Saturday, March 10, 2007

How Nice to be a Dictator

It must be nice to be an absolute ruler. You can do more or less what you want without worrying about niceties and things like being accountable. Just look at president Pervez Musharraf – he had an activist Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry who was handing out uncomfortable judgments, unpalatable to the government and one day the President got tired and said “ off with his head….” And soon enough, the learned Chief Justice was out of a job.

The President had before you could blink your eye lid decided that the Chief Justice of Pakistan had misused his authority after summary proceedings reminiscent of those followed in a Kangaroo Court, the man was gone. Speculation for Chaudhry's fall ranged from reports that he had misused his influence to secure official employment for his son, to recent court rulings that had challenged the government's authority. Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said Musharraf removed Chaudhry for "misuse of authority" but gave no further details.

The procedures to be followed in India to impeach (not “remove” or “sack”), any judge in even a High Court are so mind boggling that we haven’t succeeded in removing any so far. The Constitution of India has laid down how a judge of a high court or the Supreme Court can be removed. Its Article 124 (4) says: 'A judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from his office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two third of the members of the House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehavior or incapacity.'

In respect of the subordinate judiciary, Article 235 vests their control in the respective state high court. While a legal historian alone can tell us whether a subordinate judge has at all been removed from office in free India, one can't quite recall whether that fate has ever befallen a high court judge. And a Supreme Court judge certainly hasn't been axed in the 52-year-old constitutional history of our country. The nearest to that was during the Narasimha Rao's Congress regime when a motion for the impeachment of Justice V Ramaswami was brought in Parliament but could not be carried because the Congress abstained from voting.

While none of us would love to be governed by an authoritarian regime where there are no institutions of accountability and no checks and balances, it some times does look that democracy slows down things considerably and puts brakes on the speed at which reforms could be made and justice delivered. Even as I write, there is the case of M.K.Subba, the Congress MP from Tezpur, who is being accused of being actually a Nepali citizen. A senior leader of the Congress Party said that the AICC was not going to make any move immediately, as his case was pending in the Supreme Court. Let the Apex Court decide his fate, said the leader and as far as we know, cases can pond in the Supreme Court for ever.

Subba’s case is just one of many instances where the evidence seems glaring on the surface and yet because of democratic niceties and procedures to be followed in the interests of the principles of natural justice, nothing ever gets down. Perhaps as part of SAARC cooperation and cross border exchanges, we should depute Manmohan Singh and APJ Abdul Kalaam to Islamabad to teach them the nuances of protocol and Tehzeeb while Musharraf gets down to teaching us real governance!

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