Vijayawada: A direct confrontation with the judiciary has been a consistent theme of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s first year in office. During this period, the state’s high court and the Supreme Court have pulled up his government in as many as 60 cases that dealt with a plethora of policy matters. The courts felt that many of the decisions he took ran counter to the basic tenets of the rule of law.
The major decisions of the government overturned by the judiciary included the following:
- Sacking of the state’s election commissioner N. Ramesh Kumar
- Introduction of English as a medium of instruction in state-run schools
- Painting the village secretariats with colours similar to that of the ruling party’s flag
- Spiking the quota for backward classes from 27% to 34% in the Panchayat Raj elections
- Divesting the state police of probing the infamous murder of Jagan’s uncle Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy and shifting the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)
- Entrusting the CBI to probe the case of a government doctor who was ‘tortured’ by the state police
Apart from these, Jagan’s agenda of distributive capitals ran through a rough patch after a batch of petitions were filed in the high court.
His tussle with the judiciary reached a flash point when the high court served notices on 44 leaders of the ruling YSR Congress, including two legislators. These leaders were involved in a social media campaign that attributed motives to the judges who delivered a ruling in the case of Dr Sudhakar. The medic, a government doctor from Visakhapatnam district, was suspended for protesting the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) for health workers handling the COVID-19 pandemic and subjected to ‘torture and illegal detention’ by the police later.
In fact, CM Jagan himself took the lead to openly criticise constitutional bodies like the State Election Commission (SEC) for deferring the panchayat elections. “We represent a government with the task of realising people’s mandate. Can the SEC or any institution override a popular government tasked with welfare of people”, he said, questioning the rationale behind the SEC’s decision to defer the Panchayat Raj elections at a media conference on March 15.
Reddy even took strong objection when the SEC put on hold the process of allotting lands and implementing welfare schemes to the poor ahead of the local government elections.
The YSR Congress party won 151 assembly and 22 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections on the plank of a basket of nine major welfare schemes called Navaratnalu. The Jagan government reportedly spent Rs 43,000 crore on a slew of welfare schemes in the last year.
Jagan claimed that if institutions like the SEC attempt to scuttle the “welfare of the poor” and the subaltern sections with the strength of their autonomy, it only amounts to undermining people’s mandate. However, such schemes were viewed by both the SEC and courts as freebies to incentivise voting for the ruling party.
His rival and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, during the 2019 elections, also raged against the Chief Election Commission (CEC), which had suspended welfare programmes as part of enforcing the model code of conduct.
The stalemate with the SEC still continues, with Ramesh Kumar reinstating himself as the election commissioner. Citing the objections raised by Andhra Pradesh advocate general Sriram Subramanyam over his reinstatement, Ramesh Kumar has alleged that the Jagan government has defied court’s order by not allowing him to assume charge. The SEC later withdrew the circular, appointing G. Vani Mohan as the commissioner.
Srikakulam’s YSR Congress MLA Sidiri Appala Raju also made a similar argument, saying that the judicial pronouncements have failed to reflect the people’s aspirations and public interest. He cited the scrapping of a government order (GO) by the Andhra Pradesh high court that pertained to the introduction of English as a medium of instruction in government schools as a case in point. Even after nullification of the particular GO, the Jagan Reddy government mobilised public opinion through a series of interactions with students and parents to build a case in favour of its decision.
Senior counsel Harish Salve, speaking at a webinar on May 30 on insulating the judiciary from ‘social media diatribes‘, justified the contempt case initiated by the AP high court against leaders of the ruling party. He said, “The comments were abusive, in defiance of the court, and against the majesty of the court”. Salve pointed out that the tendency of “such people” is to undermine the judiciary when the court does not agree with them.
The system of checks and balances is essential for the proper functioning of the three organs—executive, legislature and judiciary—created by the constitution, said K. Nageswar, an analyst, highlighting the need for the heads of legislatures to refrain from attempts to undermine the judiciary.