It’s a landmark

April 11, 2008

In The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment on reservations for the OBCs 

Landmark judgments can have one of two features. They can strike an uneasy balance between competing considerations, in a sort of compromise that keeps the peace. Or they can mark out a radically new course of action. Ashok Thakur is an oddity in that, amidst all the complications of four different judgments, it manages to do both. The core orders of the Supreme Court strike a balance between two considerations. A society like India needs affirmative action. But the core question must have some rational justification: Who should be targeted, why should they be targeted and how should they be targeted? For all the brave face the government is putting up, its perfidy has been exposed. The issue was not whether affirmative action is permissible. What was grossly objectionable was that the government indiscriminately included groups that manifestly ought not to be beneficiaries. They had converted a social policy into a pure power play.


And in Mail Today, Dipankar Gupta says the judgment is a form of ‘damage control’

THE Supreme Court’s ruling to allow reservations for the OBCs, provided the creamy layer is kept out, is bound to hurt a large number of politicians who have made caste mobilisation their sole occupation. In my view, this judgment is more like “ damage control” as the Supreme Court could not quite disallow OBC reservations, what with the Constitutional amendment making the way for it. But by excluding the creamy layer from enjoying the benefits of OBC reservations, the Supreme Court has not only damaged the prospect of a large number of powerful and wellheeled members of the OBC, but has also plunged and twisted the knife into the very body of Mandal’s recommendations.


Finally, who or what exactly is the ‘creamy layer’? For the answer from Mail Today click here.

Our freedoms, your lordships

March 4, 2008

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express says some Supreme Court orders are inimical to liberal values 

All due respect to the Supreme Court, it is now fair to say that unwittingly some of its orders are giving aid and succour to all those tendencies that are out to subvert liberal values in this country. For the second time in less than a year, the Supreme Court has passed an order that should send a shiver down the spines of all those who care about freedom and the possibility of open-minded scholarship. In an order passed in the context of a Special Leave Petition 8931, the Supreme Court has suggested that “after hearing the learned counsel for parties at some length we feel that if Paras 2,5,7 and 8, of the Schedule are omitted, interest of justice would be best served.” The court clarifies that this suggestion shall “not in any way affect the merits of the issue involved,” which shall be examined after the response of “respondent no 4” is received.


Remembering Bapu

January 30, 2008


On Gandhi’s death anniversary today: Rev Jesse Jackson visits India and there is quite a bit of introspection on the legacy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his relevance to the world today.

First, historian and author (India After Gandhi) Ramachandra Guha argues in the Hindustan Times that Gandhi cannot be understood without the context of his faith and religious belief but it was a faith that was of vital assistance in promoting peace and harmony between people who worship different Gods, or no God at all:

Many years ago, I had an argument with the philosopher Ramchandra (Ramu) Gandhi about his grandfather’s faith. I had always admired the Mahatma, but my secular-socialist self sought to rid him of the spiritual baggage which seemed unnecessary to his broader message. Could we not follow Gandhi in his empathy for the poor and his insistence on non-violence while rejecting the religious idiom in which these ideas were cloaked? Ramu Gandhi argued that the attempt to secularise Gandhi was both mistaken and misleading. If you take the Mahatma’s faith out of him, he told me, then Gandhi would not be the Mahatma. His religious beliefs were central to his political and social philosophy – in this respect, the man was the message.


In the Times of India, political psychologist Ashis Nandy analyses the ‘fear of Gandhi’ and the middle-class antipathy towards him that has only become stronger in the global knowledge industry:

On the 60th year of the murder of Mohandas Gandhi, we must recognise the ambivalence towards him in India’s modernising middle classes. Gandhi was not killed by British imperialism or Muslim fanatics, but by middle-class Hindu nationalists committed to conventional concepts of statecraft, progress and diplomacy. He was not killed by a lunatic, as Nehru alleged, but by one who represented ‘normality’ and ‘sanity’.

The middle-class antipathy to Gandhi cuts across ideologies. During one of her earlier tenures, Mayawati precipitated a first-class public controversy by attacking Gandhi. But she was only joining a long line of distinguished critics of Gandhi, stretching from Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the classical liberal turned Muslim nationalist, to Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena. New, aggressive critics of Gandhi are now being thrown up by the knights of globalisation in India.


And, finally, political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express argues that Gandhi achieved more in death than in his life, which in the 1940s had become marginal to the new forms of Indian politics:

Gandhi’s gloriously original and inventive life continues to be extraordinarily fascinating. But his assassination remains shrouded in embarrassed silence. At the Indira Gandhi memorial, visitors are subjected to the details of her assassination. Gandhi, on the other hand is memorialised, but not primarily through Birla House, a monument that still does not have its rightful place in the historical itineraries of Delhi. There is a simple story we have told about the assassination: Gandhi was killed by a fanatic representing the fringes of society, and that is that. But for a life whose every gesture was overloaded with meaning, the interpretive silence over Gandhi’s assassination itself begs for interpretation. Was it the enormity of that crime that silences us? Or was it its marginality? Were the perpetrators distant from us? Or was there a wider complicity, if not with the assassination itself, with the sentiments that fuelled it? The question, ‘Why was Gandhi killed’, is an easy one to answer only if we deliberately shut ourselves to the complex political realities of the time.



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