Jaitley has the gumption to wax eloquent about liberty: “Unquestionably free speech is a part of basic structure of the Constitution.”
A good lawyer can argue both sides of a case. And if he also happens to be a politician, he can find more sides—and argue all of them with equal sophistry and chicanery. Arun Jaitley is nothing if not a good lawyer. Unsurprisingly, his remarks on the First Amendment to the Constitution smacks of conspicuous hypocrisy.
The apex court verdict was a big embarrassment for the Narendra Modi government. It is an open secret in Lutyens Delhi that Jaitley greatly influences the stand the government takes in court
On the face of it, his blog, ‘How Pt. Nehru’s intolerance towards Dr Mookerjee’s Views Led to a Constitution Amendment Restricting Free Speech,’ gives the impression of an article intended to give a fillip to liberty. Written on the anniversary of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which was the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party, Jaitley rightly lauds Mookerjee. But it is like Baba Ramdev praising multinational corporations. For, as an important political leader, he has, directly or implicitly, suppressed rather than upheld freedom.
Consider the Section 66A case. The draconian provision was introduced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance but, when challenged in the Supreme Court, it was defended by the Narendra Modi regime.
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act said that “any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device: (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”
Section 66A, which came into being in 2009, came handy to those in power. So, Karti Chidambaram, son of P. Chidambaram, used it to throw a middle-aged businessman in Pondicherry behind bars. His sin? He had dared to tweet that Karti had “amassed more wealth than Vadra.”
The Supreme Court struck the odious section down in 2015, calling it unconstitutional and a restriction on freedom of speech. The apex court verdict was a big embarrassment for the Narendra Modi government. It is an open secret in Lutyens Delhi that Jaitley greatly influences the stand the government takes in court. Therefore, it is a bit rich on his part to appear as a defender of free speech.
The anti-defection law didn’t end corruption in politics, but it enslaved the elected leaders of people, making them subservient to the clever men who dominated political parties.
And guess who played a key role in further tightening the anti-defection law, a piece of most illiberal legislation in Independent India? It’s again Jaitley. Technically called the 52nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1985, the law made Members of Parliament (MPs) and of state Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) the slaves of party bosses. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Fifty-second Constitution Amendment Bill, 1985 read: “The evil of political defections has been a matter of national concern. If it is not combated, it is likely to undermine the very foundations of our democracy and the principles which sustain it.”
Well, the anti-defection law didn’t end corruption in politics, but it enslaved the elected leaders of people, making them subservient to the clever men who dominated political parties.
In 2003, in his capacity as law minister, Jaitley made the law even tougher. The 1985 law recognized a “split” in a party if at least one-third members of the legislature party decided to form or join another political party. Jaitley, the party manager par excellence, introduced the 91st Amendment to the Constitution, making the requirement for split or merger stiffer: since then, at least two-third members of a legislature party need to leave the party.
And yet, Jaitley has the gumption to wax eloquent about liberty: “Unquestionably free speech is a part of basic structure of the Constitution.” How sanctimonious can a lawyer-politician get?
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.