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Were Chautala supporters trying to browbeat the judiciary?

“And then he was led away to the prison” does have a ring of finality in any news report when a criminal is sentenced. But, it overlooks several possibilities, including the convict moving a higher court in appeal. This is the course former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala would naturally undertake. This, however, is part of the story that unfolded this morning in New Delhi’s Rohini CBI Special Court.

Even before the sentencing could commence inside, partymen brought there - apparently by the supremo’s order, 3,000 persons per MLA - ran amok, inviting police lathi charge followed by lobbing of tear gas shells. Para-military forces were also deployed.

(Right) Om Prakash Chautala. AFP.

These people had been put together in the orchestrated protest because, the leadership wanted to convey the impression that it could do no wrong, and if they did, it was par for course. If Chautala had to be severely dealt with for running a teacher’s jobs for cash scam, there were other worthies too who wallowed in corruption.

That is understandable, for not all leaders are clean and not all corrupt leaders face the fate Chautala has faced. For every Chautala investigated, found guilty, convicted and sentenced, there are many more that have twisted the system and even ensured that even a probe was not held against them.

But what takes the cake is the demonstration outside the court, a supposed “show of strength” – a politician would have no other expression for it. Probably the message here is: the leader is “popular” and enjoys the “people’s confidence” regardless of a court’s dim view of him for his errors of commission and omission. In a democracy, they presume, courts have no place.

It, in fact, was a clear case of seeking to interfere with the process of the law, a process a politician always says will “take its own course” when he or she wants to appear neutral when a rival is going to be hit by law or when one of their own his caught in the web and the crime cannot be explained away. Every Congressman said much the same when Suresh Kalmadi was arrested. Every Bharatiya Janata Party leader said much the same when BS Yeddyurappa fell afoul of the law.

What was seen outside the Rohini court actually was an attempt at intimidation of the judicial process and to influence the judiciary. The orchestrated anger was to remonstrate at the process which punished their leader. Like, ‘How could they?” or, “How dare they?” and the court had better not.

Trying to browbeat the law is a misadventure now altogether too common in India. They surface in varying intensities across the country and this single month has already seen two other cases, both from Hyderabad where not the judiciary but the law in general was targeted.

The issue of Akbaruddin Owaisi, the MIM MLA whose hate speech in Adilabad led to his arrest in Hyderabad, saw police out in strength to quell trouble on the streets. It unveiled how his followers view him and his actions: he was not wrong in what he said, and that he cannot be arrested for that folly.

When his brother, Assaduddin Owaisi, MIM chief and MP, was arrested after he surrendered in a court yesterday for an alleged offence in 2005, peace was disturbed in the Hyderabad’s old quarters. It was also on the presumption that the Caesar can do no wrong. The followers missed the fact – or were asked to ignore – that the MP had surrendered.

Politicians, as we know, often claim on being elected or re-elected despite a manifest crime or criminal activity that they stand cleared in the “people’s court”, a euphemism for electoral victories. The argument is simple: if I am a criminal, so what? People seem not to mind! Thereby they directly discount the purpose of the legal system.

Protesting against a government in a case like the Delhi gangrape is an entirely different kettle of fish. It was even commended yesterday by the Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir, who said the “upsurge” was “justified” and he would himself have liked to be part of that protest.

Those demonstrations stretching over several days were aimed at stirring the somnambulist government to its deficient approach to containing sexual crimes and seeking remedial laws and their proper implementation. It was also against the common neglect by the political class which preferred to agitate over foreign direct investment than enact desirable stringent laws that ensured respect for women.

However, the protests after the arrest of the Owaisi brothers and before the sentencing of Chautala, are step-up in the direct confrontation with the accepted laws, including the judicial processes. Unfortunately, they are seen merely as a law and order issue. When a sub-judice case cannot be commented upon lest it influences a decision or obstruct the process of law, why should a riot prior to a judgement be taken lightly?

Isn't it time for the courts to take note of these and charge the persons involved with contempt and interference with the cause of justice?