DR HANS RAJ BHARDWAJ, 79, who was minister of law and justice more than once and was elected to the Rajya Sabha numerous times, has had a chequered career having witnessed tumultuous times in Indian politics. Earlier, he was a senior advocate in the Supreme Court and a public prosecutor for Delhi Administration. He was an ardent follower of Nehru’s vision and remained a Gandhi family loyalist for decades. In a freewheeling candid interview, he spoke to Managing Editor RAMESH MENON on the dangers to Indian democracy and why there is hope of a new India.
Is there any possibility of another Emergency?
Indians have powerfully demonstrated numerous times how they can change regimes when they want to. Emergency is not a possibility now as institutions have stabilized. The collective wisdom is strong and will keep democracy alive. We have shown how, with the help of our constitution, we can solve difficult problems.
Lack of probity in public life is now immediately resented.
Provisions for Emergency are part of our constitution but it has nothing to do with day-to-day governance. This is a country that fought for fundamental rights.
LK Advani recently said that he cannot rule out the possibility of another Emergency.
Advani should make his position clear on this. What does he actually want to say? Why is he mincing words? Advani should come out and openly say that he feels that the current regime is moving towards dictatorship. Emergency was there 40 years ago. So many governments have changed. If he has seen something coming, he should warn us. Are there restrictions on him or others in the party? He must speak up.
What is your opinion about the eagerness of the government to control various cultural bodies and public institutions?
It is necessary that the cultural heritage of India is protected as it is vital for the country’s sustenance and growth of a secular democracy. Prime Minister Modi has a huge responsibility. Even the President of the United States, Barack Obama, had to point out that India should work towards protecting Article 25 of the constitution. Nobody should be allowed to tinker with the secular democracy of India. No leader should even try doing it.
What in the recent past has disturbed you?
The decline of various institutions worries me. For example, the judiciary is under tremendous strain. It must be completely independent. Only judges should be allowed to control the working of the judiciary.
There is tension in parliament as it is being run on compromises. Parliament must encourage the best debates and not just push legislation through as is being done today. New ideas are not being implemented. Only rhetoric is prominent. During Nehru’s time, we saw great contributions as the stress was on raising scientific temper and building institutions.
Let me quote Rabindranath Tagore who epitomized Indian tradition: “None shall be turned away from the shore of this vast sea of humanity. That is India. Day and night, thy voice goes out from land to land, calling Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains round thy throne and Parsees, Mussalmans and Christians. Offerings are brought to thy shrine by the East and West to be woven in a garland of love. Thou bringest the hearts of all peoples into the harmony of one life, Thou Dispenser of India’s destiny. Victory, victory, victory to thee.”
We have to protect minority institutions as we should value the benefits and joy of a shared culture. We must ensure there is unity in diversity. You cannot force everyone to do yoga. If one part of society is made happy and another left unhappy, what are we achieving? We cannot discriminate. We have to be very careful of what we are doing. If a society is not at peace, there can be no progress. Our ethnic plurality and cultural identity is strong and should remain so.
So you see a real danger.
If you tamper with the secular framework, this country will break.
Look at Nehru’s first cabinet. He ensured everyone was represented. Maulana Azad was born in Mecca and was India’s education minister. He did a lot to strengthen it. Nehru understood the importance of education and so, got people like Azad and Humayun Kabir as education ministers.
Education is a very important portfolio. The IIMs and IITs were created to bring in excellence. We set up the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal to bring in excellence in the judiciary.
Today, judges from all over the world come there. I set up numerous law colleges as it important to have excellent educational institutions to produce good lawyers and judges.
There is a move to control the functioning of IIMs and IITs today. These institutions were always independent and should remain so as they grow best that way. Some professors are now speaking up against such a takeover. It is a well-established principle that IITs and IIMs should be controlled only by their peers and not anybody from outside.
The role of NCERT is very vital. Can you change Indian culture by changing texts? People will ultimately resist
Leaders would like to project themselves all the time. It is a normal human tendency. Modi keeps saying that he is from a humble background. If he now tries to make an attempt at greatness, it will be curbed by those within his party.
Do you see any parallels between Indira and Modi?
None. How can they be compared? Indira was from a family of freedom fighters and was active in the freedom movement. She gave her life for India. She imposed the Emergency but also learnt from it as she was thrown out due to compulsory family planning, police excesses and misuse of powers at various levels. But after three years of Janata Party rule, she was voted back to power.
When I was a lawyer, some 15 professors from Delhi University were arrested during Emergency. When it came up in court, Justice VD Mishra asked me what the grounds of arrest were as I was the government counsel. I said there were no grounds to arrest them. He immediately ordered their release. I informed Indira immediately that the police was misusing its powers in the name of Emergency. Soon after, Emergency was revoked. I never saw Indira as a dictator. She was a changed person after Emergency.
What do you think Modi should do?
Modi is under tremendous pressure to perform. Let him show what he can do for the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections. He should do what he promised. If his ministers are not performing, he can change them. His problem is dealing with his own party. He should have powerful ministers in key positions. We need a powerful education minister with a vision of modern education.
Economic progress is very important today. Rising aspirations have to be met and that is why I keep saying that education is crucial for the future of India.In its latest budget, the AAP has put money in education. That is great. Education will make everyone rise. Modi’s ministers have little power as it is concentrated in one person. The bureaucrats are very unhappy. Let us remember that bureaucracy is the steel-frame of our democracy and should be strengthened, not weakened. Ministers have powers under the constitution and concentration of power
in one individual is not envisaged by our constitution. Ministers should not become sycophants. They should be allowed to speak their mind. Ultimately, the prime minister’s decision is final, but he must let them speak. If you create fear, you are no democrat.