Crossing over to Politics
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Crossing over to Politics

April 6, 2024

The process of filing nomination papers is underway nationwide for a phase-wise election and two nominations caught my eye: Retired IAS Officer and former Mysuru DC G. Kumar Naik, who will contest from Raichur on a Congress ticket and former Calcutta High Court Judge, Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who will contest on a BJP ticket.

As the ethos of public service gives way to self-interest and political expediency, we need a law to stop Government servants from entering politics.

Politics in India has become the final refuge for public servants. In recent times, there has been a spike in civil servants, Military personnel and Police Officers entering politics.

Over the years, the list of bureaucrats who have become politicians has grown. In Karnataka, officers who have entered politics include former DGP Shankar Bidari, former Bangalore Police Commissioner H.T. Sangliana, former DGP L. Revannasiddaiah, former DGP K.C. Ramamurthy, former ACP Abdul Azeem, former Mysuru City Police Commissioner N. Bhaskar Rao… the list goes on.

Even among officers, there are quite a few. Former Chief Secretary B.S. Patil stood for elections; more recently, former Chief Secretary K. Ratna Prabha joined the BJP. In 2014, retired Justice C. Chandrashekaraiah stood for the MP elections from the Mysuru-Kodagu seat.

But why do these people want to enter politics? Is it to truly serve the people or fill a void? What void?

Officers lead a luxurious life for most of their careers — power, bungalows, servants and Government cars. But once they retire, they become insignificant. They feel the void of that power, relevance, the bungalow, servants and chauffeur-driven cars. How do we fix this void? Simple. Enter politics.

When actors and athletes join politics, it is not significant, but when Military personnel, bureaucrats and Police Officers plan to enter politics, it can be unhealthy for democracy as it creates conflict of interest.

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Worse is when Judges enter politics and it’s terrible when it’s done the way former Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay did it.

Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay stopped beating his gavel for justice and waved the BJP flag to serve the people, or so we thought. But no, he said it was the ‘barbs from the Bengal’s TMC Government’ which prompted him to join politics!

The BJP gave a ticket to the former Justice within days of his resignation. So the message is: Be a political instrument and you shall be rewarded by the party that was the beneficiary of your judgements?

Acceptance of judgeship is often an act of sacrifice. When a lawyer decides he will become a Judge, he is, in a way, writing off his freedom.

The ‘Restatement of Values of Judicial Life’ Charter, adopted by the Supreme Court, is a code of judicial ethics that Judges follow. Some of them are:

A Judge should not contest the election to any office, even a social club. A Judge should not socialise with lawyers practising in the same Court. A Judge should practise a degree of ‘aloofness’. A Judge shall not express his views in public on political issues. A Judge shall not give interviews to the media. Etc…

Judges are supposed to be the monks of the legal world. They are expected to lead a restrained life. That is why, to compensate them, the Judges are given such power, privilege and pampering.

But alas, sadly, many of our Judges have broken every one of the above ‘values of judicial life’ — from doing crass ‘Naagin’ dances at parties to giving public interviews on political issues; from calling press conferences to attack fellow Judges to joining politics, every value of judicial life has been broken.

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When public servants enter politics for the wrong reasons, and most do, it hurts the democratic structure.

Just imagine, by giving a ticket to a Jawan, who was sacked for insubordination, what message is one sending? How can it be healthy for the morale of the Armed Forces?

Imagine if Generals started giving information on covert strikes to gain political mileage.

What if Police Officers disregard overzealous political activism of the party they plan to join?

What if bureaucrats put land reforms on the back burner to allow land-grabbing by their future political lords? What if they themselves indulge in severe bribery to build an                                                election kitty?

What if Judges give unfair verdicts for post-retirement benefits?

The truth is, all of the above are not ‘what if’ scenarios. All the above has happened, is happening and will continue to happen, and, if ignored, will only increase. So maybe it’s time to stop it.

Even if we cannot stop senior officers, bureaucrats and Judges from joining politics, at least there should be a ‘cool-off’ period after retirement or after they resign as suggested by the Election Commission in 2012, which UPA rejected and BJP will also reject, considering they gave Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay a ticket two days after he resigned.

For now, even if the legislature doesn’t make a law stopping officers from entering politics, maybe the Supreme Court can at least stop Judges from entering politics.

When Judges start jumping ship faster than they can say ‘order, order,’ it should make Lady Justice weep and our pants leak. For if justice becomes a currency of politics, we will be doomed as a civil society.

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