Last week’s editorial in this paper, ‘Grave issues of governance,’ drew attention to the rollback by government of provisions of the law and regulations that it had itself promulgated after due process either in the National Assembly or through established administrative procedures.
Examples cited were recent provisions in the Medical Council Act, with anxiety about ‘the half-hearted manner in which the government is going about implementing the amendments that it has itself made,’ which would weaken ‘the Medical Council as a body and dilute(s) its role, the consequence of which will be felt down the line by the patients.’
Allusion was also made to ‘the similar rollback on the gilet issue, as well as the earlier, public defiance of a Supreme Court provision by protesting hawkers in a manifestation where politicians were present.’ The major concern expressed was that ‘It is not difficult to contemplate that by going the way of creating exceptions or by systematically rolling back decisions that it had itself taken … government would only be creating the conditions that would allow all manner of private interests and/or sectional lobbies to keep pressing for outcomes that best suit their interests.’ And further, a more serious consequence might well be that ‘In the long run it’s development at the national level that will be stifled.’
It is true that we are far from being the umbilicus of the world, being so tiny are we in geographical size and population numbers that although we have an equal voice in the forum of nations at the UN level, in actual practice it does not amount to much. Certainly far from the influence that the island state which we always want to emulate, Singapore, yields. We may thump our chest about our Mo Ibrahim Index rating regionally, but we also must reckon with the fact that in this globalised world we are inevitably dependent on the developed countries for our survival. Investor confidence counts a lot on the rule of law in any given country, and although we have a solid record on several institutional fronts reckoned by international bodies to be fundamental to good governance, we are bound to be harmed if we weaken any of these pillars by sending the wrong signal, which rollbacks such those referred to above do.
Matters are definitely compounded when lawmakers, namely members of the National Assembly, join in with protesters defying the law because of vote bank politics.
As both at political and media levels we tend to regularly cite precedents in Indian law, such as the Indian Supreme Court’s decisions, it is instructive to consider what has been happening there recently. The leader of the recently voted Aam Admi Party, AAP, Arvind Kejriwal who is also the Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Delhi decided to go on a strike outside the office block of the Home Minister. They were demanding the suspension of senior police officers who had had a confrontation a few days earlier with the Law Minister, an AAP member, in a nocturnal descent by the Minister in a locality of new Delhi.
This was an unprecedented and unconventional move by the Chief Minister, who was signing files in a makeshift ‘office’ on the streets, with thousands of supporters – the common people or aam admi being noisily present. Nearly 4000 policemen had to be mobilized to try and maintain law and order. Inevitably there were scuffles and clashes involving supporters, the police, even the Ministers of the AAP in power as well as journalists – and this was taking place but a few days ahead of the Republic Day parade that was due, a major event in the country’s national calendar when the whole world watches and several foreign dignitaries are invited. Naturally the central government was nervous about the impact and uncertain outcome.
Eventually the strike or dharna as it is known in India was called off, with AAP conceding on the transfer of a junior officer: hardly a victory according to seasoned observers. They had previously commented on the enormous disturbance that the dharna had caused to commuters, because four metro stations had been shut down in the area.
Subsequently, applications have been made by certain groups to the Supreme Court under the PIL (Public Interest Litigation) laws, seeking sanctions against the Chief Minister and the Law Minister, and they have been notified to make their submissions by a certain date shortly. There is also public clamour for the Law minister to step down.
The AAP had had a walkover success in the polls, unexpected, unprecedented and given high hopes for a new brand of politics in India. Sadly, the huge goodwill and capital that it had earned in such a short time, which extended to its leader Arvind Kejriwal too, is now on shifting sands following the dharna, as revealed by snap polls that were conducted a coupe of days ago. Many are the Indian patriots, who had earlier ploughed full steam for AAP, who have been disappointed and have become critical of its unlawful methods. Further, the AAP’s aspirations to become a national party are now seriously jeopardized.
This turn of events represents a lesson which we may usefully learn from. India is a continent by itself, and much better geared to absorb major shocks as it has done for millennia. We do not have that resilience, and well may our ‘body politic’ remember it before they do further harm to the polity. Is it time to contemplate PIL in Mauritius?
* Published in print edition on 30 January 2014