January 25, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
RAND’s study of the Mumbai attacks
Subroto Roy January 25 2009
The conspicuously good thing that can be said about the RAND Corporation’s study of the Mumbai massacres (“The Lessons of Mumbai”, RAND January 2009) is that there is no sign of it having been affected by the powerful Pakistan lobby. Far too many purported studies emerging from American or British “thinktanks” cannot say the same.
If anything, the ten American authors of the 25-pages of the RAND text have among them two prominent advocates of better US-India relations. This is helpful to truthfulness because of the simple fact India has been in this case a victim of aggression that originated in Pakistan. Whether elements of the Pakistan Government were involved is almost the wrong question – if some retired underemployed former soldier drawing a Pakistan Army pension helped the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s commando training of the Mumbai terrorists, the existence of Pakistani state involvement is proved. Commando training requires technical skills of a sort that can only originate with a military.
In Pakistan as in any other large populous country including India, the state tends to be a hydra-headed monster and it may be foolish to imagine instead a rational, unified, well-informed or even a benevolent political entity. State involvement in Pakistan, India, China or elsewhere is something hard to isolate when there is so much mixing of private and public property or misuse of resources arising from the public exchequer.
What Pakistan’s PR campaign has done after Mumbai is not so much raise the Kashmir dispute as to obfuscate things by shedding crocodile tears and pretending to share victimhood saying, oh we sympathise with you but please sympathise with us too as we have been victims of even bigger terrorist attacks by the same kind of people, we have lost Benazir, we have lost many more people than you have, therefore cooperate with us and we will try to do what we can to help you in this matter. English-speaking liberals educated at places like Karachi Grammar School have then appeared on Indian TV stations (owned by Delhi people from places like Doon School) purporting to represent Pakistan on “the Mumbai incident”; none of them can have much credibility because the real India-haters in Pakistan might cheerfully make them murder victims too given half a chance.
The RAND study deserves credit for avoiding all misleading Pakistani rhetoric about the Mumbai massacres and at least intending to try to get to the bottom of things in a systematic manner. Beyond that, unfortunately, it has made logical and factual and methodological errors which cause it to fail to do so.
The key logical error made by the RAND authors arises from combining a central front-page statement
“Evidence suggests Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based in Pakistan, was responsible for the attack”
with assertive suggestions about Mumbai’s police being backward, incompetent, cowardly etc (“passive”). Yet how precisely did evidence about LeT culpability come to light? Only because Mumbai’s police and the Railway police engaged, injured and then captured Kasab using their antiquated equipment the best they could. There is no evidence of police cowardice at CST Station; to the contrary, it took courage to aim .303’s at adversaries firing back with assault rifles. Kasab received his first hand injury there. ATS Chief Karkare and his fellow-officers may seem foolhardy in hindsight to have been driving in the same vehicle but they did engage their unknown enemy immediately they could and died doing so, crippling Kasab badly enough that he could be captured in due course at Chowpatty. [Correction: it appears that though Kasab was fired upon by the police at CST Station he received both his hand injuries from the firing by the ATS squad.] And the Chowpatty police action showed obvious bravery in absorbing injury and death in order to kill Ishmail and capture Kasab. (Kasab, among the youngest, had been paired with Ishmail, the apparent leader of the group.)
Furthermore, Kasab upon capture was treated humanely and lawfully. His injuries were treated, he was produced before a magistrate within a week who asked him if he was being mistreated to which he said no. Slumdog millionaire may get undeserved Oscars portraying torture of a British actor by Mumbai police but it is ridiculous fiction – Kasab the captured Pakistani terrorist mass murderer was not tortured by Mumbai’s police.
Contrast such Indian police behaviour with the “enhanced interrogation techniques” the Bush Administration used with negative results in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib – which President Obama has now started to end. Kasab, an ignorant misguided youth, was grateful enough for the humane and civilized treatment to start singing like the proverbial canary. The result of that has been precisely all the evidence the Government of India has now presented to the world and Pakistan about the LeT’s culpability.
As for the anti-terrorist actions of the Indian Army, Navy and NSG, the RAND study is right to point to multitudinous errors and it is useful to have these listed in orderly fashion. But many of these errors were obvious to millions of lay Indian citizens who watched events on TV. The central fault was the scarcity of trained NSG officers and men, and the failure to apply standard emergency management protocols.
The RAND study, by relying overly on government sources, has failed to point to what ordinary Indian citizens already know – the NSG is being utterly wasted protecting our politicians. India has no proper equivalent of the US “Secret Service”, and even if we did, we would probably waste that by spreading it too thinly among politicians. As it happens if almost any politician in India today did happen to be unfortunately assassinated, the main mourners would be family-members and not the general Indian public. Despite politicians constituting rather “low-value targets” for terrorists, India’s scarce anti-terrorist and police resources have been misallocated to protecting them.
Finally, the RAND study makes the lazy-man’s methodological error of supposing outfits like the LeT think and behave in a manner explicable by American political science textbooks, or ought to do so. What Western analysts may need to do instead is learn from the old Arabist and Orientalist traditions of how to think and see the world from Eastern points of view. But that may require greater self-knowledge than the modern world tends to permit.
My December 6 2008 analysis here titled “A Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)” is republished below. I have corrected “Rome Airport” with “Lod Airport” on the basis of reading the RAND report, though may not have received the courtesy of aknowledement for the reminder of the Japanese Red Army attack.
“In my book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, 1989) and in my August 24 2004 public lecture in England “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, both available elsewhere here, I described the “case-by-case” philosophical technique recommended by Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough. (Bambrough had also shown a common root in the work of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.) Herewith an application of the technique to a contemporary problem that shows the “family resemblance” between two modern terrorist attacks, the September 11 2001 attack on New York and Washington and the Mumbai massacres last week.
Similarity: In both, a gang of motivated youthful terrorists acted as a team against multiple targets; their willingness to accept suicide while indulging in mass-murder may have, bizarrely enough, brought a sense of adventure and meaning to otherwise empty lives.
Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad Atta seemed to have been a single predominant leader while each of the others also had complex active roles requiring decisions, like piloting and navigating hijacked jumbo-jets. In the Mumbai massacres, the training and leadership apparently came from outside the team before and even during the operation – almost as if the team were acting like brainwashed robots under long-distance control.
Similarity: Both attacks required a long prior period of training and planning.
Difference: The 9/11 attacks did not require commando-training imparted by military-style trainers; the Mumbai massacres did.
Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, the actual weapons used initially were primitive, like box-cutters; in the Mumbai massacres, assault rifles and grenades were used along with sophisticated telecommunications equipment.
Difference: In 9/11, the initial targets, the hijacked aircraft, were themselves made into weapons against the ultimate targets, namely the buildings, in a way not seen before. In the Mumbai massacres, mass-shooting of terrorized civilians was hardly something original; besides theatres of war, the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army used these in the 1970s as terrorist techniques (e.g. at Rome Airport Lod Airport; Postscript January 26 2009: I make this correction after reading and commenting on the RAND study which unfortunately did not have the courtesy of acknowledging my December 6 2008 analysis) plus there were, more recently, the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres.
Similarity: In both cases, Hollywood and other movie scripts could have inspired the initial ideas of techniques to be used.
Similarity: In both cases, the weapons used were appropriate to the anticipated state of defence: nothing more than box-cutters could be expected to get by normal airport security; assault rifles etc could come in by the unguarded sea and attack soft targets in Mumbai. (Incidentally, even this elementary example of strategic thinking in a practical situation may be beyond the analytical capacity contained in the tons of waste paper produced at American and other modern university Economics departments under the rubric of “game theory”.)
Similarity: In both cases, a high-level of widespread fear was induced for several days or more within a targeted nation-state by a small number of people.
Similarity: No ransom-like demands were made by the terrorists in either case.
Similarity: Had the single terrorist not been captured alive in the Mumbai massacres, there would have been little trace left by the attackers.
Difference: The 9/11 attackers knew definitely they were on suicide-missions; the Mumbai attackers may not have done and may have imagined an escape route.”
January 20, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
President Barack Obama will be in all likelihood as worthy and competent a head of state and head of government as there has been anywhere, and, as he enters his high office, he deserves the good wishes of the world.
The beautiful State of Hawaii can proudly call him its most famous native son.
South Beretania where he apparently lived some years is a short walk from Punahou Towers at 1621 Dole where I once owned a condo, from which could be seen the school the new President attended for some time. He happens to be the first US President in my lifetime whom I find myself older than in age.
I expect President Obama may well find governance to be much different from the campaign: requiring more truth and less rhetoric, more circumspection and less dogmatism.
“Yes we can” will likely have to give way to something like “Yes we might be able to do that. Perhaps we ought to. But again, perhaps we ought not to. I think I’ll have to think about this one more time.”
Most important might be the words of Oliver Cromwell: “Think it possible you may be mistaken”.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
January 20 2009
November 5, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Does America need a Prime Minister and a longer-lived Legislature?
First published in The Sunday Statesman
Editorial Page Special Article Nov 5 2006
The politics of the United States in the last few decades has become so opaque, it is hard to see what goes on, beyond the banal superficialities. Competitive commercial television, an American institutional invention, is hardly the most suitable keeper of any nation’s historical and political heritage, nor a source of accurate collective political memory, and without political memory it is not possible to understand the present or anticipate the future. Yet most modern Americans are compelled by circumstances to comprehend the national or state-level politics of their enormous variegated land of 300 million people only through the very coarse filter provided by commercial television.
Television obviously demands passivity, dissipating a viewer’s ability to reason about or reflect on any information being offered. A newspaper report “Plane crash kills 120” in a front-page column, causes the information to be absorbed in context along with the rest of the day’s news. If the radio says “An aeroplane crashed today, and all 120 passengers aboard are feared dead”, the same event is felt through the invisible newsreader’s voice, the listener being left to imagine the awfulness of what happened. But for TV to report the same event requires pompous self-conscious studio-anchors, helicopters at the scene, interviews with weeping relatives, and instant analyses of the crash’s causes, all under a banner of “Breaking News”. The average viewer is left not so much sympathising with the victims as feeling enervated and anxious about air-travel and the world in general — besides being left ignorant of the rest of the day’s happenings.
In reaching mass-audiences with advertisements of commercial products, TV quickly obtained the general surrender of radio in American homes, though radio still controls what modern Americans hear in the time they spend in their automobiles (and they spend a larger fraction there than any other people). Newspapers signalled their abject surrender to TV by “dumbing down” their front-pages with large photographs as pathetic reminders of yesterday’s TV events, or headlines that sound racy, sensational, glamorous or with-it. Given the transient nature of all news and expense of printing it on newsprint, actually reading newspapers (as opposed to looking at advertising supplements) has become in the age of TV a minor middle class indulgence, although the editorial pages of a handful of “national” newspapers remains the last refuge of serious political discussion in the USA and elsewhere.
American politics filtered through commercial television has caused all issues and politicians, whether national, state and/or local, to tend to become like products and brands available to be bought and sold at the right price. Yet American television also produced a serious reaction to its own banalities by starting in the early 1980s news-reporting and analysis on “Public Television” and also on “C-Span”. “Public Television” (as opposed to commercial or cable networks) produced what came to be known as the “MacNeill-Lehrer NewsHour”, which set the benchmark for all political news and commentary in the USA and indeed across the globe to this day. C-Span took the unusual step of sending television cameras to silently record all political events, especially the seemingly least significant and most tedious of legislative committee meetings or political speeches, and then broadcasting these endlessly 24 hours a day along with very dry political analysis and comment. Both provided a little (“highbrow”) sobriety to the otherwise drunken political culture created by American commercial television. Along with a small number of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, MacNeill-Lehrer and C-Span and the odd Sunday morning news-show on commercial TV, gave America’s politically conscious classes their access to information and analysis about their own country and what was being done in its name in the wider world. At least that was so until the 2003 attack on Iraq — during which acceptance of the US military procedure of “embedded reporters” ruined America’s traditions of a free press. Since 2003, growth of political coverage on the Internet especially via “blogging” has caused more candour to penetrate American politics and to explode the dissimulations of the “mainstream media”.
Besides politics via television, the other main factor affecting the attention-deficit disorder, short time-horizon and lack of perspective and depth afflicting modern American discourse, has been the rigid time-table of a Constitution written for a long gone era. Every even-numbered year is an election year in America, and that election is held in the first week of November. Hence on 7 November 2006 America will go to the polls, as it did in November 2004 and as it will again in November 2008. Each requires the entire lower legislative house to be newly elected.
Now two years may have been a long time in the late 18th Century when the US Constitution was written, and transport and communications between the Capitol and the new States was hazardous or time-consuming. But in modern times two years are over in the blink of an eyelid. Members of the American House of Representatives must then spend their time either talking about public money and how to spend it (as only they are authorized to do), or private money and how to earn it in order to stay elected and be able to talk about how to spend the public money. Inevitably, these two activities get confused with each other. The two year term of the American lower house may well be the shortest anywhere in the world, and may deserve to be doubled at least.
The upper house elects two senior politicians from each of the 50 States (regardless of its size or importance) for a 6 year term each, with one-third of the house returning to face the electorate at each of the biennial national elections. These 100 Senators at any given time have often constituted a fine deliberative body, and, along with the executive governors of the larger States, the pool from which America’s presidents and vice-presidents get to be chosen. Yet the Senate has also often enough palpably failed in its “advice and consent” role vis-à-vis the American President — whether in the matter of America never becoming a member of the League of Nations because of Senate isolationism despite Woodrow Wilson having invented it (something the British and French found so bewildering and frustrating), or the modern Senate caving in to the jingoism unleashed by the father-son Bush Presidencies only to then say “Oops, we’ve made a mistake”.
Another fundamental institutional problem at the root of modern American politics today is the lack of separation between the Head of State and Head of Government. This not merely causes people with the wrong ambitions and abilities to want to become President (because they lust in juvenile fashion to fire cruise missiles or fly onto aircraft carriers), it also causes the business of serious governance to frequently stop getting done because of endless paralysis between the President and Legislature. Churchill perspicaciously observed: “The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than… by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the country, the diverse types, interests and environments of its enormous population, the safety-valve function of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls; none secures to its supreme executive officer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.” There is an argument to be made for the American President to become more of a constitutional figurehead representing the thoughtful will of the Union and all the 50 States, while an American Prime Minister comes to be elected by the Legislature as a more subdued, sober and competent Head of Government. It would be a healthy development for America’s domestic and international politics, and hence better for the rest of the world as well.
May 7, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
MODERN WORLD HISTORY
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article May 7 2006
MUCH as we in India might like to think we were the central focus of Britain’s national life in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we were not. India’s matters were handled mostly by a senior cabinet minister to whom the governor-general or viceroy reported. Though possession and control of India gave the British a sense of mission, self-importance and grandeur, and events in India (mostly bad ones) could hog the newspapers for a few days, it was never the case that India dominated Britain’s political consciousness or national agenda for any length of time. British prime ministers and diplomatists, from Pitt through Canning, Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone, Granville, Disraeli and Salisbury, mostly had other concerns of foreign policy, mostly in Europe and also in the Americas, Africa, and the Near and Far East. India was peripheral to their vision except as a place to be held against any encroachment.
A French historian used to begin lectures on British history saying “Messieurs, l’Angleterre est une ile.” (“Gentlemen, Britain is an island.”) The period of unambiguous British dominance of world diplomacy began with Pitt’s response to the French Revolution, and unambiguously ended in 1917 when Britain and France could have lost the war to Germany if America had not intervened. Since then, America has taken over Britain’s role in world diplomacy, though Lloyd George and Churchill, to a smaller extent Harold Wilson, and finally Thatcher, were respected British voices in world circles. Thatcher’s successor Major failed by seeming immature, while his successor Blair has failed by being immature to the point of being branded America’s “poodle”, making Britain’s loss of prestige complete.
Between Pitt and Flanders though, Britain’s dominance of world affairs and the process of defining the parameters of international conduct was clear. It was an era in which nations fought using ships, cannon, cavalry and infantry. The machine-gun, airpower and automobile had been hardly invented. Yet it is amazing how many technological inventions and innovations occurred during that era, many in Britain and the new America, vastly improving the welfare of masses of people: the steam-engine, the cotton gin, railways, electricity, telecommunications, systems of public hygiene etc. The age of American dominance has been one of petroleum, airpower, guided missiles and nuclear energy, as well as of penicillin and modern medicine.
It was during the period 1791-1991, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that world diplomacy created the system of “Western” nation-states, from Canning’s recognition of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc to the emergence of the European Union. There is today peace in Europe and it has become unthinkable there will be war between e.g. France and Germany except on a soccer pitch. Even the unstable Balkans have stabilised. The transition from British to American dominance occurred during and because of the 1914-1918 World War, yet that war’s causes had nothing to do with America and hence America’s rise has been somewhat fortuitous. The War superficially had to do with those unstable Balkans in the summer of 1914 and the system of alliances developed over the previous 100 years; beneath was the economic rise of the new Germany.
Austro-Hungary went to war against Serbia, causing Germany its ally into war with Russia, Serbia’s ally. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed through British diplomacy by the Treaty of London in 1839 signed by Austria, France, Britain, Russia and Prussia. This “scrap of paper” Germany tore up to invade Belgium on 4 August 1914, because it was easier to attack France through Belgium than directly as most French generals had expected. Though Germany had no dispute with France, France was Russia’s ally, and the Germans had long-feared fighting on two fronts against larger but more slowly mobilising forces. Violation of Belgian neutrality caused Britain into war with Germany. So all Europe was at war from which it would fail to extricate itself without American intervention. This arrived in 1917 though it too had been provoked by German submarines sinking American ships in the Atlantic. The actual impact of American forces entering the battlefields was small, and it was after the Armistice, when the issue arose of reparations by Germany to everyone and repayments by Britain and France to America, that America’s role became dominant. New York took over from London as the world’s financial capital.
Woodrow Wilson longed to impose a system of transparent international relations on the Europeans who had been used to secret deals and intrigues. He failed, especially when America’s Senate vetoed America’s own entry into the League of Nations. America became isolationist, wishing to have nothing more to do with European wars ~ and remains to this day indifferent towards the League’s successor. But the War also saw Lenin’s Bolsheviks grab power after Russia extricated itself from fighting Germany by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. And the Armistice saw the French desire to humiliate and destroy German power for ever, which in turn sowed the seeds for Hitler’s rise. And the War also had led to the British making the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish “National Home” would arise in Palestine in amity and cooperation with the Arabs. The evolution of these three events dominated the remainder of the 20th Century ~along with the rise and defeat of an imperialist Japan, the rise of communist China, and later, the defeat of both France and America in Vietnam.
Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The next day in faraway India, the British in a panic started to place Jinnah on an equal footing as Gandhi ~ astounding Jinnah himself as much as anyone since his few supporters had lost the 1937 elections badly, especially in the provinces that today constitute the country he wished for. After the defeat and occupation of Germany and Japan, America’s economic supremacy was unquestionable. Utterly exhausted from war, the British had no choice but to leave India’s angry peoples to their own fates, and retreated to their fortified island again ~ though as brown and black immigration increased with the end of Empire, many pale-skinned natives boarded ships for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. America came to have much respect for its junior British ally during the fight against Hitler and later in the political battle against the USSR. It was Thatcher who (after battling Argentina in the South Atlantic) led Reagan to make peace with Gorbachov. With the end of Soviet communism, Germany would be unified again. All across Christendom there was peace for the first time ever, and a militarily powerful nuclear-armed Israel had been created too in the old Palestine. In this new period of world history, the Security Council’s permanent members are the modern version of the “Great Powers” of the 19th Century. The American-led and British-supported destruction of Baathist Iraq, and threatened destruction of Khomeinist Iran mark the final end of the League of Nations’ ethos which had arisen from the condemnation of aggression. In Osama bin Laden’s quaint idiom, there seems a battle of “Crusaders” and “Zionists” against Muslim believers. Certainly Muslim believers (which means most Muslims as there are relatively few agnostics and atheists among them) think that it is obvious that the Universe was created, and that its Creator finally and definitively spoke through one human being in 7th Century Arabia. Many people from North Africa to the Philippines are not often able to conceive how things might have been otherwise. The new era of history will undoubtedly see all kinds of conversations take place about this rather subtle question.
January 13, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
India’s Separation Of Powers’ Doctrine
First published in The Statesman Jan 13 2006 Editorial Page Special Article,
By Subroto Roy
The Speaker does not like the fact the High Court has issued notices questioning the procedure he followed in expelling MPs from Parliament. Sonia Gandhi’s self-styled “National Advisory Council” has demanded control over disbursement of 100,000,000,000 rupees of public money. The Manmohan Singh Government plans to quietly ignore the Supreme Court’s finding that it had breached India’s Constitution in imposing President’s Rule in Bihar. All three issues have to do with application of India’s Separation of Powers Doctrine, i.e. the appropriate delimitation of Constitutional powers between our Legislature, Executive and Judiciary.
A constitutional crime was attempted in India during the Indira-Sanjay Gandhi political “Emergency” declared on 26 June 1975. On 10 November 1975 (a time of press censorship) a 13-judge Bench of the Supreme Court met to hear the Government plead for overrule of Kesavananda Bharati (A.I.R. 1973 S.C. 1461), a landmark Nani Palkhivala once called “the greatest contribution of the Republic of India to constitutional jurisprudence”. Within two days, the Government had failed in the Court, and Kesavananda held. What was upheld? That while India’s Parliament was sovereign and could amend the Constitution, the amending power may not be used to alter or destroy “the basic structure or framework of the Constitution”. And the Supreme Court decides for itself whether Parliament has exceeded its legitimate power to amend.
Palkhivala’s description of what constitutes the “basic structure or framework” of India’s Constitution is excellent enough: “the rule of law, the right to personal liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, the right to dissent which implies the freedom of speech and expression and a free press are… a part of the basic structure of a free democracy, and it is these priceless human freedoms which cannot be destroyed by Parliament in exercise of its amending power. Thus Kesavananda’s case ensures that tyranny and despotism shall not masquerade as constitutionalism.”
Palkhivala argued that, if anything, the aspects of Kesavananda that needed to be set aside were those that had over-ruled Golaknath (A.I.R. 1967 S.C. 1643) which said Parliament should not be held to have the power to abridge any fundamental right, indeed any amended article which abrogates any fundamental right is invalid.
Dicey said “In the principle of the distribution of powers which determines its form, the constitution of the United States is the exact opposite of the English constitution.” Kesavananda Bharati showed the midway point between the two in constitutional jurisprudence anywhere in the world. We are like the Americans and unlike the British first in being a Republic, and secondly in having an explicit written Constitution. We are like the British and unlike the Americans in being a parliamentary democracy where the Executive Branch of Government, namely the Prime Minister and his/her Cabinet is elected from within the Legislative Branch of Government, namely, Parliament, and must at all times retain the confidence of the latter, specifically the Lok Sabha, the House of the People.
The American Executive Branch has a directly-elected President who chooses his administration, and it is commonplace for him to not have the confidence of the Upper or Lower House of the Legislature, to the point that one recent president had to undergo impeachment proceedings and barely survived. There is no constitutional crisis in America if the Legislature loathes the President and wishes him out. The American President and his Executive Branch stay in office until the last minute of his fixed term.
PM answers to Parliament
In our system, the Prime Minister answers at all times to Parliament. Parliament in India’s democracy has normally meant the House of the People — where every member has contested and won a direct vote in his/her constituency. India’s current Lok Sabha has set a constitutional precedent not seen in more than a hundred years anywhere in electing an Executive led by someone not a member. The British Upper House used to have an aristocratic hereditary component which Mr Blair’s New Labour Government has removed, making it more like what the Rajya Sabha was supposed to be — except that by now our Rajya Sabha has tended to become a place for party worthies who have lost normal elections, superannuated cinematic personalities, perpetual bureaucrats still seeking office, and others who really should be at home helping to raise the grandchildren. Parliament may not have fully recovered its health ever since that constitutional crime committed against the Republic known as the Indira-Sanjay “Emergency” (and at least one member of Sanjay’s coterie wields much power today).
Crimes and misdemeanours
The Supreme Court’s finding that the Government breached the Constitution by imposing President’s Rule in Bihar is a finding not of a constitutional crime but of a constitutional misdemeanour. (For reasons given already in these columns on 20 October 2005, it has nothing to do with the President, who merely embodies the sovereignty of our Republic.) For an Executive Order or Legislative Act to be found by a competent Court as being unconstitutional means merely that it does not have to be obeyed by citizens. In the Bihar case, the Supreme Court found this consequence irrelevant because new elections were already in process, the result of which would come from the most authentic democratic voice possible, namely, the same people who elect the House of the People in the first place. India’s Executive has been found to have committed a constitutional misdemeanour, for which it needed to apologise to the Court and Parliament (who are its constitutional co-equals) and then ask the latter to renew its confidence — in which event, life goes on. If confidence was not renewed, the Government would fall and a new Government would have to be formed. But we do not have yet the idea of a backbench revolt —mainly because all the front benches themselves have tended to be in such confusion and disarray with regard to parliamentary traditions, processes and functions.
The Supreme Court as the ultimate protector of the Constitution would be well within its prerogative to oversee whether a Parliamentary Speaker has acted appropriately. Consider a hypothetical case. Once elected, a Speaker is supposed to have no party-affiliation ever more for the rest of his/her life. Suppose, hypothetically, a controlled experiment found a Speaker systematically biased in favour of his/her own former party-members and against their opponents. Where but the Courts could such arbitrariness be effectively remonstrated against? Even if the incumbent Speaker impossibly imagines himself the personal embodiment of the Legislative Branch, he is not beyond the Constitution and therefore not beyond India’s Separation of Powers’ Doctrine.
The Opposition had alleged that the Speaker failed to follow procedure which required the culprits in the expulsion case be referred to the Privileges Committee. But beyond that the Opposition was too confused and guilt-ridden to pursue the matter during the dying moments of Parliament’s Winter Session. In the clear light of day, the issue has now ended up in the Courts. If the Supreme Court eventually rules the Speaker had in fact failed to follow Parliament’s own procedures (and hence breached Constitutional practices), the Speaker would need to apologise to the Courts and the House that elected him, and perhaps offer to fall on his sword.
Finally, for the “National Advisory Council”, a wholly unelected body, to demand a say for itself over spending Rs. 100 billion in State and Union Government budget-making, would be another constitutional misdemeanour — unless its members are merely on the personal staff of the Hon’ble Member representing Rae Bareili, who may of course introduce whatever legislation on money-bills that any other Lok Sabha Member may do.