Centuries of struggle saw mankind evolve charters of human rights which protected individual liberty against oppressive and repressive measures by changing political combinations frequently of a lethal character.
These charters could be formulated by intellectuals who were exposed to education as well as the capacity to see in perspective events which transcended national borders and parochial interests of both a transient nature as well as a transitory lifespan.
The climate that facilitated the evolution of these trains of thought which have become time-honoured non-negotiable principles which have come to comprise the basic building blocks of the entire edifice of our political thought structure as it obtains today, was one where the masses acknowledged the intellectual supremacy of thinkers who could bring to bear on problems facing both the elite as well as the proletariat, their intellect as well as exposure to the finer nuances of evolved social and political thought and who could with those attributes craft documents which vested the masses with these inalienable rights which political dispensations of later eras could not but admire and be beholden for.
The coming into vogue of democracy led to one disastrous result: the misconception that it was not enough that what was for the good of the masses must be done, but in addition, what the masses despite their lack of education and exposure held to be valid or true must, in view of their numerical strength, because of that numerical strength, stand, however mysteriously, automatically validated: a sort of variant of Rousseau’s 1762 treatise, Social Contract, declaring vox populi, vox Dei. At the risk of sounding elitist, risking ignominy, all those gifted with functional minds ought to have seen their hackles rise at this illogical and preposterous assumption. They stayed silent.
In any given society the large mass of individuals is made up of people who are illiterate, semi-literate, or just about literate, and those who are literate comprise predominantly those interested in the ordinary pursuits of earning well, living comfortably and amassing wealth, and it is left to a miniscule minority of public intellectuals who risk odium as well as ridicule by taking it upon themselves to steer the fortunes of the community by inputs of thought to serve as measures of course correction.
It is fallacious to therefore allow a situation where the opinion, unqualified as it ordinarily would be, of the greatest number of people to influence either political thought or set the direction in which a nation is to be steered. Any such situation would be fraught with a very serious risk of horrendous consequences of ill-advised myopic steps aimed at immediate gratification or populist measures that cater to the baser instincts of the largest groups at the cost of those principles and values and conventions which have illuminated mankind’s progress and evolution through the centuries.
Should the largest number of people at University set the course content or the qualifying criteria? Can the largest number of doctors at a teaching hospital determine the protocols that best practice treatment should follow? Voting on what is good for the nation in a democratic setup is expected to be the activity of those who have been chosen to represent their respective constituencies on the basis of their credentials which ought to operate to bring to bear on the problems faced by the respective constituencies the best and most qualified thinking available on the subject and where the individual elected is not personally qualified in that matter he or she should obtain expert opinion on those issues and then vote accordingly.
This however hardly ever happens and the result is the making of policy which is destructive of those very principles and values and conventions which have seen mankind’s social, political and intellectual progress. Hence we see larger groupings of people become mysteriously “entitled” to determine what for example should be taught as history aiming at securing of obtuse political objectives instead of attainment of high intellectual ability, while still claiming to be aiming at becoming a Vishw Guru.
The state of schools, the state of mass “literacy” levels, general absence of serious research, greater and greater restraint on freedom of speech and exchange of ideas at an advanced level, crushing of intellectual freedom and dissent, all establish the universal truth that political thought that impacts the community and the intellectual inputs into sovereign-controlled aspects of national life must be left in the hands of those who are able to think beyond and above their own interests, thus bringing about changes percolating from the top down. The trend is for persons aspiring to elected positions campaigning making promises which include the moon and more. Then the moonshine and the gaslighting reveal the truth of hollow selfish Machiavellian motives, the cost being paid by the very masses who voted for them, and of course eventually the nation.
Sovereign-controlled aspects of national life cannot be entrusted into the ill-equipped, self-serving and sometimes malevolent hands of those whom the masses are willing to launch as their representatives, merely because they espouse the crass thinking that the largest denominator finds most acceptable and which the most negativity-fuelled minds would identify immediately with. What do you see any elected representative do as first thing? Set an agenda for improvement? Seek qualified opinion on what-where-how-when? Hardly. Step one is to go get a swanky large white SUV! Strut about! Dekho mujhe! Yeh maiN hooN, maiN !
Will the essence culled out from centuries of struggle, evolved charters of human rights protecting individual liberty against oppression and repression, the selfless work of intellectuals of deep education and perspective, the time-honored non-negotiable principles which are seminal building blocks of political thought today, founded in the intellect of thinkers with perspective encompassing the elite and the masses, be left to the whims of merciless myopic upstarts forged in crucibles of hostile thought, negativity, fascist exclusivity, caste arrogance, completely blinded to the religious, cultural, political, intellectual and social contributions of different cultures to the making of their nation? Is this what those who swore their oaths of allegiance to Constitution and Law see as acceptable? Do they not understand the meaning of abdication?
If elected representatives breach their solemn and sacred duty to the nation and the Constitution, it falls to the other pillar of the system of checks and balances to step in and stop things mid-stride, not allow a drift till forces inimical to Constitution and Law have so entrenched themselves as to negate the controlling efficacy of the very system of checks and balances that is the fetter on arbitrariness. This other pillar, the only one that can do it, is the judiciary.
This brings me to the problem of change which must in such instances inevitably lead to a reversal of the descent that threatens otherwise to lead to chaos and anarchy. For a change to be, there must be action. For action to stand generated there must be motivation. For motivation to obtain the momentum required overcoming inertia, the tipping point that tips the scales in favour of such change must arrive. For that, enough units in the judicial set up must step out, stand up and be counted. Then, the scales will tip. So long as those who think, willingly wear fetters shackling their own power of veto of illegitimacy of political action under the sanctimonious cloak of “judicial restraint”, the legitimization of anti-national, anti-Constitutional, anti-secular actions and trends will continue unabated.
No political sanyaas of one breathing the rarefied air of the Himalayan ranges, away from the bustle of strife, from the political horse trading of elected representatives, from the impact, on the masses, of hostile policies of any government, and from the sufferings of the common people, can have any impact on society. Neither can any judicial sanyaas, nor a judicial mind that chooses to speak that moment in his career when his speech no longer carries the power to forge change.
For change to be brought about those who claim to hold dear those principles and values and conventions which have illuminated mankind’s progress and evolution through the centuries must be willing to set examples getting their hands dirty rather than indulge in the pretence that expression of opinion, adequately and of itself, has inherent capacity to change the status quo. It has no such capacity and instead creates the illusion of action which is akin to continuous running on a treadmill: a large amount of activity where you stay at the same spot and make no progress at all whereas if you get off that treadmill (read armchair) and start walking there will be actual progress made.
When those empowered to impose penalties abdicate, the Laws of Karma kick in, and a Higher Power takes over. There will be accounting, let there be no doubt, and before a Judge in Whose Court all intellectual ruses and devices cease working.
It is impossible that political thinkers of various hues are unaware of what is set out above. It is even more incredible that judicial minds are unaware. If, aware as they are, they choose the option of silence, they must know that their silence carries a price. That price is awareness of a different type: awareness that by choice you have become a de facto abettor, ipso facto de jure liable for the same penalties that the oppressor should face. Quoting Martin Luther King, “…we shall remember the silence of our friends.” Having drunk deep from the springs of intellectual and physical nourishment their country and society afforded to them, having scaled the heights afforded to them based on their solemn oaths of upholding Constitution and Laws, if today from their positions of power they still fall short of discharging their sacred duties, you would be excused for wondering…
Is this not betrayal of the Constitution and oaths of office? Is inaction despite awareness of adverse consequences of such inaction on that which one swore to uphold, not the selling of one’s soul? Those who are leaders are emulated. If today’s children choose to emulate today’s leaders, where is our country headed? As the philosopher says, “You ask most the questions to which you best know the answers.” Over to you.
Shafeeq R. Mahajir is a Hyderabad-based nationally known lawyer