Despite aberrations Indian democracy remained strong

Right to Liberty and Freedom of Expression has come under strain in the recent times while criminal defamation law and power of the Courts to punish for contempt have also acted to shrink the space for free speech, opined N. Ravi, Chairman of Kasturi and Sons Ltd, that publishes The Hindu group of publications.

The use of sedition laws have curtailed the freedom despite the Supreme Court pronouncing that criticism would not amount to sedition unless it openly advocates violence, Mr. Ravi felt and yet at the same time argued that despite some aberrations Indian democracy remained strong and personal liberty is largely intact.

He expressed these views while speaking at a webinar on “Celebrating Democracy” organised by the S. Jaipal Reddy Foundation marking the 79th birth anniversary of former Union Minister and “Outstanding parliamentarian” awardee S. Jaipal Reddy.

Referring to the contempt of court case against Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Mr. Ravi said even certain cartoonists and comedians have been held for contempt of court by the over-sensitive judiciary. Stating that Courts have been the guardians of the people’s rights and also the overreach of people’s rights by the executive and the legislative, Mr. Ravi, however, said the record of the judiciary is patchy in some cases, particularly on the lockdown in Kashmir and detention of Kashmiri leaders.

While courts admit that personal liberty is most valuable bail applications are routinely delayed, he said while observing that executive and legislature can be expected to push the boundaries of authority, the judiciary as an institution seems to have slipped to somewhat from its protective role. He also felt that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the sudden proliferation of anti-love jihad laws have strained the democratic spirit and secular laws.

Free and fair elections

Referring to Jaipal Reddy’s book, he said Mr. Reddy picked Gandhi’s non-violence, tolerance and compassion as the most convincing reason for India remaining a democracy. He said violence could be disruptive of the democratic process as was seen in recent developments at the Capitol Hill following the US Presidential election.

Mr. Ravi said free and fair election is an essential element of democracy and India was fortunate to have refined electoral systems thanks to successive Election Commissioners. India was also able to offer assistance to other nations because of its expertise. However, he expressed concern over the influence of money power continues to be a corruptive influence in some parts of the country. Suggestions such as State funding remain a non-starter largely because of lack of public funds and want of acceptable formula for distribution among the parties.

Former Chief Election Commissioner, S.Y. Qureshi called for greater reforms in the constitution of Election Commission of India while recalling how Indian democracy and the functioning of Election Commission command respect world over.

Mr. Qureshi suggested that Election Commissioners should be appointed through a collegium on the lines of Chief Information Commissioner or even the CBI chief. Even the removal should not be confined to one person but should be applicable to the entire commission.

Stating that other countries have tremendous respect for Indian democracy and the Election Commission, he said the transition of power was always smooth in India and countries should learn how our chief ministers and prime ministers have been a model for a smooth transition. After the recent incidents in the USA, he felt Donald Trump set a bad precedent for democracy.

Criminals in elections

Speaking on several reforms by the Election Commission to keep its functioning vibrant, he referred to regular updation of the voters list and the Voters Day celebrations. Though late Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan put an end to criminal activities on the polling day, continuation of candidates with a criminal history in the election process is worrying.

Mr. Qureshi said 50 proposals are pending with the government for further reforms in elections but with just four proposals the face of elections can change. He refused to accept the protection to criminals in the election process on the theory that ‘Innocent until proved” and said lakhs of under-trials are in jails and that same argument can be applied to keep the criminals away from the electoral process.

Former Information Commissioner of Andhra Pradesh R. Dileep Reddy also spoke. Professor Pushpa Kumar Lakshmanan of the University of Delhi moderated. S. Anand Reddy of the Japial Reddy Foundation presented a vote of thanks.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 11:44:51 AM |

Next Story