By Sushil Kutty


            Bandh is closure of village, town, city and state – country. Nothing should be moving. But that’s not how it happens. Rail roko, buses attacked and vandalized, markets forcibly closed, strikers marching through the streets, protesting against this or that issue and the top court quashes the midnight removal of CBI Director Alok Verma. All in a bandh’s day!

            It is victory for Director Alok Verma. But with a caveat: He cannot take policy decisions. The government stands guilty of taking a flash decision. The procedure is wrong. It should have let the selection committee take it. The flash move of the government is bad in law. As flash hartals are! The Kerala High Court ruled Monday that henceforth a seven-day notice ought to be given for a hartal.

            So, flash is out of the pan, whether it is hartal or the removal of a CBI chief. But there is a difference. Alok Verma, though reinstated, loses total control of the CBI. In a manner of speaking, the Supreme Court reinstated his insignificance! He can sit in his chair till he remits office. He might as well put in his papers and make an honourable exit. There is no use a diabetic hanging around the dinner table when barred from tasting the fruit chaat/chocolate dessert. Verma is due to retire in February first week.

            But if Verma is lame-duck, Modi is sitting duck. The Opposition is alleging that the SC decision is another Rafale-edge cut delivered to the Modi government jugular. Rahul Gandhi says Modi is running scared; that nothing can save Narendra Modi from Rafale. Similarly, the seven-day notice to hartal leaves the hartal without a fighting edge to stun for maximum effect. In both cases, no more “dead of the night” decisions. It’s setback to Modi government and a leash on hartal-mongers.

            The leash is also on Alok Verma. He is plucked chicken. The selection committee might take the same decision the government took. Most probably it will, because CJI Ranjan Gogoi is part of the 3-member panel and if the government is entirely wrong, then the CJI could have settled the case fully in favour of Alok Verma in the Supreme Court itself. He did not! The selection committee – Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and CJI – will meet shortly and Mr. Verma will be tense. No flash celebrations.

            There is, of course, ‘perception’. On that score, Alok Verma scores and the Modi government doesn’t get full marks. Coming on the eve of general elections, the BJP has egg-yellow on its face and the Opposition gets another handle to maul Modi with. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is notorious for taking flash decisions – the midnight GST and the near-about midnight demonetization of high value currency, both with perception hangovers that will not go till after GE 2019.

            Mr. Modi, if he’s given a superhero outfit, will be Flash Gordan. ‘Flashy Mr. Modi in Gordian Knots In The Time Of Elections’ the headline. He will be walking on eggs till after GE 2019, when he either gets to flash a ‘V’ sign or be designated in history as a flash in the pan! Monday, in another flash decision, the Modi government announced a 10% quota for upper castes earning less than Rs 8 lakh per annum, which works to around Rs 60,000 per month. Is it election sop?

            Bottom-line, the country is fed up of flash hartals and flash policy decisions. The lame-duck “short-termism” that marks India-style democracy, especially just before elections! Kerala, where all the action is these days, wants long-term stability on the road to recovery from the devastation brought by the August flash floods. The Kerala High Court’s Monday ruling on flash hartals comes in the wake of an informed decision by traders and shopkeepers to give hartals no mind.

            Hartal and bandh are a subcontinent-construct, born during the colonial raj. Since then, they are crippling words in the Collins and Oxford dictionaries. Hartal and bandh convey ‘confrontation’, ‘tension’ and ‘general discontent’. Mithai Street in Kozhikode doesn’t care one wee whit for hartal. The day after Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini broke the Sabarimala glass ceiling, Hindu organizations called a flash hartal and Mithai Street refused to shut down.

            The Supreme Court Tuesday decried “dead of night” flash decisions. Sack the thought, it said. The manner is wrong, bad in law. Public interest is paramount, the three-judge bench ruled. And it applies to both CBI and hartal. Stop feuding on the street and in the CBI. Both the CBI director and the government should be role models. Procedure is as important as merit. Don’t be a flashy superhero on the rampage in the streets, and don’t force government functionaries to go on leave. (IPA Service)


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