Sunday, 25 December 2016

 Modi Government Subverting Institutions, Undermining Constitutional Norms
In two and a half years the Modi Government has already packed Universities, educational and cultural institutions with hand-picked RSS men, overriding considerations of institutional autonomy and transparency. Now, constitutional norms are being eroded by the Government in appointments to the armed forces and judiciary.
No doubt, in any democracy, the armed forces must be subordinate to the elected Government. But it is also unhealthy for the Government to resort to political interference in the functioning of the armed forces. In superseding three senior officers to appoint Lt General Bipin Rawat as the new Army chief, the Government is undermining the internal autonomy of the armed forces.
It has been the norm for the senior-most officer to be appointed as Army chief, but this time the Government superseded the top three senior-most officers - Lt General Praveen Bakshi, Lt General PM Hariz and Lt General BS Negi – to appoint Lt General Bipin Rawat instead. The Government's claims of 'merit' and 'experience' being the consideration for the appointment notwithstanding, the appointment has been met with criticism by many retired and standing officers of the Army.
It is cause for concern when transparent criteria for appointments in sensitive posts like the Chief of Army are overridden and the processes guiding such decisions are opaque and arbitrary. It is widely held that the decision to appoint Lt General Rawat was driven largely by the the choices of the Prime Minister and his National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Lt General Bipin Rawat, like Ajit Doval, hails from the Pauri Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, as does the newly appointed RAW chief Anil Dhasmana. Doval has already been criticised for undermining the Army in his attempts to control the Pathankot operation. Doval's role at the time had resulted in the embarrassing situation of several avoidable casualties of NSG commandos after the Prime Minister as well as the Home Minister and Defence Minister prematurely announced the successful completion of the operation. Doval is also widely regarded to exercise disproportionate and extra-parliamentary influence on foreign policy decisions of the Modi Government – leading to several unfortunate consequences such as the eroding of Indo-Nepal friendship.    
Over-centralisation, concentration of decision-making in the hands of a select and opaque clique instead of elected and accountable people's representatives, and undermining of the internal autonomy of military and other institutions compromise the country's security as well as the health of a democracy. It is notable that the only previous Prime Minister to have overruled seniority in appointing an Army Chief was Indira Gandhi – remembered also for the infamous imposition of Emergency.
The Modi Government is also locked in a battle with the judiciary as it attempts to exert undue control over the process of judicial appointments. The Government set up the National Judicial Appointments Commission to replace the existing system of collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary – but this Commission was set aside by a Supreme Court judgement. According to prevailing norms, the Government can return a proposed candidate's name to the collegium for reconsideration once, but the collegium's final decision will hold primacy over the Government's opinion. Moreover the Government cannot delay the process indefinitely since judicial appointments are required to be made on a time-bound schedule. The Modi Government has, according to Chief Justice of India, sat on the collegium's recommendations of appointments to the high court for nearly a year and returned 43 judges' names to the collegium for reconsideration.
It is of grave concern that in an interview to a national daily, the Minister of State for Law and Justice PP Choudhary claimed that the Government had a right to decline the appointment of a judge "if the government finds that an appointment goes against national security," and that the Supreme Court should not question such an opinion expressed by a government. Is the Minister suggesting that no less than 43 judges approved by the Supreme Court collegium pose a threat to national security? After environmental and student activists and ordinary citizens, is the Government now branding judges too as unpatriotic? Will judges who pass arbitrary diktats ordering the arrest of citizens who do not stand up for the national anthem in cinema halls be approved as 'patriotic' while those who defend the constitutional liberties of citizens be rejected as 'unpatriotic'? This Government has time and again cloaked its political prejudices in the guise of 'national security' to victimise dissenters. Now it wants to use the pretext of 'national security' to politically influence judicial appointments, undermine judicial autonomy and create a pliant judiciary.   
The Modi Government has also been dragging its feet on appointing the Lokpal, thereby crippling the anti-corruption body. Various institutions and processes including the RBI, Parliament and possibly even the Cabinet were trampled to take the demonetisation decision. 
The Government's encroaching on the autonomy and decision-making mechanisms of various robust institutions to concentrate powers in the hands of the Prime Minister and a handful of his favourites is yet another symptom of the undeclared Emergency that is being imposed by the Modi Government on India. 
ML Update
A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol.19 | No. 52 | 20-26 December 2016

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