NAKED POWER, Power, it is said, is the ability to interfere with the other man’s liberty. And liberty is unbridled power.
Power, it is said, is the ability to interfere with the other man’s liberty. And liberty is unbridled power. But when liberty interferes with power? How? Ask Mamata Banerjee, ask Madame Jayalalithaa, and the last but not least ask Arvind Kejriwal. Gone are the days when politicians think, profess and promise long term welfare schemes; because they are not sure of surviving the next election. It was Abraham Lincoln who said that all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a person’s character, give him power. We have three glorious instances to prove the point.
Rajiv Gandhi’s killers were sentenced some 23 years ago. It was the Supreme Court which ratified the sentence. The state has no jurisdiction whatsoever either on the sentence or its execution. Surely, a Chief Minister must be aware of this. And Madame Jayalalithaa announced and warned the Central Government that the killers will be released in February 2014 if Delhi does not come out with a decision in three days. Jayalalithaa’s priority is not the injustice done to the killers as much as the section of the electorate of the region. The Central Government promptly put its step down and was duly backed by the Supreme Court.
And the fire brand Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, also did it. When the constitutional body of India, the Election Commission, instructed the State Government to transfer eight government officials during the election time, the Chief Minister blatantly refused to comply alleging that the Election Commission is acting hand in glove with the ruling Congress party! And what is more she warned the Commission that if anything happens in West Bengal during this time, be it Maoists’ attack, Bangladesh insurgency, Kamtapur Liberation Organization or ISI, the Election Commission would be solely responsible because it is acting at the behest of Congress. The response of the Election Commission was cryptic and straight. It gave the State Government 24 hours to comply. Otherwise, it ruled that the elections in the State will be postponed. Mamata Banerjee blinked immediately and the standoff was thwarted, but told the people that these officers would be promptly brought back after the elections--surely a face saving exercise. The politicians as also the public have not forgotten the power wielded by the then Election Commissioner T N Seshan, who gave the taste of the supreme, unilateral power of the constitutional body and almost brought the entire political class to its knees.
And again, we have a strange and unprecedented happening in Delhi in January during the very short period of Aam Aadmi Party’s rule. After a fractured verdict from the voter, and a wily Congress offering to give outside support to an otherwise minority party even without being asked, the AAP formed the government. In the very short time they proved that administrative finesse is an altogether different ball game than a human rights campaign. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Cabinet colleagues along with his MLAs sat in a dharna outside North Block demanding the suspension of four police officers and importantly demanding the total control of Delhi Police. They warned the Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde that they may disrupt the Republic Day celebrations due in a few days, if their demand is not met. It was an embarrassment and a catch-22 situation because here is the entire government sitting on the road led by its Chief Minister! A semblance of colonial days when the Indian Officials protested against foreign rulers.
Bending the Constitutional Authority simply because they happened to wield power, only to reach their vote bank or to prove a point about their invincibility is a tragedy that the cult of present day politicians are resorting to in the recent past. That the honesty or the compliance of the set norms or the discipline will pay dividends is a fact that is alien to these leaders. Instant flash of authority and bravado is the theatre with which they survive the very short tenures they assume office.
However, one instance is enough to remember the great values our former statesmen have set to make the administration strong and enduring. He was a minister for Railways and Transport in Central Cabinet during the mid-fifties. In September 1956 there was an accident near Mahbubnagar resulting in the death of 112 people. And soon after there was yet another accident in Ariyalur in Tamilnadu resulting in 144 deaths. This minister owned the moral responsibility of the happenings and resigned from Cabinet. His name was Lal Bahadur Shastri. While accepting his resignation Nehru said in Parliament that he is accepting the resignation because it would set an example.
There was a small but interesting caveat to this episode. Sashtriji came to the Railway Bhavan on that day as always in the office car and resigned. When Sashtriji was walking out of the building, the chauffer came forward saying that he would bring the car to take him home. Shastriji smiled and told him, as the story goes, “No. Thanks. A minister came in the official car to the office. Now an ordinary citizen is walking out.’’ Truly, they were leaders of a rare breed. We remember them not because of their brashness, defiance or one-upmanship, but by their obedience and the value they gave to the great institutions on which this country is built. With crores being looted by our leaders day in day out the skies will not fall if an ex-minister is taken home in the official car. But by so doing, an institution dies. And hence they preserved it.