And if prisoners are ill, should they be permitted to choose their hospitals and enjoy what for many would appear to be a holiday under five-star medical care?

Now Madhu Koda, the former Jharkhand chief minister currently under investigation for fraud, has complained that he is being framed and will ‘reveal all’ at the right time. What could be a better time than now!

The Reddy brothers, who are allegedly part of the notorious Bellary iron ore mining mafia, have just succeeded in blackmailing Yeddyurappa, the Karnataka chief minister, into reshuffling his ministry and certain civil servants in order to avert a party split that might have cost him his majority. If the BJP succumbed to this pressure, the Congress and others have done so too.

Just as disgraceful was the hooliganism displayed by MNS MLAs in the newly-convened Maharashtra Assembly when they violently objected to a Samajwadi Party member Abu Azmi, taking his oath in Hindi. This, because their boss, Raj Thackeray had ordained that oaths must be taken only in Marathi as a matter of Marathi pride. There was pandemonium as Azmi was assaulted and furniture scattered. The Speaker suspended the four errant MNS members from the House for four years, a punishment that the MNS claims is too harsh as its members meant no disrespect to the House! The suspension should not be revoked or commuted, nor should the four errant MLAs be allowed to come to the Assembly, sign the attendance register and claim their salary or allowances.

This sort of misbehaviour is becoming endemic as it goes unpunished or is too lightly punished. The oath may be taken in any of the country’s 22 scheduled languages and Hindi is the national language. So Azmi’s action was perfectly in accordance with the constitution.

In the instant case, the malaise stems from the rabid threats that have emanated from Raj Thackeray, in the manner of his uncle, Bal Thackeray, about reserving jobs in the state for Maharashtrians and mandating that all ‘outsiders’ shall speak Marathi or face dire consequences. ‘Outsiders’ have contributed greatly to Mumbai and Maharashtra’s prosperity and do so even today. Raj Thackeray has been at this game of rabble rousing for quite some time and has warned that Mumbai will burn if he is touched. The government has sadly treated such open incitement and defiance with extraordinary pusillanimity.

Punish thugs

Maharashtra is not the only state that has been cowed down by thugs and bullies, which has only whetted their appetite for mischief and encouraged others to follow suit. This must end. Punishment must be swift and condign and if public property is destroyed the party must be made to pay, if necessary by selling off the personal property of the ring-leaders and other guilty elements. This will end impunity and immunity.

Finally, there was the sad case of agitating lawyers manhandling the Karnataka Chief Justice Dinakaran as he has been charged with accumulating wealth through improper means. It is for this reason that his name was not further processed after much protest when put up for promotion to the Supreme Court. Peaceful agitation is one thing. But creating disorder in the chief justice’s court room and manhandling him is an assault on the judicial process and constitutes unacceptable behaviour. The outrage committed has been widely condemned. But is that sufficient? What next?

All around us we see an erosion or outright collapse of civility and democratic conduct, sometimes by those who are extremely privileged or are supposedly the guardians of the system. The rot cannot be allowed to to spread, else it will destroy us all. One of the critical issues we face is perhaps too much law and too little justice.

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