The Aam Aadmi Party is the latest to join the chorus of angry voices against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s barb against ‘five star activists’, who he claimed are trying influencing the judiciary. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party accused the Prime Minister of attempting to ‘instigate’ the judiciary against the activists.
“The address and the views expressed by the Prime Minister are in line with the broader agenda of the BJP government in centre to muzzle the right thinking voices in the country against the increasing radical tendencies under Modi rule,” the AAP said in a statement.
The Prime Minister has a valid reason to be upset with activists, especially the ones he derisively calls the ‘five-star’ variety. For several years, after the riots in Gujarat, his government was dragged from one court to the other because of activists who believed Modi failed to protect the victims.
But Modi has a valid reason also for questioning his own verdict that Indian courts may be susceptible to ‘perception-driven’ judgments. As the fate of most of the cases against Modi indicates, perception didn’t influence the outcome of the charges against the Gujarat chief minister. In the end, Modi would agree, admissible evidence and legal arguments prevailed over the perception created by the activists and their sympathisers in the media.
“Once again, satyameva jayate (truth alone triumphs),” Modi wrote in his blog after a local court cleared him of charges in the Gujarat riots case.
So, when Modi advises the judiciary to introspect if it is being driven by ‘five-star’ activists, he sounds like a lawyer who could have done a better job by drawing from personal experience. Judicial activism may well be part of our legal system, but to argue that our judiciary yearns for the approval of activists; that our courts also suffer from the typical Indian ‘log kya kahenge, kya sochenge‘ (what will people say, what will people think) syndrome is difficult to believe.
If it was ‘satyameva jayate‘ then, there is very little to believe why it should be activist jayate in the Modi raj.
The PM’s jibe against the judiciary and activists is typical Modispeak. Give him a platform, get him an audience and Modi will enthusiastically share his mann ki baat and give a piece of his mind and pronounce his verdict.
As PM, the leader of our country, he is entitled to all this. But in his eagerness to show the mirror to the audience, Modi often makes the mistake of relying on the wrong imagery.
“Five-star” activists, he said with barely concealed derision, while advising the judiciary against ‘perception-driven’ verdicts. He, thus, made two mistakes: one of assuming that the judiciary may be vulnerable to external influence, and two, of arguing that people should be judged on the basis of their lifestyle instead of their achievements, contribution and commitment.
Prashant Bhushan, one of the activists PM may have had on his mind while deriding ‘five-star’ activists, is right when he says Modi should not try to discredit activists with such needless barbs.
Bhushan rightly points out that Modi’s government has earned additional revenue of around one lakh crore from the auction of coal blocks only because of the activists who took the matter to the Supreme Court. The PM should, he says, give credit to activists instead of ridiculing them.
Indian activists have made some significant contributions to the country. They have helped us retain our rights and fought many battles for ensuring more liberties —right to information, right to freedom of expression, to name a few—when the politicians were intent on denying them to us. Today, if the government’s coffers are swelling because of money from auction of natural resources, much of the credit goes to activists and whistle-blowers.
Aruna Roy, one of the pioneers of the right to information, spends most of her time in the hot, dusty villages of Ajmer or conducting social audits in the tribal areas of Udaipur. In comparison, Prashant Bhushan spends most of his time in his palatial home in Delhi. But just because they lead different lives, does it mean one person’s contribution to the public cause is less significant than the other’s?
There is no contradiction between leading a good life, wearing expensive watches and monogrammed suits — unless its source is government money or corruption — and pursuing a public cause with honesty. To argue that activists should live in penury, face hardships and reinforce the stereotypes of khadi jholas, cheap chappals and tattered kurtas (and, ironically, get lampooned for that) is tantamount to putting the image ahead of the message.
It is apparent that Modi sees NGOs and activists as unnecessary impediments to his ‘development’ agenda. A firm believer in authoritarian government and quick delivery, Modi dislikes dissent, argument and protests, particularly from those who do not have the electoral mandate to question government decisions.
Unlike the UPA, which took many influential NGOs and activists on board throughSonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council, Modi is averse to making them part of government’s decision-making process.
Instead, from the day he came to power, Modi has been trying to rein in the civil society by asking government agencies to keep several of them under close watch.
Collision, not collaboration, is Modi’s mantra while dealing with activists.
Modi’s “five-star” barb is the beginning of yet another battle with activists. And his ‘do not worry about perception’ is a subtle signal to the judiciary to stay away from this ugly fight.