I spent last week doing something I’ve rarely done before – thinking about our Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs). You can’t have missed what prompted this: their outrageous comments. So, as my heart sank and dismay rose, I asked myself what are the qualities we have a right to expect of our legislators?
Most people would agree they should be diligent, accessible and committed to the principles and policies that led us to vote for them. However, I realised there’s something more we require. I’m talking of respect for the law, not just in terms of what they do but also in terms of what they profess. They are, after all, lawmakers. If they don’t understand or, even, observe the law, they
fundamentally contradict their purpose.
My concern began when four-time MP Jaya Bachchan said of the Hyderabad rape accused: “I know it’s little harsh but I think these kind of people need to be brought out in public and lynched.” And she said it in the Rajya Sabha, not quietly at home or to close friends. So I wasn’t just horrified by what she wanted but also where she declared it.
Then, when the alleged rapists were killed by the police in what felt like a fake encounter, several ministers and legislators came out in strong support of the police. This was a case of law-enforcers themselves breaking the law – about the worst thing that can happen in a law-abiding democracy. Yet, our lawmakers praised them and proclaimed this was the right thing to do.
Jagan Reddy, the Telangana chief minister (CM), said: “Hats off to KCR and Telangana police officers … nothing wrong to shoot them dead.” Mayawati, a former CM, said this was “praiseworthy” and called on the Uttar Pradesh police to “take inspiration”. Talasani Srinivas Yadav, a Telangana minister, seemed ecstatic: “All over India, people are happy. I feel proud to be part of this cabinet.” Michael Lobo, a minister in Goa, demanded the public hanging “in a stadium” of people convicted of rape.
Perhaps, when emotions are aflame, laymen might unthinkingly call for public lynching but it is, nonetheless, retribution, not justice. But surely our legislators should know the difference? Indeed, they should also know an accused is not guilty until a court has so determined. According to our jurisprudence, you are innocent till proven guilty. Yet ministers, MPs and MLAs, who have the power to determine our laws and the way they’re implemented, seem ignorant.
This is possibly why Chief Justice SA Bobde clarified what justice actually is. “(It) must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge.” I wonder if Bachchan, Reddy, Mayawati, Lobo and Yadav realise this comment was targeted
However, I’m not just affronted by these views and I don’t simply think of these legislators as fools who don’t realise the import of what they’ve said. No, it goes further. If they’re representative of the people we’ve elected to our assemblies, our future could be at risk. That might sound exaggerated, but think carefully and you’ll realise it’s not.
Consider two other examples, one topical and one only three-years-old. The reasoning behind the Citizenship Amendment Bill is a case of politicians undermining the principles of our Constitution to promote what is, ultimately, prejudice and partisan interest. Demonetisation was an irrational measure implemented by a government that didn’t have the wisdom to realise it would be disastrous.
This is why the judgment of our legislators is so important. Those who make and enforce the law must understand it, not just in letter but also in spirit. By their foolish outbursts, Bachchan, Reddy, Mayawati, Yadav and Lobo have not only embarrassed themselves but worried their countrymen. Our future shouldn’t lie in their hands. They’re unlikely to protect it.