Caution is not weakness

Conflicts between the legislature and judiciary are not uncommon in a democracy. History is replete with instances of confrontation between the two institutions and one can easily spell out any number of issues in which the decision of one has been negated by the other. Rather, such conflicts are in a way welcome and are essential for the evolution of a just judiciary and a workable democracy. The victory of one cannot be construed as a defeat for the other for the simple reason that their perceptions and yardsticks vary. While the judiciary is apt to take an academic and general view of problems, the legislature consisting of the people’s representatives would prefer to reflect their aspirations. A court’s verdict may not be to the liking of the majority, while on the other hand a duly elected government simply cannot afford to ignore the majority view.

The above reflection has been prompted by a desire to put the recent developments on the vexed reservation issue in proper focus. When the TN Assembly passed a Bill to safeguard the 69 per cent reservations for BCs and MBCs, after the Supreme Court verdict restricting the same to 50 per cent, the situation had all the makings of a major conflict between the apex court and the legislature. And Ms Jayalalitha walked the tightrope admirably. After sending the Bill for Presidential assent, the TN Chief Minister followed it up by leading an all-party delegation to meet the PM and President and succeeded in getting it. And, by requesting the President, with the unanimous support of the TN Assembly, to place the relevant Bill in the Ninth Schedule, she has cleared the way for an appropriate Constitutional Amendment to be pushed through at the proper time for obtaining immunity from judicial review. And the fact that all this has been steered through by the due process of law and democratic means redounds to the credit of Ms Jayalalitha and her tactful handling of this explosive issue.

But a rather piquant situation has presently arisen because of the Supreme Court deciding, for reasons best known to itself, not to take cognisance of the inherent quest for a Constitutional amendment and insisting that the TN government should proceed only on 50 per cent quota basis for college admissions. Having achieved a signal victory without entering into direct confrontation with the Supreme Court at any stage, the TN government’s caution in dealing with the apex court is understandable and also justified. It has clearly and categorically stated that there can be no compromise on the 69 per cent reservation and has listed various steps it has taken to convince the Supreme Court to reverse its decision. There is absolutely no reason to suspect the sincerity of the State government in ensuring the rights of the underprivileged. The CM’s commitment has been amply demonstrated several times.

Such being the case, it is odd that the DMK president, Mr Karunanidhi, and his new found ‘allies’ have started kicking up dust by levelling reckless allegations that the government has gone back on its promise of 69 per cent reservation, relying wholly on a baseless press report. The State Health Minister has replied to all his charges point by point, with evidence, thereby nailing the lies being spread by the DMK chief and his coterie. And he has also proved beyond doubt that the TN government has so far made admissions to colleges only on 69 per cent quota basis and not as claimed by the Opposition. The prophets of doom have once again been shown their place.

 Any government, when tackling sensitive issues like the present one, is entitled to maintain a certain level of confidentiality. Forcing the hand of the government on the pretext of eliciting transparency would at times prove suicidal to the interests of the people. Politicians out of power can talk through the hat, but the rulers cannot succumb to such emotional outbursts and pointless rhetoric.

This explains why the TN government did not prefer to give publicity to the steps it had initiated to convince the Supreme Court. With anti-reservationists lurking in the background to sabotage the rights of the underprivileged and the Opposition parties and their obliging media friends waiting in the wings to malign the government on some pretext or other, the latter’s reluctance to spell out its plan of action is wholly justified.

Not that Mr Karunanidhi and his friends do not know about all these, having been in power themselves. It is just that it suits their political gameplan to employ this convenient hypocrisy. As the saying goes, it is difficult to wake up a man who pretends to be asleep.

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Jawahar T R