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Politicians think they are over and above the law

January 23, 2013 15:14 IST

Politics as practiced is bad enough, the Choutalas, the Owaisis and their ilk have made it worse, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

A plea for leniency in punishment by Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajaysingh Chautala as it would be difficult for them to face society -- as reported in a newspaper on Wednesday -- should be a matter of tremendous satisfaction to the Indian society long groaning under political malfeasance and deep and widespread corruption.

If that were an honest acknowledgement that people -- read here voters -- matter, and that corruption being proven and punishment received was a matter of shame, there is little but to rejoice. That is, if it were not a mere courtroom ploy to escape a personal loss of face. Loss of face is not exactly a mitigating circumstance.

However, they cited the voters as testimonials, in a manner of speaking. For, the senior Chautala’s lawyer also argued that since the convicted had been several times elected and was five times a chief minister, the court ought to realise that “if he had committed any wrong, the public would not have voted for him”.

That, at once, negates the first stand, provides evidence of only courtroom tactics on display, apart from being an absurd, untenable and a dangerous claim. It points out how, even in a crisis that has pushed a person to the lowest point in his public life, with the possibility of disqualification from elections for six years, a politician can be and is arrogant.

However, the first was music because somewhere, someone realised that after having been a powerful person, a jail term was a shaming experience and would reduce him in stature in the eyes of his constituents. The second was bad news. It has robbed, as it has elsewhere in a variety of ways, Indian politics of its even nominal elegance.

This “people are my judges” claim is a pernicious claim made in a court which, by inference, puts the politician, especially one who held a constitutional office, above law though no such exemption is actually available to them. That the Chautalas should ask for leniency on that presumption was bidding to anyhow escape punishment.

The arrogant claim underlines their belief that Caesar, because Chautala or any politician is a Caesar, can do no wrong. The fact of being elected was itself a cleanser, washing away the past since if any, and insuring a prospective clean chit as if it was a people’s power of attorney to revel perpetually in venality and avoid punishment, as if it was an endorsement of good character.

If that were so, as they believe it is, the moot question is why courts have at all? If that were really so, why not amend the Constitution to secure immunity for lifetime for anyone who is elected even once to a law-making body, and save the country’s judicial system the precious time spent on anti-corruption cases involving politicians? And by the same logic, extend it to the conniving classes, including the bureaucracy?

It is precisely this conceit bolstered by their frequent elections for a variety of reasons which in turn has bred dynastic rules in most constituencies and many states, where profiteering from deliberate misrule and mischief are the objectives, which should get the goat of the citizens. That it is beginning to get traction is a fact as evidenced in the upsurge of protests by the common man.

The contempt toward the system which they use patently for self-gain and mock it by sabotaging its functioning was also manifest in the manner in which the thousands were brought to the CBI Special Court in New Delhi which tried, convicted and punished the Choutalas and their conspirators in the massive scam involving pay-offs for jobs as teachers.

They had gathered thousands there for a command performance because the politicians at the end of the tether -- unless it is loosened or lengthened by a superior court on appeal – found it imperative to make a song and dance about their immense popularity. It was also an apparently devise to badger the court into submission, an attempt to overawe it though my legal-eagle friends say it may not be so.

I for one would, however, would the court to take suo moto cognisance of shenanigans outside courts as being interference in the processes of administration of law and justice and pronounce appropriate, even exemplary, punishment. It cannot be that law is broken and then even the criminal justice system sought to be intimidated.

After all, this trend of causing riots when politicians are arrested and the ensuring violence as well loss of public and private property, dislocation of ordinary life, uncivilised and not becoming in a democracy. These protests do not come under the purview of any right to protest; it is an extreme, even unsocial conduct by politicians and their rabbles.

The post-arrest riots in any situation, as was seen in Hyderabad when the two Owaisi brothers, Akbaruddin and Asaduddin, is nothing but the refusal of the political class to subject themselves to the very law, the very Constitution they are sworn to uphold. The Indian National Lok Dal as added a new means to resisting the law and it ought not to be countenanced. Politics as practiced is bad enough, the Choutalas, the Owaisis and their ilk have made it worse.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator who takes the common man’s point of view seriously

Mahesh Vijapurkar