There is now a real hunt for coining ever new terms for new upsetting phenomena in society and politics,such as finer terms to denote different degrees of authoritarianism in stead of seeing as a whole the concerted and unremitting campaign to turn the state into a full-fledged fascist state.
On the other hand there is a reluctance to examine the erosion of useful old terms and the concepts they connote.
Consider the Rule of Law.It has been throughout history a dynamic concept nurturing the progress and expansion of democracy.It has been used rather lazily umpteen number of times until it has become blunt and blase.
Does it only mean conformity to existing laws of a country? In that case it may narrow the real content of the term in two ways. If examined with a deliberately narrow focus, it might get circumscribed by existing laws in their amended forms.The reach of Law as a principle of unfettered and equal justice which is the real essence of Rule of Law will then fall far too short.Quite a lot of ideas and ends which cover the entire scope of that principle,and as it were its living spirit,will have been unnecessarily and prematurely walled in.With the development of human society and human mind there will arise need for new laws expanding and defending the liberties of the people as well as protecting them.
The fundamental rights are sometimes thought of as inviolate things that no law can ever breach.But there are also positive laws that uphold them against newer challenges and invasions.Current legalistic thought usually prefer the conservative idea of law that fence in impregnable things,just as once the unjust rights of Zemindars used to be thought of as made sacrisanct by the right to property.Thus the idea of rights is also subject to some examination, revision,expansion and restriction in the interest of greater freedom for all.Likewise the explosion of digital capacities and receptivity extending to state espionage of its own citizens today call for urgent steps to meet these threats to the liberty of life and the freedom of expression.All through this there is of course the need to watch out for conspiracies to stamp out freedom under the pretext of ensuring it.
Reportedly the Dy Chief Minister of the UP in an aborted interview to the BBC had remarked that the so-called saints in a religious convention in Haridwar had as much right to freely express their genocidal views and promote their execution as everybody else in their own platforms. This is certainly an ominous formulation of the idea of the Rule of Law to mean just the opposite.Even if such blatant vandalism in the realm of ideas is at last challenged in courts it does gravely disturb one’s mind that no constitutional authority had cared to intervene for three full weeks.
For one thing it is clear that the executive today can no longer be trusted to uphold and defend the Rule of Law.But the prolonged silence and inaction of the judiciary at this heinous trumpery against the constitution fill one with alarm. One always entertains the highest regard for the scruples of higher judiciary in their fear of disregarding the limits of their constitutional reach and power.But this outrage does not seem to call for such sustained scrupulous scrutiny.
Perhaps their lordships were constrained by the unconscious austerity in interpreting the Rule of Law as that embodied in their present confused,complex and multitudinous extent.Rule of Laws,to be blunt.The terrible consequence of such a conception is surely as clear as daylight.And it is a relief that Kapil Sibal as in many of his recent legal performances has in this case has put the matter with such lucidity and succinctness.
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator