Originally Published 2010-08-18 00:00:00 Published on Aug 18, 2010
What was not acceptable to Karnataka have been made acceptable to Sikkim now. Naturally, advocates in Sikkim too would not want to have a judge, allegedly tainted by misdemeanour, to be their Chief Justice.
'Dinakaran Case' and the Politics of Alienation
The transfer of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice  P D Dinakaran to the Sikkim High Court following allegations of corrupt practices and protests by lawyers has the potential to alienate the people of the only North-Eastern State where relative peace and tranquillity reigns. After Goa and Pondicherry, since rechristened Puducherry, Sikkim was the only State to have merged in the Indian Union after Independence and the subsequent formation of the Republic. Unlike Goan and Pondicherry enclaves, Sikkim did not join India as part of a global reorientation. In their case, the Portuguese and the French had concluded that maintaining territories distanced from the mainland in the era after the Second World War was as untenable as their acceptance of the natural Indian suzerainty over those pockets were. Hence the relatively smooth transfer of their merger with the Indian Union, after a series of street-protests.

Sikkim’s case is different. The purported role of Indian agencies in the merger of the princely Himalayan Kingdom as a part of the Indian Republic is still fresh in living memory. Yet, the merger was voluntary as far as the people and the popular polity of Sikkim was concerned, when they took that historic decision. To date, barring a few and stray political protests over issues of immediate concern and consequence, there has been no reason for the people of Sikkim to feel that they had been downgraded and treated shabbily and step-motherly by the Indian Nation, particularly in terms of overall values that govern peoples and their governing systems. The ‘Dinakaran issue’ may have made them feel ill at ease on that score.

If Chief Justice Dinakaran was shifted out of the Karnataka High Court, it was not because any higher judicial authority had found it untenable for him to continue nearer to the scene of his alleged impropriety, located in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, his native State – that he could try and manipulate evidence and witnesses, as others accused in worse crimes might have been anticipated to do. His transfer followed a series of protests by local lawyers, who would not want to be a part of a judicio-legal system, presided over by Justice Dinakaran. Brother Judges too felt embarrassed and stayed away from his presence. The Supreme Court as the administrative head of the higher judiciary in the country had little choice but to get Justice Dinakaran out of the way in the Karnataka High Court.

What was not acceptable to Karnataka have been made acceptable to Sikkim now. Naturally, advocates in Sikkim too would not want to have a judge, allegedly tainted by misdemeanour, to be their Chief Justice. They had protested when Justice Dinakaran was named to head the Bench in the Sikkim High Court. They have now stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony. Naturally, they may feel piqued and upset that their legitimate concerns and consequential demands had fallen on deaf ears in distant Delhi. The conclusion that what is not good for Karnataka or other parts of the country was good for Sikkim is an untenable position that they might have to learn to live with it – sulk, or protest. Considering that across the nation – and even in the neighbourhood – lawyers as a class have lent leadership and credibility to public protests over issues of legitimacy and morality, if Sikkim were to boil in the coming weeks and months, if not on this specific issue, then there should not be any confusion about the roots.

'Assam Issue' and other Regional Concerns

One only needs to recall the large-scale charges of ‘step-motherly treatment’ against the Centre as among the core causes for alienation and disaffection and consequent militancy grabbing other States and areas in the volatile North-East. Historically not much of a part of the freedom movement, which in turn had united the much of the rest of the country, the North-East had always been made to feel as a peripheral ‘outsider’ in the larger scheme of things, as viewed from distant Delhi. Much of the rest of the North-East has still not forgiven Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for reportedly declaring that he was concerned more about the Calcutta Port than much of the border States, at the height of the ‘Chinese aggression’ of 1962. On the streets in the North-East, as in Jammu and Kashmir, is still not uncommon to hear someone argue with you on what ‘India’ – not the Centre or Delhi – had done, or not done, for them.

The ‘Assam agitation’ of the late Seventies and early Eighties had its seeds not necessarily in the foreigners’ issue. It became the public face of the protest, but it had its beginnings elsewhere. The perceived neglect of the State and the rest of the region in the developmental plans of the Centre, the unchecked corruption by local politicians, and more so bureaucrats, were at the core of those protests. Bureaucrats in the North-Eastern States were known to have siphoned off developmental funds from the Centre, in whatever form and shape it came, outside. To put it bluntly, what would have still stayed behind in the State as the ‘wages of sin’, went away to other States and regions. That most of these bureaucrats were as much ‘outsiders’ as the ‘Bangladeshi settlers’ in the State was at the bottom of their anti-foreigner protests and agitations under the umbrella of All-Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

In the immediate context, the average Assamese youth, who was better-equipped in terms of collegiate education – possibly because the Christian missionaries went there early on, as in the case of some of the south Indian States – felt deprived of job opportunities, which were anyway going to ‘outsiders’, at times with lesser talent and qualification. The setting up of an oil refinery in distant Bihar, from where then Petroleum Minister K D Malaviya hailed, to treat the oil that was pumped out in Assam, was the last straw. If security concerns were cited as the reason, it only triggered wounded memories of the statement attributed to Prime Minister Nehru. The rest, as they say, is history.

If one studied the history of militancy in different north-eastern States, they are all one of neglect and of perceived bossiness from Delhi, flowing invariably from lack of knowledge and of insensitivity to local feelings and sentiments, expectations and aspirations. Once an issue led to another and to yet another, the real cause tended to be forgotten. The last issue, often involving an act of militancy or a reactionary police/military action at the instance of the State, ended up over-shadowing the basic concern and the primary context. Violence often begets violence, and that is how it all had often ended.

Administering Justice, Ensuring Sovereignty

It is not known how the Centre, particularly the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has often been talking out of turn in these past months, did not think it proper to suitably bring it to the notice of the Supreme Court, the short, medium and long-term consequences of their unwitting, though unintentional decision of theirs. It may not be too late for the Government of India, acting through the Apex Court, to initiate whatever action that may be needed to ensure that no State in the country is made to feel small, neglected and unwanted. Higher the forum as the Judiciary is, greater should be the sensitivity to the consequences of decisions flowing from it. However, it does not stop with judicial pronouncements alone but permeates the whole length and breadth of judicial administration.

At the end of the day, the higher judiciary in the country administers justice. For the courts to administer justice, they should have the State, both in legal terms and as political units, and an abiding citizenry that has respect for the law of the land and for the sense of impartiality that it imbibes in them. The Governments, both at the Centre and in the States, administer more than justice. They do not stop with administering a State or region, either. It is their bounden duty and responsibility to ensure that no section of the citizenry feels alienated and frustrated to the extent that they begin questioning and challenging the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Indian Nation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.