Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


The UPA government is drifting, unable to exert power or carry out the program it was elected to accomplish. The only thing keeping it going is that the alternatives are far worse.


When the UPA gained a majority in the last general election and was called upon to form a government, the Congress party had to induct several Ministers from its partners under the exigencies of the coalition system. Unfortunately, some of them, like A. Raja from the DMK, turned out to be corrupt and are currently in jail awaiting trial. Others, like Mamata Banerjee, had no interest in running a Central Ministry and she has returned to Kolkata after defeating the Left Front in the elections last April. Whether through corruption or inaction, the Ministries they left behind functioned in rudderless fashion, which made a shambles of the entire process of governance. This atmosphere now seems to have affected (rather, infected) the government as a whole, which appears to have lost all sense of direction.


On several important matters, the government is so lax that alternative centers of power continue to emerge and exert palpable influence. For example, the government’s inability to take bold action on corruption by political leaders and bureaucrats encouraged self-proclaimed ‘netas’ like Anna Hazare and scoundrels masquerading as ‘gurus’ like Baba Ramdev to galvanize the country as if they and not the government matter.


A more significant lapse on the part of the government has been its inaction in matters concerning India’s Adivasi population. Regardless of whether or not the demands of the Adivasis regarding deforestation and exploitation of natural resources such as coal and iron ore located in Adivasi-inhabited areas are just, the method used by the government to tackle these problems is clearly unjust.  One of the steps taken by the local governments of Jharkhand, and especially Chhattisgarh, both ruled by BJP, is the setting up of Salwa Judum, in which Congress was also complicit, and allowing the arming of Special Police Officers (SPO). Both are illegal and counter-terrorist groups and their very existence violates India’s own constitution and generally accepted laws of the land. The government has allowed the misconception to prevail that these are civilians defending the local population from the atrocities being committed by Maoists. Even if, as we believe, the Maoist groups are misguided in their approach, it is the responsibility of the existing government machinery to deal with Maoists. The government is not expected to create another Taliban-style terrorist group to deal with the Maoist problem by committing widespread atrocities against the public.


Ultimately it became the task of the Supreme Court of India to order the dismantling of these illegal outfits like Salwa Judum and the SPOs. The Supreme Court pointed to the deprivation of the adivasis and the expropriation of natural resources for the benefit of a few, to be the root causes of the Maoist insurgency in areas like Dantewada. The judgment also sternly reprimanded the state for taking a militarized approach to the problem and for victimizing the defenders of human rights. While the ruling by the Supreme Court delivered on July 5 is a welcome development, relying on courts to solve basic socio-economic and political problems is a clearly undesirable development.


After all, judges at all levels, including the apex Supreme Court, are expected to interpret and apply the law; as individuals they are not necessarily wiser than any other member of society nor are they necessarily without prejudices of their own. Sometimes they may deliver desirable judgments as in the case of the civil writ petition filed by the progressive social anthropologist Nandini Sunder against the state of Chhattisgarh. At other times they may instead go berserk as witnessed in the judgment of the Allahabad High Court on the Babri Masjid demolition case.


In India, civil society is being forced to increasingly depend on courts to set matters right. But democratic functioning cannot be left to the courts. It is the job of the elected government, but the UPA regime has been consistently falling down on the job for the last year.  Its only saving grace is that the only possible alternative, the BJP-led NDA, is far worse; while the left under the sway of the current feckless CPM leadership is continuing to fritter away its moral and political stature.

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