16 April 2024 06:49 AM



Judiciary And Defence Hit by the Politician-Bureaucrat Nexus

Opinion on the quality of last two years of governance by the ruling political dispensation varies, depending on whom you ask the question. But there are two fundamental arms of governance that impacts the long-term health of a nation as a whole i.e. ‘security’ and ‘justice’ - on both these axes of governance the professionals behind these institutions are crying for a sobering reality check that runs contrary to populist political boasts.

Judicial interventions have been at the forefront of course-correcting many a historical, political wrongs ---from environmental protection to gender equality to social issues. While the delicate tapestry of the Constitution has carved out the contours for the legislature, the judiciary and the executive – in the face of poor and failing governance and lack of justice, invariably the judiciary has had to rap the legislature and the executive with an immediate wake-up call and enforceable action.

This posits the judiciary versus the legislature with taints of judicial-overreach, ignoring the hard reality of the judiciary emerging as the proverbial ‘last resort’ of the aggrieved individual or the societal cause in questiion. More often than not, the independent judiciary has played the role of a ‘conscience keeper’, much to the discomfiture of the legislature and parts of the executive. So much so, the Finance Minister had recently observed, “Step by step, brick by brick, the edifice of India’s legislature is being destroyed”.

While there have individual cases of dubious conduct amongst certain judicial appointees, as indeed questionable judgements e.g. the flip-flop on Section 377 – institutionally, the judiciary has, through its multiple interventions done way more good than otherwise, in evolving the nation towards a more just, progressive and sustainable future.

Aspersions of ‘holidays in Manali’ aside, the overstretched-creaking edifice of the judiciary is still more credible in the eyes of the masses as compared to the comity of legislates and their accompanying bureaucracy. From protecting the common man from scams and swindlers like real estate companies, societal menaces like khaap panchayats and regressive religious bodies who protect gender inequalities – the judiciary has had to pick the gauntlet against all of those who are invariably in some sort of an unholy nexus with the local politicos or civil authorities, who would rather prefer inaction to protect their electoral and other prospects.

It took an impassioned lament from Chief Justice, TS Thakur about executive ‘inaction’ holding up the appointment of judges, from 21,000 to 40,000, to handle the crippling ‘avalanche’ of the pending backlogs. Suggesting the futility of empty political pitches like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Ease of Doing Business’ when the justice system itself is grossly inadequate and overburdened to handle disputes that may arise – he was met with just a condescending ear and stoic silence without commitment.

The politician and the bureaucracy seem to be interested only in the turf war of the collegium-system so as to ensure political control on the judiciary.

Another institution (possibly the only other institution in the country) that delivers beyond their pay grades is the Indian military. The only subtle difference is the while the interference of the judiciary is despised by the politicos-bureaucracy on their presumed fiefdoms for exposing systemic rot, the Defence Forces are routinely requisitioned for deliberate interventions on turf that is strictly not mandated (except in extreme cases of national emergencies).

All governmental failings, political mess, bureaucratic apathy and policing failures invite the immediate requisitioning of the Defence Forces to bail out the situation e.g. the Haryana agitation (where the bureaucracy melted away and the police beat an hasty retreat at the hands of the hooligans), to the recent Chennai floods, to perennial hotspots like Kashmir and North East where the soldiers pay the price (often with their lives) for the continuing blunders and inactions of political and bureaucratic nature.

All this however, counts for nothing when the Defence Services protest against the ongoing degradation and ‘secondement’ of the Defence Services, vis-à-vis all other governmental services, especially the IAS-led bureaucracy. Shockingly the 7th Pay Commission perpetuated the superiority of the civilian bureaucracy (as opposed to the mandated, parity) even though Chairman Justice Mathur alluded to the brewing resentment by noting, “that the main case of resentment among services is that over a period of time IAS has arrogated to itself all power of governance and relegated all other services to secondary position. All posts covering majority of domains are manned by IAS, be it a technical or administrative which is the main cause of grievance. It is time that government take a call that subject domain should be the criteria to man the posts and not a generalist. If fair and equitable treatment is not given to all services, then the gap between IAS and other services will widen and it may lead to a chaotic situation and it will not be good for the governance and the country” – suffice it to say, no governmental course-correction has been initiated since, and after the shame of the original OROP reneging and subsequent ‘bargaining’, the Defence Forces had to face the repeat ignominy of a further rubbing of the wounds by the reiteration of their institutional relegation in the 7th Pay Commission.

All these bureaucratic machinations in cahoots with the politicos is an historical and symbiotic curse that protects each other – while the other two ‘insulated’ institutions i.e. the Defence Forces and the Judiciary who stick to their insular domain of operations, end up paying the price of the current institutional snubbing, disempowering and ultimate ignore.

Condescending platitudes, sham promises and occasional allusion to the odd rotten apples as a means of topic deflection, is the de riguer mandate – all this, when a few years ago the Indian bureaucracy was voted the ‘worst in Asia’ and more recently John Kerry alluded to the same when he quipped, “India’s economy will only be able to maintain its impressive growth if its bureaucracy ceases to be an expert in setting up roadblocks”.

The humiliation of war heroes guiled with promises never intended to be kept (with an sad and unforgettable taunt of ‘jumla’), were for the first time in history of independent India forced to literally sit on the footpaths of Jantar Mantar when the politico-bureaucracy went about their chest thumping in international capitals. And when even a sitting Chief Justice of India had to physically break down in tears to bring home the message of the overburdened and understaffed judiciary. The sad nexus between the politician and the bureaucrat is risking the efficacy of probably two of the finest working institutions of India.

(Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry.)