In his inaugural address at the Fourth Judges’ Retreat (2016 )in Bhopal the other day , our President Pranab Mukherjee did well to stress a few essentials of the political system the great founders of modern India created for the multi-faceted development of the Indian Republic  . President Mukherjee aptly described our Constitution as a “Magna Carta of socio-economic transformation. ”  

The President observed , “Judicial activism should not lead to the dilution of separation of powers. The balance of power between the three organs of the State is enshrined in our Constitution. The Constitution is supreme. Each organ of our democracy must function within its own sphere and must not take over what is assigned to the others…. The equilibrium in the exercise of authority must be maintained at all times. The exercise of powers by the legislature and executive is subject to judicial review.”

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I wish Mukherjee had elaborated the point of judicial review and suggested what the judiciary should do if finer elements within the political executive and the legislature were sidelined by such forces as would manipulate our system to promote not the socio-economic transformation of the nation but that of the political class, ruling and waiting- in- wings, and its allies alone .

There is a near consensus across the non-partisan public spectrum in India today that this is precisely what has happened within our system . Manipulated by communal, casteist, capitalist and feudal forces , the successive political leaderships  –both at the Centre and in States--have by and large been too obsessed with their own material benefits to think of the nation . The approach of our  political class ( legislators and political executives in general ) in life can be discerned best in the kind of salaries and allowances they have occasionally arranged to draw from our public exchequer even when the masses , the real sovereign in a democracy, continue to suffer from poverty, illiteracy, and ill-health. 

The consensus goes that our political leaderships have so far done little to foster national multi-faceted development. The leaderships have not adopted or implemented such policies and programmes as would lead to our people’s real socio-economic-political empowerment . Their overall inclination has been just to promise or give certain social segments some temporary material gains from time to time, win their support in electoral politics , capture power and then enjoy an elitist life-style at the cost of the masses .  

History bears out almost all political parties that form government normally do everything within their jurisdiction to manipulate the system so as to perpetuate their rule . They have had little respect for our constitutional principle of separation of powers . In an interview  the other day, former Minister Arun Shourie said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s is  "a presidential government without checks and balances." He warned over the next three years there might be "a more systematic attempt to curb civil liberties" and an increase in "decentralized intimidation" besides "choking" of "inconvenient voices". I am afraid the Shourie observation has been true more or less of all post-Shastri  dispensations, including the one of Prime Minister A B Vajapayee, of which Shourie himself was said to be a very influential member.

Needless to add, we all know how the successive governments at the Centre have used their powers to increase their influence in our provinces at the cost of our federal structure. The approach of the current government at the Centre does not seem to be different at all . Recently, a Division Bench of the High Court of Uttarakhand  observed in course of  hearing a case on the imposition of President’s Rule in the province that the Centre was “introducing chaos” by intruding into the State’s affairs.  Then State Chief Justice K. M. Joseph told the Centre , “You are introducing chaos…. In two months you are taking back the power of a government which the people had voted to power.”  

Given the general behavioural pattern of our political class and allies , I often wonder  what all these new haves might have done if our judiciary had not been constitutionally vigilant in the recent years. We all have seen how our Court recently paid attention to our problems of drought and water crisis when our political class seemed to be looking away.    

I wish the members of our political class to take to self-introspection and perform their fundamental function of fostering citizens’ development first. So long as that does not happen, I would  suggest our Court must guide and direct the political class  . The Court must see to it that our politicians function as trustees , not masters, in our democratic state .  We, the citizens of the Indian Republic,  must remain vigilant .  The public interest litigation mechanism has of late been very helpful in curing some of the aberrations in our system  . Why not make use of this wonderful instrument more meaningfully ?

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