Monday, October 01, 2007

Judicial activism vis-a-vis executive audacity

I have tried to resist writing related to politics, which is my favourite domain, for long -- but after this one incident of judicial overreach or executive arrogance,whatever you may call it, I couldn't help.


M.Karunanidhi (MK)(Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) had passionately been vouching for the Sethusamudram project, which involves constructing a canal across the Sethu bridge between India and Sri Lanka, to reduce shipping time between the two countries and improve trade. The project had been approved by the Centre during June 2005, and it's implementation started henceforth.

However this project involved dredging right across what is known as the Adam's Bridge(a.k.a Ram Sethu). This 'bridge' is believed to have been built by Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, to cross over to Lanka to rescue his wife.

Quite expectedly, petitions were filed in the Supreme Court pleading a stay/cancellation of the Sethu project. Having granted an interim stay,the SC sought the Centre's response on the issue.

ASI's foolishness

The Archeological Survey of India(ASI) filed an affidavit in response to the SC's query. The affidavit said that the Ram Sethu was a natural formation and not a man-made structure.

It could have well stopped at that. The ASI tried to act smart, exceeding it's brief and claiming that there was no proof to support Ram's existence. The Centre was embarrassed, and fearing a backlash from communalists, suspended a couple of ASI officials and filed a modified affidavit a couple of days later.

MK miffed

MK, a known atheist, was miffed at this. It prompted him to take refuge under his famed anti-Hindu stand. He commented that a mythical character couldn't be used to hinder development. Further, he called for a bandh in Tamil Nadu, to press for the speedy implementation of the project. The game had begun.(MK - 1, SC - 0).

Quite expectedly, JJ, MK's main opposition, seized on this opportunity and filed a petition in the SC against the bandh. The SC came down heavily on MK and ordered the TN govt not to hold a bandh, stating that 'public right is superior to the right of political parties'(MK - 1, SC -1).

MK cleverly changed tack promptly and changed his 'bandh' call to that of a 'hunger strike'. After all, extensive preparations had been done for the bandh to become a success, and he couldn't possibly dissappoint his party workers. And of course, we all know that a 'hunger strike' is just a euphemism for a bandh, atleast in TN.(MK - 2, SC - 1)

Judicial activism

JJ immediately went to court and lamented. Unfortunately for MK, judges aren't fools. They saw straight through MK's ploy. The SC, though, was unusually harsh in it's observation. It pointed out that the constitutional machinery had broken down in the state, and that the Centre should consider the dismissal of the TN govt. (MK - 2, SC - 2)

It's clearly a correct, but impractical observation, especially given the fact that MK is a strong ally of the UPA. The UPA wouldn't even dream of upsetting the old man and losing his support, given the never-ending headache it already has, with the Left. The SC did well to draw the line with an observation. Had it given a direction in this regard, the Centre wouldn't have budged, and the SC would've risked losing it's respect.

MK blinks, scuttles for cover

However, the stinging observation seemed to have had the desired effect. MK immediately left the venue (after about 3 hrs of 'hunger strike') and later in the day, went to office and then home. DMK leaders said that he had to meet a doctor.(Yeah.. He would've gotten butterflies in his stomach :-) ). But he still insists that he had not violated any SC order and that shops had closed on their own and bus drivers had, on their own accord, taken leave(yeah.. as if we would believe that..). With scores level, it still remains to be seen as to what would gain the upper hand.. executive arrogance or judicial activism..