Blowing Hot and Cold
Tukoji R Pandit
The highest courts of the land have at different times made stringent observations in regard to hate speech. The Supreme Court has conveyed its unhappiness over continued procrastination by the government in appointing apex court judges recommended by the Collegium. The message has been direct and to the point: Hate speech is not acceptable in a secular country; delays in appointing judges recommended by the Collegium would invite ‘unpleasant’ action by the court.
The strong words used by the higher courts on a number of previous occasions did not prevent, as many would have expected, delivering of hate speeches, especially by certain ruling party members and supporters, and Sadhus at the so-called Dharma Sansad (religious gathering) in different parts of the country.
Amidst fervent religious cries, calls were given openly at these ‘religious gatherings’ for killing Muslims and Christians while the cheering audiences pledged to make India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The police did not hear or see anything that required filing of FIRs; if the police did react it was after a public outcry. But no progress was made in proceeding with the case.
Not very long ago, the courts had expressed their dismay at the manner in which certain sections of the media–the electronic media—conducted themselves, preaching hatred and intolerance with impunity in their shows. The courts were critical of the anchors running these shows. But that has not dampened their enthusiasm and the preaching of hate, misinformation and divisiveness has continued unabated.
Hate preachers and promoters of polarization of society on religious lines go about their business unchallenged as though they are doing a great service to the nation. But those who dare to speak against such acts are generally booked under harsh penal laws. Very often the victim is seen as the villain and the perpetrator and the one who causes the sufferings becomes bold enough to lay claims to top gear political career.
The saffron robbed ‘saints’ and other speakers at Dharma Sansads are able to peddle hatred and preach violence with remarkable audacity because they seem sure that no harm would come to them on the grounds of breaching criminal law provisions.
Displeasures expressed by the higher judiciary makes no difference; nothing is done to dissuade the speakers at the so-called religious gatherings from making objectionable and provocative speeches. If it decides, the higher judiciary can be tough in the face of government’s indifference. An early February Dharma Sansad at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar was followed by the apex court issuing a stern ‘warning’ to the government for dilly-dallying in the appointment of apex court judges despite Collegium recommendation. Within a day of this ‘warning’ the government approved the names of new judges for the Supreme Court.
The government’s sudden change of heart on the elevation to the Supreme Court was a bit surprising, given its obstinacy in giving approval to the recommendations of the Collegium in the appointment of judges. A union minister has been running what may be called an open campaign against the Collegium system itself and yet claiming that the government holds the judiciary in high esteem.
The government alleges that the Collegium headed by the Chief Justice and comprising senior most judges, and the process of recommendations for elevation to the post of judges is not ‘transparent’. But most people believe the real reason is that the government wants to control the entire process of Collegium recommendations and elevation to the higher courts. What it wants is a ‘committed judiciary’.
Late Indira Gandhi wanted a ‘committed judiciary’. Some of the senior judges of her time allegedly supported her government and her decisions. But it should not be forgotten that Indira Gandhi had to step down as prime minister following a high court judgment.
The Allahabad High Court judge who ruled against her election to the Lok Sabha on the grounds of certain technical breaches, enshrined his name in the annals of Indian judiciary.
The Collegium system may have flaws but it cannot be accused of being biased in the way a system controlled by the government would be. The government or the ruling party criticism of the judgments and comments made by the higher judiciary are almost always on orders that went against it. The intention is clear: the government wants to have a judiciary that invariably favours the ruling dispensation, regardless of the merit of the cases put up for judicial scrutiny.
The government’s aim, apparently, is to tame the judiciary, so that it falls in line like the other pillars of democracy—legislature, executive and the press###
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