Justice delayed…

Approximately 140 petitions have been filed, most of them in different courts across the country, challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Earlier this month, the government went to the Supreme Court to argue that there could be confusion if different courts handed down conflicting verdicts. In response, the SC decided to hear all the petitions itself, and issued a notice to this effect on January 11. So far, so good.

Today a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde sat to hear the combined petitions — and the sitting ended with the SC giving the Center four weeks to file a response.

Pause right there to consider the absurdity. The Centre knows that petitions have been filed. It had received copies of all these petitions. It was the Centre that went to the SC to ask that all petitions be heard by the apex court. In other words, it knew that the constitutionality of the CAA has been challenged. Why does the SC figure that it needs four entire weeks more to prepare a response?

Think of it in common-sense terms. I do something. You challenge it as being illegal. We end up in court. Why do I need time to answer the question of why I did what I did? I knew that when I was doing it, no?

Further: When the petitioners asked that the implementation of the process be stayed until the constitutionality is decided, the SC declined to impose any stay “without hearing the Center on the matter”.

Again, how does that make sense? What the SC is being asked, here, is to stop all proceedings until the case is heard. That is a direct plea for redress within the purview of the court; temporary relief until the SC can hear the actual petition. Why does the Center need to be “heard” on whether the SC can grant a stay?

On a side note, one of the first reactions to the SC’s refusal to grant a stay of proceedings came from the Shaheen Bagh protestors: “And hence, the revolt shall go on…”

If you want a sense of how bizarre these court proceedings are, here is a blow by blow account.

One more point to keep in mind: The SC says it is examining whether the petitions should be heard by a five-member bench.

On August 5 last year, the Center scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution. Petitions challenging the validity of this action have been pending in the SC. Today, a five-member bench of the SC said that before examining the validity of the scrapping of #370, it will first decide whether a seven-member bench should be constituted to hear the case.

So wait. Today, a three member bench is deciding whether to have a five member bench hear one petition, while a five-member bench is deciding whether to have a seven-member bench hear another petition… And so we go, round and round the mulberry bush. The sad part of it is, the apex court is not even pretending any more that it is on the side of the Constitution, not of the Center.

There is a reason ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is a cliche — because it is true.

In this connection, consider a news story that came out this morning: India has slipped down 10 spots on the Democracy Index, and is now ranked at #51, its worst ranking since the list first started in 2006. Further, it has been slipping steadily down the ladder through the Modi years.

As I was pointing out on Twitter a while ago, democracy is about a lot more than holding elections once in five years. If in the intervening period you subvert every single pillar that holds up the democratic edifice — the courts, Parliament, the media, and so on right down the line — then you are a dictatorship, and elections are merely a Potemkin facade.

In other news, direct tax collections have entered the negative zone for the very first time. In other words, there is less money in the government treasury than we thought even a day earlier. And since misfortunes don’t come singly — a news report suggests that the Life Insurance Corporation could be facing enormous financial difficulties. The LIC, remember — first port of call for middle class families looking to invest their money safely.

In connection with the ongoing furor over the CAA/NPR/NRC mess, read Rukmini’s report showing why, and how, India’s poor are likely to be enormously affected irrespective of their religion. Because? No birth certificates.

The NIA, investigating the case of Davinder Singh, has not filed charges of sedition. That is the country we live in now: Shouting slogans, liking someone’s Facebook post, drawing a cartoon, holding up a protest sign, all of this and more is “sedition”. But a serving officer of the police force transporting wanted militants, with a price on their heads, through checkposts in a car laden with arms and explosives is… what… a peccadillo? This is why, and how, trust in this government erodes with each passing day. The NIA being hastily given charge of the case led to allegations of a cover-up; just a conspiracy theory, many said at the time. But now? How do we still deny the possibility that Davinder Singh was operating as an agent of the state, to carry out a false flag mission, some kind of terrorist act that the government could then use to justify a crackdown?

No roundup is ever complete without mention of Uttar Pradesh, so here is your daily horror story: Turns out that FIRs filed by the Firozabad police are cut-paste jobs. The whole story is WTF — read it for yourselves. And when reading, remember that earlier point I was making about the crumbling pillars of democracy.

One K Prabesh has been arrested for hurling a bomb at a police picket in Kannur, Kerala. He is an RSS worker. Put those things together: Bomb, RSS worker, Kannur. Remember that last year, no less than Amit Shah launched a “jana raksha yatra” in Kerala protesting against “Red terrorism”. (It’s a different matter that he got so mercilessly trolled that he ran away after just one day, citing urgent work in Delhi).

The argument was, “Red” cadres are indiscriminately killing BJP workers, and the hotbed of the violence is Kannur. It is not a new argument — in fact, it is so old that back in 2017, I wrote a post about it which is worth resurfacing in context. And the pushback I got for that post led me to write another, which too is relevant today.

And, PS to the above, one Adithya Rao has been arrested for placing explosives at an airport. In Mangalore, where there was orchestrated violence on the sidelines of anti-CAA protests. Where police used the violence to justify firing, which a people’s tribunal has condemned as excessive use of force. Where a truck bringing chairs for an anti-CAA protest was set on fire. Where the police, presumably under the misconception that the area is not part of India, has sent notices to people from Kerala to explain their presence at or in the vicinity of an anti-CAA protest. Read all that in tandem with the placing of the explosive (and with Davinder Singh, and the RSS guy who hurled a bomb at a police station, and the instances I cited in my blog posts linked here) and tell me you don’t see a pattern.

Tangentially, I want to bring up a pet peeve here: the indiscriminate use of the word “alleged”. Consider the headline of the story linked to above: RSS worker arrested for allegedly hurling bomb. Huh?! How can a bomb be “allegedly hurled”? I keep seeing such bizarre usages with increasing frequency — like, the other day, there was a news story with the line “… a video allegedly showing…”. Again, huh? A video shows something, or it does not. Duh!

Sticking with Kerala for a minute more, the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit (SSUS), located at Adi Shankara’s birthplace Kalady, in Kerala, has become the first university to pass a resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Wait for this to catch on, and for more and more universities to adopt such resolutions.

In bizarre news for the day, it now turns out that Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, hacked the phone of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. The first thought that came to mind when I read this? February 20, 2019. When MBS visited India. And Modi broke all norms of protocol and went personally to welcome him at the airport.

I’ll leave you with these for now — and go off and re-read Kafka’s The Trial, which I have been thinking about all afternoon, ever since I read about the Supreme Court’s latest act of denial through delay.