The ‘Prince’ of Arcot can’t be sued

For calling himself the ‘Prince’ of Arcot

A personality, styling himself the “Prince of Arcot” was recently in the news for launching the latest salvo in the game of competitive intolerance. He played a role in getting the police to shut down an exhibition showing the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s intolerant policies against his subjects.

It was Aurangzeb who instituted the Nawabdom of ArcoSee updates below. But Mohammed Abdul Ali, an Indian citizen who calls himself a Nawab and has a website that describes him as the present “Prince of Arcot”, is in violation of the Indian constitution.

Part III. Article 18.
Abolition of titles.-
(1) No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.
[Constitution of India]

Mr Ali has violated my right to equality, a fundamental right, and your’s too, if you are an Indian citizen. He was already in violation of Article 18 before he abetted in the violation of Article 19 (freedom of expression). Retaining royal titles, shutting down those he disapproves, Mr Ali is acting as if India was still part of the Mughal empire.

But there is a prima facie case to take the case against the Nawab to the Supreme Court. It has original jurisdiction over violations of fundamental rights.

Third Update:

…Ali is the only royalty in India that’s being recognized by the government that pays for his upkeep and maintenance. [DesPardes]

Whew!

Second Update: The business of royal titles is unclear. The 1971 amendment abolished privy purses, privileges and titles of princes and their successors. But they continue to use their titles. And the Prince of Arcot is ranks as the equivalent of a minister in the Tamil Nadu cabinet. Now that flies against a lot more than equality. It must be some historical curiosity that has left us with this bizarre situation.

His Highness Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali Azim Jah, the Prince of Arcot, is the only royal in India who was not affected by the abolition of privy purses. In the order of precedence, he enjoys the rank of cabinet minister of the state of Tamil Nadu.

The Nawab hails from a family that traces its lineage back to the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khatt?b. The title ‘Prince of Arcot’, uniquely using the European style prince, was conferred on his ancestor by the British government in 1870 after the post of Nawab of the Carnatic (a title granted by the Mughal emperor) was abolished. [Wikipedia emphasis added]

Update:

The abolition of the privy purses, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and the elimination of the princely order itself, became the policy of the Congress party. After a year-long battle, this was finally achieved by an amendment to the Constitution at the end of 1971.

Although some parties have attempted to portray the constitutional changes as an abolition of the princely order, this does not appear to be the legal position. The changes merely removed official recognition of the position of “ruler”, as defined by the 1950 Constitution, and enabled the ending of privy-purse payments. The amendments did not touch upon any aspects of the treaties and engagements made during the accession of the princely states, nor did they even address the matter of rights to styles and titles. Since then, there have been a number of decisions and cases of the Supreme Court of India, where the court itself has continued to use the styles and titles enjoyed by the princes, the nobility and members of their families. Some prominent examples are: “Colonel His Highness Sawai Tej Singhji, Maharaja of Alwar vs. The Union of India & Anr.” (1978), “H.H. Sir Rama Varma vs. C.I.T.” (1994), “The Commissioner of Income-Tax, Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal vs. H.H. Maharani Usha Devi” (1998), “Commissioner of Wealth Tax vs. Prince Muffakham Jah Bahadur Chamli Jan” (2000), “Her Highness Maharani Shantidevi P. Gaikwad vs. Savjibhai Haribhai Patel & Ors.” (2001), “Union of India & Another vs. Raja Mohammed Amir Mohammad Khan” (2005). It is hard to imagine that the highest court in the land would have accepted the use of these titles had they been contrary to law. [link]

Note: The original title of this post was “Why the ‘Prince of Arcot can be sued”. Well, he can’t be sued for calling himself the ‘Prince’. And he certainly won’t be sued for complaining about the Aurangzeb show.

Grammar of Anarchy

Lessons from another Maharashtrian

Those who take to the streets often invoke Mahatma Gandhi. Like Raj Thackeray. Surely, if the Mahatma could break the law, then it’s perfectly kosher for lesser mortals to do so?

Not quite.

Because once the Constitution of India came into force in 1950, the rules of the game changed. In one of his last speeches to the Constituent Assembly, on 25th November 1949, Dr B R Ambedkar said:

If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us. [Archives of the Parliament of India]

That manoos from Maharashtra got it right: political violence—and non-violence outside the constitutional route—are the grammar of anarchy. So don’t let the invocation of Gandhi be a fig leaf for practices that have no place in a democracy.

My op-ed in Mail Today: Free speech checks intolerance

Mr Thackeray’s actions are an opportunity to understand how competitive intolerance might be defeated

Excerpts from my op-ed piece in today’s Mail Today:

The state itself —and increasingly under the UPA government — has, in addition to caving in to intolerance, frequently indulged in unnecessary conscience-keeping that is at once laughable and abominable.

Raj Thackeray obviously knows this. His recent invective against “North Indians” living in Maharashtra is only the latest escalation in a grand arms race being played out across the length and breadth of the country. If the political system rewards those who mobilise people along parochial lines, the popular media obfuscates divide-and-rule politics by wrapping it in the language of vote-banks, secularism and social justice. So the juggernaut of competitive intolerance rolls on, unchecked.

So doesn’t this mean that we need curbs on freedom of speech? Couldn’t much of the violence been prevented if Raj Thackeray’s party magazine had simply been banned and television news channels censored?

Not quite. Newspaper reports and incessant coverage by television channels only brought the drama into our drawing rooms. But the banning of its house publication would not have deterred Mr Thackeray’s sena in its mission, for the action channel for political mobilisation and street violence works independently.

On the contrary, laws abridging freedom of speech have created incentives for the political use of intolerance.

Faced with a choice between taking “action” against an offending writer or facing down a mob of rioters, it is likely that a rational government official — from district magistrate to home minister — will choose the former. It works this way because the government official has the choice.

This choice offers those charged with maintaining law and order a convenient escape route. The Maharashtra state government, for instance, could pretend to be taking “action” by arresting Mr Thackeray and Abu Azmi for their incendiary speeches, after the damage had been done.

The only way to maintain law and order is to bring the violent to justice. But after the drama of Mr Thackeray’s arrest, the Maharashtra state government is unlikely to pursue the task of going after the thugs and their local leaders with any seriousness.

The upshot is that doing away with restraints to freedom of expression is not merely a matter of principle. Because those restraints often come at the cost of leaving criminals unpunished, getting rid of them is a practical necessity. [Mail Today JPG]

Update: Download the original essay in PDF form

Attack of the belittlers

But who is opposing the parochial reductionists?

Tarun Vijay is right on the ball on the nature of the threat posed by the likes of Raj Thackeray.

A polity that draws sustenance from a fractured society and from reductionism become more rewarding than the all-inclusive embrace; the fallout is bound to reach us in various extremist forms, divisive polity being one of them.

When a narrow, shrunken vision is preferred over a national outlook and national perspective, the Raj Thackerays emerge winners. What’s the difference between a Raj making Indians fight with other Indians and a UPA government sowing the seeds of distrust and hate among Indians on the basis of religious reservations for one community and assaulting the faith icons of the other? Or for that matter, ULFA in Assam killing Hindi-speaking Indians and outfits like Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad murdering Hindu Indians in Jammu and Kashmir? Someone shoots from guns, another uses a microphone and the third does it by abusing constitutional authority. The result is identical – India is bruised and shrunk.

They are the reducers of an idea called India. Unfit to be called Indians yet they use the democratic freedom and the egalitarian values enshrined in the constitution. They reduce Shivaji to a Maharashtrian leader, nay a Maratha, and over and above a Kurmi icon. The caste and vote machine is their nation, the rest is wasteland. [TOI]

Here’s the challenge: everyone knows the proper response to Raj Thackeray’s actions: violence and the incitement to it should not be tolerated. In a country where police complaints can be lodged against those who offend one group or the other, it should be rather straightforward to arrest Mr Thackeray for going beyond mere offence. [See Offstumped’s take]

The question is this: who will bell the cat? Most political parties—in government and in the opposition—have ridden to power through “divide and rule”. You see it in the political response to Mr Thackeray—politicians claiming to represent ‘North Indians’ are threatening to respond in kind.

No one, it seems, is batting for India. The good news, though, is no one sees young Mr Thackeray as anything but a thuggish troublemaker staking a political claim.

Three thoughts for the Republic

On justice, trade for security and ending competitive intolerance

For reflection on Republic Day: No turns in justice; Security lies in trade; on putting an end to competitive intolerance;

Related Links: Three thoughts on Independence Day 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 & on Republic Day 2007, 2006, 2005