April 7, 2008CongressConstitutiongovernanceIndiapoliticsPublic PolicyUPA

The power of the taboo

Politics R Us, or how the constitution can be painted in Congress Party’s colours

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Even the strongest believers in constitutionalism and rule of law will concede that in the end, the system is only as good as the willingness of the people to respect the norms that form its spirit’.

One of those norms is the taboo: the notion that some things are just not done. Indeed, in many instances the taboo is the only latch that keeps the floodgates of wholesale perversion firmly shut.

So in the long list of the UPA government’s damaging acts, undermining the dignity of high constitutional officers is one of the most significant. The elevation of a dubious political retainer to the position of the president of the republic, the recycling of S M Krishna, from a defeated politician to state governor—an apolitical constitutional office—and back into the partisan fray of electoral politics, and now, the appointment of a former chief election commissioner as a minister breaks many taboos. The floodgates have been jerked open.

The Congress Party’s attempt to use the Election Commission for its partisan ends is extremely dangerous. M S Gill might well have been the chief election commissioner a decade ago, but no one can deny that the implicit promise of future rewards can act as an incentive. The mere perception that election commissioners are partisan not only undermines public faith in the electoral system but makes electoral officials more susceptible to pressure from politicians. Mr Gill’s appointment reinforces the serious misgivings caused by the presence of Navin Chawla— a person declared unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”—at the Election Commission.

In terms of long-term damage, the UPA government has done much worse that V P Singh’s Janata Dal government of the late 1980s. The bad news is that it still has some months to go.

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