News & Events
1.SC’s move to examine anti-defection law will bring horsetrading under the scanner
Supreme Court’s decision to test whether the recent political strategy of getting turncoats to resign their house membership to bring down governments falls foul of the anti-defection law under the Tenth Schedule will be keenly watched. While the current law provides for disqualification, it is rendered toothless because the resigning MLAs, even if disqualified, are allowed to recontest the byelections and return to the house.
The petitioners have demanded that the disqualification be for the entire term of the house to deter resignations and defections. Currently, the only bar is that a disqualified person cannot become a minister until he or she is elected to the house. In recent years, states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Goa have seen instances of MLAs resigning from their parties or getting disqualified to pave the way for BJP governments.
Given that the Tenth Schedule is part of the Constitution since 1985, the judiciary will worry about the implications of a ruling that tantamounts to altering the text, if not the spirit of the document. Ideally, Parliament should have taken the lead but clearly it is not interested. “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” and horsetrading are terms that have become part of the Indian political lingo for decades now. Will the judiciary be able to arrest the decline of political morality and ethics? The upcoming hearings promise to offer multifaceted dissections of this Indian political practice if more petitioners, including political parties, implead themselves into the case.
2. The darkest hour: Trump’s politics has done great damage to the cause of democracy around the world
In shocking scenes without precedent in US politics, pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol as Congress was meeting to ceremonially certify the Electoral College votes and confirm Joe Biden as the next US president. Four people have reportedly died as rioters fought with law enforcement forces, scaled the walls of the Capitol building, vandalised government property and disrupted Congress proceedings. President Donald Trump cannot disavow his role in fomenting this chaos. For weeks after losing the presidential polls in November, he has put out a stream of falsehoods claiming victory and alleging widespread electoral fraud. He has been deliberately exciting his base of radical right-wing followers, with the aim of overturning the election result. It’s hard to describe this as anything short of an attempted coup.
That such scenes should play out in the world’s most powerful democracy, in terms of both hard and soft power, is surely bad news for democracies everywhere. Naturally it has caused shock among world capitals, while the Chinese Communist Party has been handed an unexpected propaganda coup. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done well to quickly condemn the violence, stating that “democratic process cannot be subverted through unlawful protests”.
Thankfully, saner voices in the Republican Party are prevailing, with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Vice-President Mike Pence condemning the subversion of democratic process. Despite his hectoring officials across US systems – cutting across party lines and including Republican appointed judges in courts – stood up to Trump’s falsehoods and called him out. While this attests to the strength of America’s democratic institutions and convictions, it must also be noted that this one went down to the wire. And that is bound to diminish America in the world’s eyes, while being a source of comfort to authoritarian leaders like President Xi Jinping.
The good news is that Democrats are on course to secure a trifecta – the presidency, house and Senate majority after the run-off results in Georgia. They should get down to reforming the US electoral system so that its processes can’t be questioned or challenged in the manner Trump just did. That’s the only way to undo the damage to America’s prestige and standing in the world caused by this disgraceful course of events. As of now Pence should invoke the 25th Amendment, declare Trump unfit, and remove him from office forthwith.
3. American Business Backs Democracy
The Georgia senate races on January 5, critical for the Biden presidency’s ability to legislate via a majority in the Senate, in addition to the majority his party, the Democrats, already have in the House of Representatives, saw the contending parties spend a combined $800 million.
This comes from individual contributions to each candidate’s campaign and donations, mostly from business, to political action committees. Business is a big player in American politics. And it has chosen to back democracy and decry attempts to thwart it, staged by President Trump and his Republican followers in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce, Small Business for America’s Future, the Conference Board and assorted other industry bodies decried efforts to derail the democratic process. Leading business people, including Larry Fink of BlackRock, Henry Kravis of KKR and Julie Sweet of Accenture, put out a joint statement asserting the validity of Biden’s victory and denouncing moves that would hamper the new administration’s efforts at recovery.
The Lincoln Project, an antiTrump Republican lobby, has threatened to expose the names of businesses funding Republicans who have been cynically championing Trump’s call to reject the election result, in the hope of retaining Trump followers’ support in their primary elections.
Business has a practical stake in well-oiled governance, political stability and sensible policies. And democracy yields these far more effectively than any other form of government, notwithstanding the apparent proof to the contrary offered by China. Business has the opportunity and the responsibility to throw its weight behind democracy, when it is at risk.
4. America Withstands Attack on Democracy
The storming of Capitol Hill by mobs of US President Donald Trump’s supporters in an effort to derail the certification of the election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States is deplorable. It is a blot on the world’s oldest democracy and a warning of the wages of inflaming insecurities in an uncertain world. Yet, on its worst day, the US showed its commitment to the republic and democracy.
Not only did the certification of the presidential election take place but politicians who seldom agree with each other and have been disagreeable came together in defence of the practices that sustain democracy in the US. Wednesday’s shameful event holds lessons for all democracies and their politicians. Institutions matter, safeguarding these is the duty of every citizen.
Political parties and their leaders, whether in government or not, need to realise that a politics based on exploiting insecurities and stoking passions will weaken the edifice of democracy. A lesson that there are some things that are far bigger and critical than political power and control. That no matter how disappointing an electoral outcome, it does not behove political leaders to undermine the very process that brings political parties to power and sustains democracy.
Laying siege to the ultimate symbol of a democratic republic is inevitably what happens when those with a bullhorn enable the undermining of democracy by labelling it as speaking truth to power. How the series of events and non-events leading up to Wednesday’s mob attack in Washington affect and alter institutions of American democracy remains to seen.
President-Elect Joe Biden has a tough task — not just to deal with the pandemic and its economic consequences, restore US to its traditional global leadership role, but also to heal the rift that divides America and renew the politics of compromise and consensus. With the wins in the Georgia run-offs, the Democrats now control the House, Senate and White House, Biden has the opportunity to make it happen
5. The destructive legacy of Donald Trump | HT Editorial
The US has witnessed one of the darkest days in its history. Hold the president accountable
On Wednesday, what was once unimaginable happened on the streets of Washington DC. After having conclusively lost the presidential elections, Donald Trump — who has, baselessly, claimed the process was riddled with fraud and he was cheated out of a victory — incited a mob to march to the Capitol Hill. Mr Trump first tried to block the election certification process by telling his Vice President, Mike Pence, the presiding officer of the Senate, to block the results. When Mr Pence, rightly, did not do so, he resorted to egging his supporters on to do so through mob action. In the process, he disrespected the electoral mandate; undermined a fundamental tenet of democracy — the peaceful transfer of power; eroded America’s moral authority globally; indirectly caused outright violence; and showed why he never deserved to occupy the world’s most powerful office.
The US will find it hard to live down one of the darkest days in its political and constitutional history. The mob violence only showed the hard task of democratic restoration that lies ahead of the Joe Biden administration. It revealed the absence of either principle or spine in the Republican Party — which enabled Mr Trump’s rise and looked the other way for way too long. And it will substantially damage Washington’s position to speak on the democratic deficit in the rest of the globe, at a time when the world is confronted with the rise of belligerent non-democratic States.
But it is important, to safeguard domestic stability in the US and other democracies, to understand how Mr Trump could do what he did on Wednesday in the first place. A leader obsessed with building a personality cult, who has no hesitation in trampling over constitutional processes and institutions, and who has a strong streak of ethno-nationalism based on demonising minorities, can easily turn into an undemocratic and authoritarian figure. All those who dismissed Mr Trump as merely idiosyncratic rather than as a danger to democracy itself underestimated his destructive instincts. He must be held accountable, immediately — for leaving the country and the world with Mr Trump enjoying executive power for another two weeks till the inauguration is laced with risks. The US has, for long, preached the values of democracy and accountability. It is time to put it in practice.
6. Farm unions must be flexible | HT Editorial
The government has been open. It is time for farm leaders to reciprocate
On Friday, the government and protesting farm organisations will have the eighth round of talks to find a resolution to the standoff over the new farm laws. The agitation, led primarily by farmers from Punjab and Haryana, at Delhi’s borders, is now in its second month — and they have continued in severe cold, facing unseasonal rains, and at great cost to human lives and comfort. And the farm unions have a singular demand — repeal the laws. This maximalist approach, however, could be counterproductive.
This newspaper believes that the government erred in not ensuring a process of adequate consultation and legislative scrutiny before the passage of the laws. It also should have read the mood on the ground in Punjab, refrained from a coercive response at the beginning, and understood the spirit behind the movement. But it must be acknowledged that the government, after its initial missteps, has consistently reached out to the farmers; it has shown flexibility in offering a set of amendments to the laws which would allay a set of apprehensions of the farmers; it has even agreed to roll back certain provisions on penalising farmers for their ecologically harmful practices. Yet, the farm unions have adopted a hard stance — in other words, my way or the highway.
The fact is that an elected government, with an overwhelming legislative mandate, has the right to pass laws. Opposition to laws is legitimate. But this must not happen at the cost of economic logic, and even humanitarian consequences for fellow citizens and protesters themselves. By adopting an approach that settles for nothing less than a repeal, farmers are putting at risk the sympathy they have garnered from other quarters. Political leadership entails give and take. Agriculture needs modernisation, great interface with industry, and more choice for farmers. Institutionalising MSP in law is poor economics — even though the government must continue to offer support to farmers at all stages of the production cycle and during procurement when possible. While the government should continue to show flexibility and sensitivity, the ball is firmly in the court of farm unions to engage responsibly. The movement has already brought the issues concerning agriculture and the need for income security to the national centre stage. It is time for a resolution now.