SORROR AHMED recalls how the politicians, of both right and left leaning, who found Muslim reaction to the SC ruling in Shah Bano case as disrespect to the court are now doing the same thing.
It is a unique case of different yardstick for different sets of people. When in mid-1980s Muslims, cutting across the party or sectarian lines, opposed the Supreme Court judgment in the famous Shah Bano case there was no dearth of people in politics, media, academics, judiciary, bureaucracy etc who all said that this action amounted to showing disrespect to the spirit of Constitution and should be treated as contempt of court.
Muslims were opposed to the concept of the Uniform Civil Court––which the Supreme Court then advocated –as they deemed it as an interference in their Shariat. The Sangh Parivar called this action of Muslims as anti-national and when the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, after initial reluctance, conceded the demands of Muslims and got passed the Muslim Women Protection Bill (which gives dignity to women) the communalists and secularists both joined hands to condemn it. Rajiv was charged with Muslim appeasement and many journalists wrote that he was indulging in the balancing act as only some times back he got the lock of Babri Masjid opened. Thus he tried to please both the Muslims and Hindus. It was also alleged that the country will get divided by such type of politics.
Arif Mohammad Khan, a minister in the then Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, resigned in protest and overnight he was hailed as the hero of the mass media. The BJP and Communist parties both hailed his decision. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Lal Krishna Advani, soon launched his Ram Janambhoomi movement. Taking a cue from this development Advani and other Sangh Parivar leaders started saying that the matter of faith can not be decided by the court.
While the Muslims’ opposition to the Supreme Court ruling was only democratic as they resorted to corner meetings, rallies and public speeches, today after the apex court judgment against 27 per cent reservation to the other backward castes (OBCs) the attitude of many political parties and activists is totally different. None of them spared the Supreme Court and at places, for example in Tamil Nadu, the front-runner in the backward castes movement, the whole state was brought to complete standstill. The state was completely cut off from the world. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh assemblies even passed resolution in favour of the reservation. Let the court call the bandhs illegal politicians cutting across the party line were in no mood to budge, at least on this issue. There is no talk of contempt of court notice from any quarter. The truth is that today the BJP, the champion of Hindutva and upper castes, too is using the same language.
Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who enjoys the support of the BJP, minced no word in criticising the Supreme Court judgment. Neither Advani, nor Arun Jaitley or Ravi Shankar Prasad – the two great lawyers in their rank – is seeking contempt of court notice action against him or other leaders who are so publicly denouncing the Supreme Court ruling.
In Bihar’s capital, Patna, a political activist even threatened that this ruling of the Supreme Court may trigger turmoil in the society. He told a television channel that the Supreme Court had always opposed the radical decisions of the government. “The Supreme Court stood against the Zamindari abolition Act, it opposed the bank nationalisation, it is against the slum-dwellers and it is against the reservation,” he told the news channel. Yet this gentleman is yet to receive any contempt notice.
That gentleman did not stop there. He went on to state that about 150 years back even in the United States the Supreme Court opposed the abolition of slavery. This threw the country into the civil war as the people were against the court ruling. Abraham Lincoln, according to him, took up the issue and finally slavery was abolished though the Supreme Court of that country never liked it.
If the opposition of the Supreme Court judgment by Muslims was made an excuse to launch the Ram Janambhoomi movement, which to much extent, changed the course of politics in the country, why the political parties – the BJP in particular – are shying away this time. No this is not because they are the champion of the cause of the backward castes. It is the electoral compulsion – and the political empowerment of the backward castes in North India in the last 15 years – which is preventing them from coming out openly in favour of the judgment. The same political parties, especially the BJP and Congress, had been speaking in different tones when the so-called Mandal-I was implemented. Now they have realised the gravity of the situation.
The truth is that Muslims by opposing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shah Bano case did nothing against the nation as such. It was more or less the internal matter of the community and the Muslims were only opposed to the Court’s view on the Uniform Civil Court. The truth is that other communities in the country too are not eager to have a Uniform Civil Court as it is impractical and too complicated and can not be implemented in this multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation so easily.
Though last time Rajiv Gandhi was accused of succumbing to pressure of the mullahs and divisive forces out to divide the country this time politicians cutting across the party line want a new law to be enacted for the OBC reservation. But there is a problem now. A few months back the Supreme Court has made it clear that it can make review of the Ninth Schedule too. Earlier it was out of their purview and the government was free to enact new law without judicial intervention. There is no scope for the referendum in the country either.
The apex court has, one way or the other, now called for the caste-census which till now everyone in the country has been opposing because it was thought that this would create social division in the country and may give a boost to the casteism. It needs to be mentioned that the last caste-census took place in 1931.
But why the same vocal section – most of them rightists – is not questioning the wisdom of the Court on this count. Were the founding fathers of the country such a big fool that they advocated against the caste census. Or just for the sake of stalling any affirmative action for the deprived lot we are crossing the proverbial Lakshman Rekha. Just to dismiss the whole issue by stating that Rajiv wanted to woo the minorities and that the political parties want to ensure the votes of the backwards, amount to the oversimplification of the fact. Let us try a real constitutional way to solve this problem and take the country out of this logjam.