At a time when the opposition political parties are grossly failing from fulfilling their democratic responsibilities, the judiciary is continually shying away from its bounden duty of protecting the freedom of individuals and the constitutional values, and a large segment of people are drugged with a religion and politics mixed ideology, the bold stand of Prashant Bhushan gives hope to Indians. Indeed he is lighting a lamp in the midst of darkness.
The socio- political and economic scenario in the country is really worrying. India continues to be the country that has the highest number of Covid 19 infections in a day. But the Prime Minister who promised to defeat the virus within 21 days seems to be clueless and often silent on the issue. Millions of Indians lost their jobs and are struggling for their livelihood and the government has no credible plan to create jobs except sermonizing about the atmanirbhar Bharat. At this crucial juncture the priority of the ruling party seems to be toppling opposition ruled State governments and communally polarizing the people of India. While most of the worship centres are either closed or poorly attended by the devotees, why is the government in a hurry to build a new worship centre? It seems that the priorities of the Union government seem to be in reverse gear.
In spite of a series of failures from the part of the PM Modi and his government his popularity remains the same. Well known journalist Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his article in The Indian Express on 26th August has briefly analysed the politics in India. He says what India is witnessing today is “politics of Vishwas” in the place of politics of accountability. It is the belief in a highly centralized charismatic leader who promotes Hindu nationalism. The characteristics of the ‘politics of Vishwas’, according to PB Mehta, are ‘immunity to accountability’, ‘continual feeding of ethno-nationalism, moving from one issue or one enemy to the other’ and control of media. “You can preside over poor economic performance, suffer a military setback, inflict suffering through failed schemes like demonetisation, and yet the trust does not decline”, writes P B Mehta.
The ineffective and confused opposition parties remain helpless in the face of the ‘politics of Vishwas’. In a democracy the opposition parties have to keep the ruling party on its toes by pointing out the failures and wrong policies of the government. In the present context of India the opposition parties, including the Congress, have failed the people. They have become def and dump. The leaders of the regional parties seem to be either frightened of being haunted by the investigation agencies for corruption cases or being bought with the promises of crumbs of power. The Congress party refuses to get out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The push to take the party out of the moribund condition by 23 prominent leaders appears to be thwarted by the supporters of the high command. The Congress party has been headless for more than a year. During this period the party lost its government in Madhya Pradesh and its government in Rajasthan was on the brink of collapse. Many workers and leaders have left the party, as they do not find light at the end of the tunnel. Because of its refusal to reinvent itself the Congress party appears to be willingly collaborating with the BJP and P M Modi who is determined to make a Congress mukth Bharat. The Congress party is doing a great injustice to the people of India because of its indecision and lethargy.
Against this near hopeless situation Prashant Bhushan’s courageous stand symbolizes hope. He has refused to apologize for his tweets criticizing the omissions and commissions of the judges of the Apex court. "Retracting the statement or offering insincere apology would amount to contempt of my conscience," Prashant Bhushan said on 24th August to the three-judge bench hearing the case. The power of the soul is reflected in this daring statement when many politicians and bureaucrats in our country are ready to sell their souls either because of fear or because of lust for power and money. Prashant Bhushan has proved to be a person who does not compromise on principles and the core constitutional values. He had already told the Highest Court of India on 20th August that he would not apologize for the two tweets on Chief Justice S A Bobde and the Supreme Court that the apex court found offensive. “I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity. I am here, therefore, to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can be lawfully inflicted upon me for what the Court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen, had told the court.”
The boldness and determination of the Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi is reflected in the statement of Prashant Bhusan. Only a person of integrity and courage can say that he is ready to undergo punishment. Eminent persons belonging to the legal fraternity, retired justices, renowned social activists and prominent retired civil servants have expressed solidarity with Prashant Bhushan and held that contempt proceedings are wrong. Even the Attorney General K K Venugopal requested the bench not to punish Bhushan. The Supreme Court finds itself in a tricky situation. Since the court has already held Bhushan guilty, it cannot go back on its verdict, as it would only reinforce the impression that the court was ‘going after’ the lawyer for raising relevant but uncomfortable questions about the judiciary. If the SC punishes Bhushan, it would enormously increase the public support to him.
Many intellectuals and activists have rallied around Prashant Bhushan in favour of safeguarding the freedom of the individuals and the constitution of India. Public support to Bhushan can force the Apex Court to rethink its go-slow approach towards many crucial cases related to the constitution and freedom of the citizens pending in the Supreme Court. For example India continued to lead with the largest number of internet shutdowns globally as authorities resorted to blanket shutdowns either to prevent social unrest or to respond to an ongoing law and order problem. According to the Software Freedom Law Centre, by November 2019, there were 85 shutdowns, out of which 55 were in Jammu and Kashmir.
Gautam Bhattia in an article, ‘The Troubling Legacy of Justice Ranjan Gogoi’ in The Wire has described the shift that has taken place in the functioning of the Supreme Court during the tenure of ex-Chief Justice Gogoi. He “oversaw a drift from a Rights Court to an Executive Court”. In other words the SC which is expected to be committed to the protection of individual rights began to speak the language of the executive. Prashant Bhushan seems to have reminded the Supreme Court through his tweets about the continuing drift from “a Rights Court to an Executive Court”.
As the opposition political parties continue to fail the people of India by their silence and inactions and the judiciary continues a go-slow process regarding crucial cases of violation of individual freedoms, time has come for the civil society and people’s organizations to take up the role of the opposition to question the actions of the Executive that violate the fundamental rights of the citizens. The prophetic stand of Prashant Bhushan can infuse courage and confidence in individuals and organizations that are committed to safeguard individual freedoms and the constitution of India, and instil hope in them.
(Published on 31st August 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 36)