Rahul Gandhi's Disqualification Proves the Law Has Fallen Into the Wrong Hands

It appears that a hydra-headed ecosystem is working 24/7 to erode the spirit of constitutional democracy by disingenuously using existing laws and procedures.

Weaponising the law for political messaging or even eroding the democratic spirit has become the norm under the current regime. The letter of the law is applied correctly via bureaucrats or judges in a manner that makes a mockery of the system. It appears that a hydra-headed ecosystem is working 24/7 to erode the spirit of constitutional democracy by disingenuously using existing laws and procedures. This reminds one of Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s famous words:

“However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.”

This principle is even more relevant to how ordinary laws are used or abused at the level of the bureaucracy and lower judiciary to subvert constitutional rights. Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha is a classic example. The sequence of events is self-evident. On April 13, 2019, Gandhi made a speech in Karnataka in which he asked why “all these thieves have Modi as surname”. Within days, BJP MLA from Gujarat Purnesh Modi filed a criminal defamation case in a Gujarat court arguing that Gandhi has defamed the Modi community. All this was obviously happening in the heat of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The elections were done and Modi won a big mandate.

Also read: Why Rahul Gandhi’s Disqualification May Be a Turning Point

Presumably, the case became politically less relevant after Modi’s victory. But the court procedures continued and Gandhi made his first statement in person before the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Surat on June 24, 2021. In March 2022, the court asked the complainant, Purnesh Modi, to start addressing the court on the merits of the case. At this point, the complainant lost interest in the case and rushed to the high court to get the trial court proceedings stayed.

“It is rare that a complainant, who seeks to prosecute, rushes to the high court to have the trial stayed unless he believes that there is little likelihood of his succeeding before the trial court,” writes reputed senior advocate Kapil Sibal in The New Indian Express.

Suddenly, the case was revived on February 27, 2023, before another chief judicial magistrate, after Purnesh Modi withdrew his high court petition, which had stayed the trial court proceedings against Gandhi. Sibal says, “The quick withdrawal of proceedings in the High Court, resumption of the trial, timing of the proceedings and sudden hearing of the matter raises questions, which in time, may perhaps be answered.”

The sequence of events clearly suggests that the ruling regime has a certain confidence in the way it navigates the lower judiciary. The ease and confidence with which the law is routinely getting weaponised is also seen in other cases, where delivering a strong political message is the primary objective. It is so apparent that even common citizens are now getting a clear idea of this dark stratagem.

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For instance, last week the Delhi Police used the law relating to defacement of public property to arrest a large number of people who had put up wall posters with the slogan ‘Modi Hatao, Desh Bachao (Remove Modi, Save the Nation)’. A perfectly legitimate slogan in a democracy was criminalised on the ground that public property had been defaced! Again, an ordinary law was used to muzzle democratic assertion.

The use of bulldozers in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and elsewhere falls in the same category. Finally, the Opposition parties moving the Supreme Court against the weaponisation of the investigative agencies via laws which place the burden of proof on the accused again highlights this tendency of an autocratic state. Noted lawyer Abhishek Singhvi says that if over 95% of cases against politicians are against Opposition leaders, the democratic playing field is not level. Of course, the BJP’s stock response is, “Let the law take its course.” It is evident to most rational observers that a deep sense of cynicism marks this discourse, giving credence to the view that an undeclared Emergency is already here.

It is a tragic irony that those in the ruling regime who keep invoking the greatness of Ambedkar are so brazenly in violation of the spirit of his speeches in the Constituent Assembly debates in 1949.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.