MedPoint, Privy Council and the Kumbh Mela

Tit-bits

We should not perhaps read too much in the coincidence of dates of the Privy Council hearing, 15th of January, with Makar Sankranti and the start of the colossal Kumbh Mela celebrations in India… All to say how much it is an auspicious time to devote to the spiritual dimensions within us, to keep away from the vulgar and the mundane

By S. Callikan

“No better illustration of that nexus and the variable geometry it could entail, was given by the figure of the Director General of the Independent Commission against Corruption just behind the QC benches. The anomaly not so much by his presence as the figure-head representative of an institution that investigated the case and brought about the accusation lodged by the DPP, as by ICAC’s newer stand in favour of the accused, all at our costs and expenses. Can anyone even remotely imagine a final court of appeal based elsewhere than at the Privy Council?”


The Privy Council court No 3 was full this Tuesday to hear the Appeal of the State (DPP) against the Supreme Court decision to reverse the Intermediate Court’s conflict of interest judgment in the high-profile case of Pravind Kumar Jugnauth. And many in political circles, lay and legal minds here will have followed the live presentations by QC Perry for the State and those of QC Claire Montgomery appearing on behalf of the defendant, who today, occupies the post of PM of the country. We cannot dwell on the merits, nor on the political vagaries that have led to this state of affairs, nor on the nuances of legal interpretations of what is at issue, conflict of interest, and still less on likely outcomes on the basis of body language or occasional questions and clarifications sought by the Law Lords from Counsel of either party.

But we cannot do otherwise than note a few simpler points irrespective of the future verdict in this particular case. The legal arguments and counter-arguments have been around since the case was first heard and nothing much new was added. But the Law Lords, not being called upon to do a re-trial, have to thrash out the legal nuances and the implications associated with the two conflicting judgments both in the light of legislators’ intent in bringing about the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 and also, we believe, in the light of the best international jurisprudence on such matters as tackling corruption, conflicts of interest and more generally governance and transparency in public policy formulation and general decision-making. And as such, the telecast proceedings were for law juniors and some of their seniors, as for us laymen, a lesson in calm and factual legal presentations by experienced QCs with perhaps a broader perspective and unfettered by the local context.

And most of us should shy away from immature and unsophisticated opinions that would have us deprive ourselves of the authoritative, independent and widely respected Privy Council as ultimate appeal on inappropriately-purloined nationalistic grounds. They are not incompatible and, if anything, that possibility of recourse, admittedly not cheap, remains for most of us an essential component of our democratic processes. Needless to say that the exiguity of our socio-political space, the regularity of our political dalliances and the inevitable social linkages, add a further dimension to the distant Law Lords acting as lodestar and providing a much-needed guarantee of the resilience of and the confidence in our judiciary.

No better illustration of that nexus and the variable geometry it could entail, was given by the figure of the Director General of the Independent Commission against Corruption just behind the QC benches. The anomaly not so much by his presence as the figure-head representative of an institution that investigated the case and brought about the accusation lodged by the DPP, as by ICAC’s newer stand in favour of the accused, all at our costs and expenses. Can anyone even remotely imagine a final court of appeal based elsewhere than at the Privy Council?

* * *

“We should not perhaps read too much in the coincidence of dates of the hearing, 15th of January, with Makar Sankranti and the start of the colossal Kumbh Mela celebrations in India, which last up to the Maha Shivratri, so austere and introspective in the subcontinent, so popular and joyous on our local shores. The fasting and prayers of Thaipoosam Cavadee have already started and will end on the 21st. All to say how much it is an auspicious time to devote to the spiritual dimensions within us, to keep away from the vulgar and the mundane and to avoid the petty soap-box discourses which, unfortunately, some will insist on inflicting on us, with the complicity of media and local fanfare organisers…”


That being said and, on a lighter note, we should not perhaps read too much in the coincidence of dates of the hearing, 15th of January, with Makar Sankranti and the start of the colossal Kumbh Mela celebrations in India, which last up to the Maha Shivratri, so austere and introspective in the subcontinent, so popular and joyous on our local shores. The fasting and prayers of Thaipoosam Cavadee have already started and will end on the 21st. All to say how much it is an auspicious time to devote to the spiritual dimensions within us, to keep away from the vulgar and the mundane and to avoid the petty soap-box discourses which, unfortunately, some will insist on inflicting on us, with the complicity of media and local fanfare organisers.

To be fair, in a sub-continent battered by its own complexities and by invaders or colonial masters who exploited these over several centuries, the planetary and spiritual commonalities of Hinduism were harnessed in different powerful ways in the unitary battles to fight the afghan or turco-mongolian invaders and expunge the Brits out of India. Most notably, in the repressed revolt of the sepoys, in the mass Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Maharasthra against Brit curfew, in the superbly evocative bengali-origin Vande mataram song that was banned, in the Salt March of Gandhiji and, ultimately, in the no less powerful demonstration of Hindu unity at the Kumbh Mela that, today, conjoins all threads of Hinduism in a 120-150 million strong spiritual gathering.

But those were bold and over-arching battles against formidable forces in a culture and civilisation that has survived and thrived by squaring the material within the compass of metaphysics. On our more mundane levels, let us meditate simply on the necessity to rid ourselves of our sins and our own mortal enemies, with the faint hope that this year we might be spared the temptation of shallow narratives during these auspicious weeks.


* Published in print edition on 18 January 2019

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