Prerogative of the legislator to be out of jail

Should it be the prerogative of the legislator who is in police or judicial custody or serving a sentence to attend the legislature?

G. Mohan Gopal

G. Mohan Gopal, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi, delivering the lecture in Trivandrum

G.  Mohan Gopal, who delivered a lecture on “Parliamentary Prerogatives and Judicial Activism”  in connection with the Diamond Jubilee of Kerala Legislature here on June 7 said that the judiciary was not according sufficient protection to legislators from arrest and denial of opportunity to represent their constituency in the legislature.  What Dr. Gopal is saying is that people like DMK leaders Kanimozhi or A. Raja should have been allowed to attend Parliament while in judicial custody or should have been released from jail.

It is notable that the courts did not grant bail to the accused for fear that they would interfere with the investigation and influence witnesses.  Suppose that R. Balakrishna Pillai who was condemned to undergo one year’s imprisonment was a member of the Assembly. What would be the justification for sending him out of jail to attend an Assembly session?  We know that it is difficult to successfully prosecute a politician in India and even if he is sentenced, it has been found to be difficult to keep him in prison.

Dr.Gopal’s argument is that legislators represent the people and their voice should be heard in the legislature. Well, people elect politicians despite their knowing about their criminal background. Doesn’t that mean that they want criminals to represent them? If we accept that argument, it would undermine basic tenets of rule of law.

Then, why do people elect criminals? Dr. Gopal said that legislatures and judiciary exercising power to punish for contempt was a result of feudal and colonial mindset.  In India, many are still to imbibe the concept that all are equal below the law.  The caste system, which prescribed differential punishment for the same crime depending on caste and the principle of dynastic succession still influence Indians. That is why they countenance and make arguments in favour the like of Kanimozhi.

Even six decades after independence, we have not freed ourselves of feudal, colonial and casteist mentalities and related belief in merit of dynastic succession.

Honouring Yesudas, Is Assembly Setting a Bad Precedent?

The Kerala Assembly honours playback singer K. J. Yesudas on Wednesday. That Yesudas is meritorious to receive honours is unequivocal. However, the Assembly may be setting a bad precedent.

The danger here is that the practice of the House honouring eminent persons could become something like the universities awarding honorary degrees. Many an unworthy persons receive honorary degrees with universities having to bear various kinds of pressures. The Assembly too is sure to come under pressure for honouring persons under influences that may not always be honourable.

K. J. Yesudas

K. J. Yesudas

These days we see communal organisations competing each other for issue of commemorative stamps. There are not many complaints because the postal department is liberal in the issue of such stamps.
However, the Assembly cannot be liberal like that. Questions can still arise why the Assembly is honouring a popular singer and not the well known exponents of classical music or arts. Will the Assembly be honouring people from other fields such as literature?

It is true that the House has honoured past members and journalists on occasions like its jubilee. However, the connotation that the House was honouring someone was almost absent as it was considered part of the celebrations rather than connected with the business of the House. Besides, those honoured were someway associated with the functioning of the Assembly though journalists are technically strangers as far as proceedings of the House are concerned. Now, the occasion for the House deciding to honour Yesudas is that he is completing 50 years of his illustrious career as professional singer this year.

One should recall that there was even opposition to civilian awards. The Janata Government headed by Morarji Desai had discontinued the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri awards in the late seventies. Though it was restored three years later by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the choice of winners continued to attract criticism despite the government having a system and machinery to make the selections. How is the Assembly going to make better choices if it plans to honour more people?