Once again, the Supreme Court has had to intervene in an act of good governance - this time, in giving an ultimatum to the Government to stop dragging its feet and get on with implementing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, and with that act, to reactivate the Constitutional Council (CC).
The Government engages in the farcical reason that a Parliamentary Select Committee (appointed in 2006) is sitting to consider the fine-tuning of the 17th Amendment, and that the CC cannot be constituted till then. That successive Governments have been unable to resist the temptation of meddling with these institutions, and have relied on loyalty (often a euphemism for sycophancy) over merit, is what prompted a demand for the 17th Amendment; and it was in a rare act of bi-partisanship in 2001 that the 17th Amendment came into law.
But the incumbent President has made it clear that these are his powers that Parliament has usurped. The result is a hiatus in constitutional governance. Public confidence in the Rule of Law has thus eroded when that was the very purpose of the 17th Amendment.
And while the Government drags its feet and keeps a bad practice in perpetuity until parliamentary elections expected sooner than later, one might say that a weak 17th Amendment is better than no 17th Amendment.
Earlier, petitions filed to activate the 17th Amendment were not heard due to the Court citing the immunity afforded to the actions of the President. The 'sacred cow' veil of Presidential immunity is now lifted, and the Supreme Court has given this ultimatum.
It is cause for concern that matters of constitutional governance should be thus rudely disregarded by a Government. In most matters now, citizens are increasingly compelled to go to an increasingly popular judiciary and request that corrective action be taken when such responsibilities should be discharged as part of the ordinary executive process, and consequently should be considered as the primary task of a Government.
Legal puritans sometimes question the legitimacy of such judicial intervention into the realms of a Government, and say bad precedence is being created. But the judiciary's actions seem the last resort of a hapless citizenry in the face of a Government that is burdened by its own weight, disregarding the building of institutions that must stand the test of time -- unlike politicians, who are mere birds of passage in the history of a nation.
We hope sanity prevails on the part of the Government; that the 17th Amendment be swiftly implemented, and what might trigger a constitutional crisis in a clash between the judiciary and the executive be avoided in the New Year.
India's double act
News that Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is due to fly down to Colombo shortly, to convey the sentiments of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on the ongoing military assault on the LTTE, is cause for some concern in Sri Lanka.
For one, Sri Lanka sent a special envoy of the President, his brother, just last month to New Delhi, and briefed leaders there. We were told that New Delhi accepted Sri Lanka's position that the military offensive must continue, while Sri Lanka agreed to the acceptance of food-aid for humanitarian relief in the Wanni area of the island-nation where the fighting is intense and civilians are stranded in the cross-fire.
If there was anything amiss on Sri Lanka's part, it was its slowness to provide this humanitarian relief itself, and secondly, the special envoy not going to Tamil Nadu to meet the politicians there who are in the midst of impending elections to keep their jobs.
Ironically, the Mukherjee visit comes against the backdrop of increasing war drums being beaten by his Government against Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of last week's dastardly attack on Mumbai, which it blames on its northern neighbour.
There is a need to raise the Pakistan bogey to stave off anti-Muslim riots as most Indians are seething with rage at what happened in Mumbai. And with elections due in the next few months in India, the ruling Congress Government needs to ensure the predominantly Hindu electorate does not fall entirely into the lap of the Opposition Bharat Janatha Party (BJP). So much so, that it is said that the fragile Congress coalition will collapse unless it calls for war against Pakistan and peace in Sri Lanka.
But must the Indian Government's political compulsions be foisted on countries like Sri Lanka which is doing its utmost to rid itself of a problem that was thrust on it by India in the first place? What then, are India's own obligations towards this insurgency it started by deliberately promoting cross-border terrorism - the very cry it is making against Pakistan.