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Friday, March 14, 2003

The Supreme Court verdict of March 13 reiterating the fundamental right of voters to know about candidates is a significant milestone in the evolution of our democracy. First, it has upheld constitutionalism and strengthened our faith in the institutional vitality and corrective mechanisms in our republic. Second, it provides a priceless opportunity for parties to break out of the shackles of criminal elements and moneybags at the constituency level. Politics as big business, power at any cost, and public office for private gain will simply not do. We need to enhance the legitimacy of political process.

But there are certain pitfalls we should avoid. We should not make this a fight between politicians and people. Politics is a noble endeavour to promote people’s happiness. There cannot be democracy without robust politics and strong parties. Parties have a difficult job in our diverse society and very often the politicians are as much victims of a vicious cycle as they are villains. Revulsion of politics is dangerous. We cannot afford to invite authoritarian solutions.

Neither should this be viewed as a turf battle between parliament and judiciary. No democrat can question the supremacy of elected legislature in law making. Equally, the judiciary has the ultimate responsibility to interpret the constitution and uphold fundamental rights. True, there are legitimate concerns about judicial usurpation of executive and legislative authority. But this is the wrong case to contest judicial role.

Compulsions of the first-past-the-post system have led to several distortions. We need to look at proportional representation with reasonable thresholds and separation of powers at state and local levels. This judgment opens up many vistas, and the battle for reclaiming our republic for the people has just begun.

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