Former CJI Gogoi Stirs Up a Debate

Should Parliament Have the Power to Change the Constitution? Former CJI Gogoi Stirs Up a Debate

Former CJI Gogoi Stirs Up a Debate

Last week, Ranjan Gogoi, former chief justice of India and now a Member of Parliament, sparked a controversy that raised eyebrows when, while supporting the Delhi Services Bill that gives more power to the central government over the administration of the national capital, he questioned the validity and relevance of the basic structure doctrine, which limits the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.

But before we analyze the implications of what the former CJI, who was nominated to Parliament by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said, here’s a sidebar about him: Gogoi was a controversial chief justice of India. He faced allegations of sexual harassment by a former Supreme Court employee in 2019, shortly after he was appointed as the CJI. He denied the charges and claimed that they were part of a conspiracy to destabilize the judiciary. A three-judge panel of the Supreme Court cleared him of the allegations, but the process was criticized by many as unfair and opaque. 

Gogoi also delivered some controversial judgments on sensitive issues such as Ayodhya, Rafale, and Kashmir. 

Last week in Parliament he questioned the Constitution’s basic structure doctrine.  The basic structure doctrine was first put forward by the Supreme Court in the landmark Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973, and has since been used to protect the core features of the Constitution, such as democracy, secularism, federalism, judicial review, and fundamental rights, from being altered or abrogated by constitutional amendments. The doctrine has been hailed as a safeguard of constitutional supremacy and a check on majoritarianism.

Gogoi, however, argues that the doctrine had a “debatable jurisprudential basis” and that it was not part of the original Constitution. He also suggested that the Parliament has the legislative competence to make laws for Union Territories like Delhi, and that the Bill does not violate any other part of the Constitution. He said that if full-fledged federalism is desired for Delhi, then an amendment can be made to make it a full-fledged state.

Gogoi’s views have been seen by many as an attempt to undermine the basic structure doctrine and to justify the government’s encroachment on the autonomy of Delhi. Some have also pointed out that Gogoi himself had upheld the doctrine as a judge and had invoked it in several judgments, such as the one on Aadhaar  and the one on Sabarimala. Has he changed his stance because of his allegiance to the ruling party that has nominated him to Parliament?

On the flipside, by raising the question about the Constitution’s basic structure doctrine, Gogoi has also raised the need for a deeper debate on the future of constitutional democracy in India.

Modi and the Indian media

Have you wondered who the official media adviser to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi is? If you have, the answer is: no one. The current media adviser to Modi, who has been Prime Minister since 2014 is not clear. There are a few people, including  a couple of former bureaucrats, whom Modi may consult with on some issues but in a curious departure from the practice followed by most of his predecessors, the Prime Minister has not appointed an official media adviser. 

The reason perhaps is that he doesn’t really need one. A media adviser to the Prime Minister normally has many functions and responsibilities: he or she can act as a sluice gate or filter for the Prime Minister and his office’s interactions with media; or can be the spin doctor for shaping perceptions and building the Prime Minister’s image and stance on different issues; he can coordinate press meets or interviews for the PM and his office; advise on communications during crises and tricky situations; and, act as an analyst who reads the mood in the media and feed it back to the PM’s office.

The Indian Prime Minister ostensibly does not need anyone to manage relations with Indian media. Primarily because the need does not arise. The Indian media pretty much manages itself when it comes to the top executive office in the government. 

The Prime Minister has rarely given interviews to Indian media in the past nearly decade that he has had the top job. There have been no press conferences, interactions, or meetings where he has engaged with representatives of media. He has stopped the practice of taking along with him members of the press when he travels officially abroad. 

It has worked fine. The media, particularly the mainstream established, and so-called legacy media, never criticizes him or his policies. And, if you’re looking to read critiques or objective analysis of policies, stances, nuances, and everything else that makes for informative and interesting reading you are better off seeking out small niche publications or global media publications instead of the usual big-name Indian newspapers, TV channels, and news websites. 

The Prime Minister’s preferred media strategy has been to stay silent, and, in effect, project himself on a level higher than the rest of Indian polity. Critics attack him for not speaking out on issues such as communal violence, corruption, and hate speeches, often perpetrated by those owing allegiance to his party or its affiliates. But it is also a fact that his strategy of being above all of it has given him a sort of (perhaps mythical) dignity and respect, certainly so among his supporters.

Recently, after months of full-scale violence in the north-eastern state of Manipur where two indigenous tribes have been at war, and where atrocities against women and others have shocked the world, the Prime Minister was forced to address issue in Parliament where India’s depleted Opposition parties (they have only 203 of the 543 seats in Lok Sabha) moved a motion of no-confidence against him. He expressed his anguish about what was happening in Manipur but trained his sights on the Opposition and blamed it for obstructing a debate on the situation in Manipur. In his speech, he poked crude fun at his opponents and was cheered by his colleagues on the Treasury benches.

While everyone dutifully documented the Prime Minister’s speech, few in the media made any critical assessment of the fact that the Prime Minister had effectively said nothing about what the government was planning to do in Manipur and about how to avoid such communal clashes in the future. 

As we said, the Prime Minister does not need anyone to advise how to manage the media. The media in India manages itself.

The army continues to rule in Pakistan

Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, is facing a political and legal crisis after he was arrested and convicted on corruption charges in May 2023. His supporters have accused the army, which has a history of meddling in civilian affairs, of orchestrating a coup against him. They have also staged violent protests in several cities, targeting military installations and personnel.

Khan, who came to power in 2018 with the backing of the army, had a falling out with the generals over his policies on India, Afghanistan, and the economy. He also tried to assert his authority over the army by appointing his own loyalists to key positions. The army, which sees itself as the guardian of the nation’s interests and security, resented Khan’s attempts to challenge its dominance and influence.

The army has used its control over the judiciary, the media, and the opposition parties to undermine Khan’s legitimacy and popularity. It has also cracked down on his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), by arresting its leaders and activists, banning its rallies, and freezing its funds. The army has also tried to create a rift within the PTI by wooing some of its dissident members.

The army’s role in Pakistan’s politics has been controversial and divisive. While some see it as a stabilizing force that can prevent chaos and extremism, others see it as a threat to democracy and human rights. The fate of Imran Khan and his party will depend on how the army manages this crisis and how the public responds to it.

Why ‘Oppenheimer’ may never be shown in Japan

Christopher Nolan’s new film, Oppenheimer, is about J. Robert Oppenheimer, considered the father of the atomic bomb, and focuses on the complexities of his character and personality, his dilemmas between commitment to science and humanitarian concerns and much more.The film, a blockbuster, crossed $550 million at the box office globally and became the highest-grossing WWII film in history. Since its release in July it has already been watched by millions around the world.

But not in Japan. Recently, Japan marked the 78th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities where the bombs created by Oppenheimer were dropped, killing 210,000. More than 100,000 people exposed to radiation from the bombs are still alive. The film, while not explicitly depicting the horrors that the bombings spread, includes the incidents in its narrative.

It is unlikely that the film will make it to cinema theatres in Japan where many believe the phenomenon of memes and jokes combining Oppenheimer and the film, Barbie (a $1 billion grossing film on a doll), makes a mockery of the suffering that thousands of Japanese civilians have undergone as a result of the bombings.

The woman who controls North Korea’s propaganda

When North Korea, which most of the rest of the world considers a rogue nation, controlled by Kim Jong Un, known as the Supreme leader, has to protest or make a statement about its enemies (which is almost everyone else in the world), it turns to Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong Un. 

The 35-year-old is the Deputy Department Director of the Publicity and Information Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, or WPK. She is also a member of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea, the highest decision-making body in the country. She is considered by some commentators to be a possible successor to her brother in case of his death or incapacitation. 

Ms. Kim is also responsible for crafting her brother’s public image and controlling the state propaganda and media. 

Later this month when the US, Japan and South Korea meet at Camp David to discuss North Korea’s aggressive actions, and when South Korea, backed by the US, organizes military drills to show their ability to thwart any attacks by the north, Ms. Kim will swing into action with her propaganda strategies.

Not a mincer of words, Ms. Kim has been known to use choice epithets to describe North Korea’s enemies. She has likened the South Korean president to an “impudent flunky beggar”, and compared the US to a “scared barking dog”. 

With rumours of her brother the 41-year-old Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un not keeping good health, it is widely speculated that Ms. Kim could be his successor. She has another elder brother but he is apparently not considered to be strong enough for the job.

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