BJP destroying constitutionalism, denigrating democratic system: Sibal

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BY SANDEEP BAMZAI & DEEPAK SHARMA
New Delhi, March 18 (IANS)
Top of the line legal eagle, Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal wears many hats, adept as he is at multi tasking. Speaking to Sandeep Bamzai, Editor in Chief and Executive Editor Deepak Sharma of IANS TV on several contentious issues, he rejected the notion of religion being used as the basis of granting of Indian citizenship, debunking the very template of the controversial CAA.
Using his long years of intellectual heft sharpened on the whetstone of law and legality, he explained why Ranjan Gogoi should not have accepted a Rajya Sabha nomination. According to him, it is the former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who himself said that any judge who accepts a sinecure would be blot on the institution, which means it has now got nothing to do with law but his own credibility.
He agrees that nature abhors a vacuum and it is incumbent on the Congress to step and once again become the people’s choice. His worry is that democracy has become a facade and the days of night are right here.

Excerpts:
Q: Mr Sibal you have said CAA does not necessarily impinge on the fundamental rights, but taken together with the NPR, the NRC is an issue?

A: No, no I never said that. This morning I explained in an article where I said that in the history of the country or the democratic world, you will find that religion has never been the basis for citizenship and this is contrary to the basic structure of the constitution. What is the basis of grant of citizenship? That you were born in India, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, or that your parents were born here – they may be Hindu Muslim whatever. Or you were residing here for 10 years as a Hindu or Muslim or anybody, so both under the constitution and the Citizenship Act of 1955, religion has never been the basis for grant of citizenship.
So there is a fundamental constitutional issue which is now pending in the Supreme Court. Apart from that the NPR/NRC issue will integrate into the CAA. The NPR will be the basis and then NRC will be prepared. The NPR is going to be prepared in such a fashion that even a low level officer will be entitled to say that, ” I doubt the citizenship of this particular individual.”
The Home Minister said in Parliament that he has given an assurance. But that assurance is of no value because under Rule 44 of the rules pursuant to a notification by the government of India under the Act, the power is given to the local registrar and enumerator to doubt the citizenship of anybody.

Q: But he says there is no doubt, he keeps saying there is no doubt regarding this…

A: But Rule 44 says he can be doubted by the officer concerned, so how does his assurance take away the statutory rule, unless he abrogates it?

Q: Now many states have passed resolutions against it and the matter is pending in the Supreme Court, so where do you think this is headed, because what we have seen over time particularly since it came into existence, is that today after so many years, India stands divided?

A: Not just divided, we are really looking at non-issues. The real issues of the country…coronavirus, massive economic downturn, the global economy will probably go into a recession. No jobs, no earnings, so no revenues for the government.
The government has to make expenditures. Where are they going to get their expenditures from? NPAs are rising so you sell your house silver. The silver of your nation. You sell them for a song, you sell them to foreign entities. So really the East India Company is coming back in a manner by way of MNCs and big corporations buying up real estate and assets in India. So why is the nation concerned with NRC in the middle of such a crisis? I don’t understand.

Q: So would you like this to be abrogated?

A: No, the PM’s statement must be honoured that there will be no NRC and if there is no NRC there need not be any population register to determine if a person is a citizen or not.

Q: You are a legal luminary, so do you think a Chief Justice should accept this position only four months after retirement? There is a precedent as the same government appointed Justice Sathasivam as governor and I don’t remember CJIs being given sinecures in this manner.

A: Let us not go into the legality of it. That will be the wrong question to ask and the wrong answer for me to give. The issue is of public perception, confidence of the people in the judicial system. We have seen a lot of controversies on Ranjan Gogoi when he was CJI, very unsavoury controversies. One day on a holiday he presides over a Supreme Court bench in respect of his own cause and then a judicial order comes where his signature is not there and he gives a defence sitting in Court No 1. It’s unheard of. There are many other issues. He went along with three other judges and said “future generations of the country will not spare us unless we tell them that the institution is in danger”. He said if any judge accepts a position after retirement it will be a blot on the institution. Having said all that and then accepting this, it has nothing to do with law but with credibility.

Q: You equated him with Justice Khanna…

A: I said in a tweet that we remember Justice Khanna because he dissented with the majority as life and liberty cannot be suspended. The verdict may have been legal but in public perception it was wrong. So if they say Justice Gogoi’s nomination is legal, even then in public perception it is wrong.

Q: What’s the difference between Justice Ranganath Mishra’s case and Justice Gogoi’s case?

A: Why do governments change? Because the earlier government made some mistakes, so the new government should not repeat those mistakes. It’s like blood feuds in villages are sometimes justified by some people as revenge, but it’s still a crime in the eyes of the law. So what is this argument of comparing Ranganath Mishra with Gogoi? What is wrong is wrong.

Q: The transfer of Justice Muralidhar has also created unsavoury controversy…

A: They said Justice Muralidhar agreed to his transfer on February 12, but he was in the middle of hearing a case at the time, and the order for his transfer came at 11 pm at night. So it’s all about timing and public perception. The message being sent was that if you don’t give a favourable verdict then we will also retaliate. Those who toe their line are rewarded with a Rajya Sabha nomination and those who are against them can be transferred, like Ashok Lavasa was targeted, other political opponents had ED cases against them. Those holed up in Karnataka are also not allowed to meet anyone.

Q: But there is a politics of equivalence, as in the past the Congress also did certain things that were highly questionable?

A: I think there’s a difference as Congress never took people in airplanes to different resorts and then the money power that this party has… Equally, I think there were lots of mistakes made by us but no government is perfect. If u ask me of course we made mistakes but that does not mean mistakes are repeated. That’s the way to look forward to the future of India.

Q: You said the Congress made mistakes. Now after six years and Mr Modi being re-elected, the Congress is at a strange crossroads as diarchy has been replaced by a triarchy as Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka have replaced Manmohan and Sonia, yet it seems rudderless and wrong calls are taken like Rafale, so is the party focused enough?

A: I’ve never made a statement on these issues as they are party affairs. But if colleagues say something it should be heard. A party like any organization needs rejuvenation though I won’t make a public statement but those at the helm must listen to the concerns as they are the key , so the party must get together in a constructive manner and get back in the minds of the people like the Congress was for many years. I dont what to create another controversy but it’s enough if some have expressed concerns. So we should all come together on these matters of great concern.

Q: On Jyotiraditya Scindia’s departure from the party which was unbecoming at one level but he must have thought that politics is all about power…

A: Personally speaking I having been in politics for 30 years now and I would never have bargained for anything and such a situation would not arise.

Q: Where do you think Madhya Pradesh is heading as there are legal precedents like the Bommai judgement?

A: The matter is in court today. I will be defending the MP government. They are destroying the concept of constitutionalism. This has happened in Karnataka, Uttarakhand Goa and northeast. People are being captured and hijacked . Every party has dissidence because everyone cannot be satisfied so you use that and money power and take them in aeroplanes and put them in hotels and then say “have a floor test” . We do not want to avoid a floor test but question is in what circumstances? People in captivity should be set free and allowed to return to their constituencies. BJP people should not carry their resignations to the Governor. They do not even have phones to speak to their families. In these circumstances if you have a floor test, it is denigration of the democratic system and procedure.

Q: Are we then in an ecosystem where might is right?

A: Absolutely. This is a worry and so courts must sit up and take note of this.

Q: The MLAs who have crossed over to the BJP side, they have said why they did so, so how can you prove that the government is being deliberately destabilized and MLAs influenced?

A: We will submit our affidavit on it in court. I can’t speculate on anything but we will put up a strong case.

Q: Do you think u have strong case?

A: Every lawyer thinks he has a strong case. But only the judge can decide.

Q: These efforts are on in Gujarat also…

A: Yes they are. In Gujarat , Rajasthan . This game is all because of money power.

Q: Appropriation of individuals, emasculation of institutions, power of pelf and might…

A: It is a facade, democracy has become a facade. If money power prevails through some institutions like “Godi” media , ED, CBI, I-T, if you create fear in the minds of people then they lose the strength to exercise dissent , if you use UAPA, then I think we’re slowly descending into a culture of authoritarianism that is not consistent with the Constitution.

Q: Do you think there is Hindu consolidation taking place regarding vote share in the past elections?

A: Results show there is some element of Hindu consolidation but still 60% of people are not with Modi. But the decline of this government after 2019 is much faster than it ever was. So the taxi driver and rickshaw wallah will tell you that they want an opposition, so they want an alternative and that is up to us to provide it.

Q: We recently saw the worst riots in India in the last 20 years, home minister Amit Shah said that some provocative speeches were made by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and that we will get this probed?

A: Ask Amit Shah about the kind of speeches his ministers made like “Desh ke gaddaron ko..”, one of them mocked Shaheen Bagh protesters, if the Home Minister starts protecting his own, then people will lose trust in him. They say they will probe it but their probes are a sham like in UP where the victim was shown as the accused and the accused as the victim. I said in Parliament that we have no faith in your probes.

Q: Yogi Adityanath said anti-CAA people are more dangerous than coronavirus…

A: This is an example of their hate speech. This is their politics. They are not bothered about people’s real issues. They just want to win the next election.

Q: The SIT formed to probe the matter…

A: Nothing will come of it. They will save their own people and make others guilty. I know their history . They promoted the accused officials in the Gujarat riots but I won’t name them. Judges were transferred overnight.

Q: You said there is communal virus and coronavirus. Which is more dangerous?

A: At present communal virus is dangerous but coronavirus can become lethal though right now we are safe.

Q: What about Mudra loans you alleged there is a big scam in that?

A: Mudra loans are getting defaulted. There are 3 categories of loans but people can’t return them as they have no income. All scams have a cascading effect as the courts shut down coal block allocation, telecom spectrum allotment. Telecom sector has Rs 6 lakh crore debt, Vodafone is set to leave, BJP has destroyed the future of the country. They will even blame the Yes Bank crisis on Nehru saying he formed the banks in India and without banks there would have been no loans or NPAs. But they will never admit their mistakes. Yes Bank happened under their rule. They just want to sit in power, target people using institutions, spread lies and fake news on social media.

Q: The government says they have generated employment and created jobs…

A: Then why is the unemployment rate shooting up if this is true. It is the highest in the last 30 to 40 years.

Q: Why does the Congress only target Modi and Shah as there are others in the Cabinet. Are you obsessed with them?

A: We have no obsession. They are the ones who are obsessed. Modi and Shah are the only two running this government.

Q: The kind of visceral hatred between the Congress’ first family and the BJP is almost personal. I have never seen anything like this…

A: Yes correct, it should not be like this. So the govt should extend its hand and seek the cooperation of the opposition. We will cooperate, why won’t we? But if u start hounding people, arresting people, ex-Cabinet ministers, Finance Ministers… it will lead to this visceral hatred which we don’t want.

Q: This business of dividing people, is it a harsh reality?

A: Yes it is politics for them and destruction for the country.

Q: It is a harsh reality in the last few elections that Hindus have rallied behind Modi… and one cannot ignore this phenomenon…

A: It is the visceral campaign and use of money power after demonetisation, the flow of cash in UP. Communal passions can get you immediate rewards but they all plateau out. Nothing is permanent in life. South India has no interest in all this.

Q: Congress seems totally disoriented…

A: We need to provide a ‘vikalp’. Congress in the only national party that can provide that alternative. If we don’t do it, we’ll fail the nation.

Q: About Bihar and Bengal polls…

A: Party high command will decide and I can’t comment on it.

Q: Congress has the finest legal brains yet…..

A:I can’t say.

Q: Relations between treasury and opposition benches on issues of public interest…..

A: Attitude of the presiding officers has changed over the years. They think they can do anything. They have shown their attitude on the Article 370 issue, non-money bill passed as a money bill , they do not allow debate in the House, so what do we do? We have to go to the people.

Q: You were accused of having links with PFI….

A: All lies as I told u they just want to prove lies as the truth . They only spread lies on social media.