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Home > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

The joke is always on the public

April 25, 2007

Kerala Local Administration Minister Paloli Mohammed Kutty's official Web site lists writing and presenting 'political satires' among his achievements. Well, that should have equipped him to appreciate the rich irony of having the Congress bay for his blood on the grounds of morality and disrespect to the judiciary. (The Congress is being seconded by the BJP, but that party hardly counts for much in Kerala.)

For the benefit of those readers who might have missed all the furore, the tale began when the minister went off to attend a Calicut University employees' union back in January. I have no idea how his speech veered off on such a tangent, but Paloli Mohammed Kutty said some utterly idiotic thing about the courts.

The judiciary certainly commands greater respect from Indians than the political class. That reverence stems in part from the fact that judges as a rule are deemed untainted by corruption. The minister had no business throwing out an insult at the judicial branch as a whole.

The remark was predictably picked up by the press. A division bench of the Kerala high court then initiated, suo motu, a contempt of court case against the minister. The minister tendered an apology through his lawyer. The Bench, Acting Chief Justice K Radhakrishnan and Justice M N Krishnan, has adjourned the case until May 30.

Now, this is where Congressmen, and their United Democratic Front partners, entered the picture. They have threatened to undertake a satyagraha if the local administration minister is not dismissed forthwith. This, the party says virtuously, is to uphold the dignity of the judicial wing.

Dare I say that the idiocy of Paloli Mohammed Kutty's original statement is well matched by the rich hypocrisy of the Congress? This is the same party that once called for a 'committed' judiciary, meaning one that would not embarrass the dictatorial Indira Gandhi. More recently, the prime minister has asked the judiciary not to overstep its limits, meaning not to overturn populist decisions. And it is the representatives of this party that now want to bring Kerala to a standstill for two days because a CPI-M minister has besmirched the judiciary!

Why, dear Congressmen, are you in such a hurry? The Kerala high court has already announced that the case will be heard on May 30. If their Lordships can wait, why are you in such a hurry?

There is an interesting parallel in Delhi. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi had begun sealing illegal establishments at the orders of the Supreme Court. Harcharan Singh Balli, a BJP member in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha, chose to court publicity by breaking open the locks in the full glare of media cameras. This was contempt of court -- a fact admitted by the legislator himself, who pleaded that he was forced to do so in the public interest!

This ridiculous explanation was not acceptable to the Supreme Court, and H S Balli was given a three month sentence. However, their Lordships were keen to ensure that his constituents must not go unrepresented. Tempering justice with mercy (and a sense of humour!) Harcharan Singh Balli has been given leave to attend the Delhi assembly on the condition that he return to jail at the end of proceedings.

Given this precedent, it is reasonable to assume that the Kerala high court too shall deal appropriately in the case of Paloli Mohammed Kutty. (This too, please remember, is an instance of contempt of court.) What business does the Congress have to disrupt life over an issue between an individual and the judiciary, especially given that their Lordships propose to deal with the matter at the due time?

Incidentally, Paloli Mohammed Kutty's ill-chosen words on how cases are allegedly decided remind me of a famous incident from about a decade-and-a-half ago. At that time, a European journal accused then Union telecommunications minister Sukh Ram of making decisions not case by case basis but 'briefcase by briefcase'. (I assume this was before the Harshad Mehta scandal, or the writer might well have said 'suitcase by suitcase'!)

In any event, Sukh Ram chose to sue the publication in Britain, and he was awarded a handsome sum on winning. A little later, the Central Bureau of Investigation raided his house, unearthing, if I remember correctly, a little over three crore rupees! Sukh Ram was kicked out of the Congress. He then founded his own party, the Himachal Vikas Congress.

So why do I bring this up rather than any other tale about the Congress? Because in 1999, the same BJP that had howled for Sukh Ram's head, cheerfully joined hands with the Himachal Vikas Mandal. What is more, the alliance did well -- thus underlining my belief that voters don't really consider corruption a factor. (Not a very big one anyway!)

Sukh Ram is now back in the Congress, having merged the Himachal Vikas Mandal with his old outfit in 2004. What the episode brings about is the utter lack of credibility when either the Congress or the BJP tries to mount the moral platform.

A political satire in the same vein that Paloli Mohammed Kutty might have produced in old days? I don't know but one thing is for sure -- when any of these groups, Congress, BJP, or the Left begins to talk of 'morality' you can be sure the ultimate joke will be on us, the befuddled Indian public.

T V R Shenoy