Thursday, April 30, 2009

Did Supreme Court cross its lakshman rekha on elections?

Two unrelated cases before the Supreme Court have brought the Court under critical scrutiny recently, pointing to possible involvement in the ongoing electoral process. One is the symbol allotment for political parties by the Election Commission. As it was the first time four regional unrecognised parties sought common symbols for their candidates,(read the orders here and here) the E.C. was caught unawares, and groped for an answer. The case ought not to have reached the Supreme Court, and the E.C. unnecessarily subjected Article 329b of the Constitution to test. The result was that the Supreme Court snubbed the E.C. and directed it to allot common symbols as an interim measure to these parties. The inference, which I draw in this Business Line news analysis could have been avoided, if only the E.C. was pragmatic enough. How could a party like Praja Rajyam, contesting all the Lok Sabha and assembly seats for the first time in Andhra Pradesh, be allotted different free symbols for its candidates only because it is not recognised? If the result is that the Supreme Court had to violate its own lakshman rekha drawn in the Ponnuswami case in 1952 by exercising jurisdiction in election matters during the process of elections, the E.C. alone has to bear the blame, as the Court's non-intervention would have created an absurd situation for Praja Rajyam and for the electorate of Andhra Pradesh.

The other case before the Supreme Court, which led to the Court's direction to the Special Investigation Team to probe the complaint against the Gujarat Chief Minister has invited comment from several observers that it was ill-timed, and that as one columnist put it, it violated the spirit of Article 329(b). Another columnist found the timing of the judicial intervention mysterious. Both the views miss the point that the case was listed in the normal course before Court No.3 on April 27, and the Bench gave the direction too in the normal course, unmindful of the political implications. In fact, interpretations of implications suggest that if the BJP is likely to gain from the order in Gujarat, it is likely to lose elsewhere. Such interpretations are possible on almost every order of the Court, which has some bearing on politics. This is something that must be said in the Court's favour, that it did not consider the likely political fall-out in the ongoing elections. The nation must be grateful to the Court for giving the political class and the electorate an issue on a platter. After all, the widely prevalent grievance among many opinion makers, with which I disagree, is that this election lacks a central issue.
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