Bad omen for democracy by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (April 08, 2015)

The recent remark of the Prime Minister at the conference of chief justices and chief ministers of Indian states that “five star activists” are driving the judiciary was a clear attack on civil society, putting a question mark on the legitimacy of activism for social causes. To top it all, the language used was highly offensive which, sadly, has become a hallmark of the PM’s style.

The use of scornful language for some of the most noble and altruistic people has been widely looked at with disapproval. Understandably, Prashant Bhushan, eminent lawyer and activist, has called the language “unacceptable.”

Bhushan, whose NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, brought to the notice of the Supreme Court 2G scam, coal scam and Radia tapes, without charging any fees, said the Modi government got a lead about Rs. 1 lakh crore in black money stashed abroad through the scam they unearthed.

Bhushan said (about Modi) that “the gentleman who cosies up to crony capitalists, wears a 10,000 dollar suit and gets a Rs. 6, 000 crore loan to Adani has “the gall to call us five star activists.” The fact is that minus the high-quality, high-profile civil society leaders the quality of democracy in India would be extremely poor. Naturally, an attack on them would be an attack on Indian democracy.

Coming in the wake of talks of establishment of a judicial appointments commission to replace the present collegiums system for appointment of judges in the higher judiciary this remark of the PM is worrisome.

Prime Minister Modi, since he was the chief minister of Gujarat, has left no stone unturned to harass civil liberties and human rights activists like Teesta Setalvad and Mallika Sarabhai. False cases have been filed against them and police have been unleashed to hound them just to deter them from working for human rights in Gujarat. The “five-star” activists in the PM’s remark must have included Setalvad also, a criminal case against whom was transferred by the Supreme Court from the court of two judges known to be close the Prime Minister.

The Supreme Court of India intervened to grant her bail. It also intervened in the case of environmental activist Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, who was illegally taken off a plane to London by the government. It is such bold interventions of the judiciary to protect citizens from a malignant state authority that was behind the acidic remark of the PM. It was the intemperate language of a frustrated man.

To his eternal credit, Chief Justice of India HL Dattu said that the judiciary today was as frank and fearless as ever. There was no question of its being driven by anybody.


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