The power of the taboo

Politics ‘R Us, or how the constitution can be painted in Congress Party’s colours

Even the strongest believers in constitutionalism and rule of law will concede that in the end, the system is only as good as the willingness of the people to respect the norms that form its ‘spirit’.

One of those norms is the taboo: the notion that some things are just not done. Indeed, in many instances the taboo is the only latch that keeps the floodgates of wholesale perversion firmly shut.

So in the long list of the UPA government’s damaging acts, undermining the dignity of high constitutional officers is one of the most significant. The elevation of a dubious political retainer to the position of the president of the republic, the recycling of S M Krishna, from a defeated politician to state governor—an apolitical constitutional office—and back into the partisan fray of electoral politics, and now, the appointment of a former chief election commissioner as a minister breaks many taboos. The floodgates have been jerked open.

The Congress Party’s attempt to use the Election Commission for its partisan ends is extremely dangerous. M S Gill might well have been the chief election commissioner a decade ago, but no one can deny that the implicit promise of future rewards can act as an incentive. The mere perception that election commissioners are partisan not only undermines public faith in the electoral system but makes electoral officials more susceptible to pressure from politicians. Mr Gill’s appointment reinforces the serious misgivings caused by the presence of Navin Chawla— a person declared “unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”—at the Election Commission.

In terms of long-term damage, the UPA government has done much worse that V P Singh’s Janata Dal government of the late 1980s. The bad news is that it still has some months to go.

4 thoughts on “The power of the taboo”

  1. On a TV show during NDA years, when editor of Indian Express Shekhar Gupta was a prominent pundit on political chat shows, he took a swipe — mixed with a tinge of jealousy — at pro-BJP columnnists saying that no government had ever done as much for friendly journalists as BJP had. He gave as example the Rajya Sabha tickets to Chandan Mitra, Balbir Punj and another name I forgot.

    He ought to know why he never got the Congress ticket. He was not election commissioner.

  2. Don’t hold brief for anyone. But, this “taboo” has been broken by almost every party. SM Krishna’s case is eerily similar to the one of Madanlal Khurana during NDA regime. Although CAG is not as visibly significant as Election Commissioners, TN Chaturvedi was also “rewarded” by NDA. I am not justifying Congress/UPA’s acts, but want to point out that everyone has messed around with constitutional niceties.

  3. Raag,

    >>I am not justifying Congress/UPA’s acts, but ….

    “Two wrongs make a right” is chiefly the argument of commies. For example, as we speak they are trying to justify the human rights abuses by fellow communists in China claiming that billions of people were killed in Iraq by capitalists. Sensible people like us should avoid arguments like this, since we are moral and ethical. What do you think? Whatever you say, please don’t say that “I am not justifying the commies, but …”.

  4. You forget the damage done in the invitation of a party to form a government. There are many instances where the Congress has overstepped only to step back in a few cases after pressure. Some examples are, Bihar, Jharkhand, Goa, Nagaland, Karnataka and more.

    It almost feels like the Congress is trying out various strategies to use in the general election. It already has a pliable President in Mrs Patil and is well poised to indulge in skulduggery there.

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