Vasundhara Raje backs down on draconian 'gag order', but Rajasthan govt will pay a heavy price for this misadventure

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has realised that discretion is the better part of politics, especially when elections are on the horizon.

Sandipan Sharma October 24, 2017 17:49:48 IST
Vasundhara Raje backs down on draconian 'gag order', but Rajasthan govt will pay a heavy price for this misadventure

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has realised that discretion is the better part of politics, especially when elections are on the horizon.

With the entire state rising in opposition, Raje sent the controversial bill that would have gagged the media, curtailed powers of the judiciary and shielded the corrupt to a select committee of the state Assembly. The committee will now look at the proposed bill in the next session of the Assembly.

Vasundhara Raje backs down on draconian gag order but Rajasthan govt will pay a heavy price for this misadventure

A file image of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. PTI

This is technically a face-saver and practically a political retreat, something Raje is not known for. With elections for the state Assembly due in about 14 months, Raje is unlikely to touch the bill again. It will now rest in peace in the dossiers of the select committee as an apt reminder of the government's misadventure that caused political harm even before it could get off the ground.

Why exactly did Raje withdraw the bill that have would denied investigating agencies the right to probe allegations against public servants without the government's approval? The answer is simple: People perceived the proposed law as a symbol of the government's hubris and desire to propagate graft and suppress democracy and opposed it vehemently. Shaken and stirred by the reaction, Raje decided to beat a hasty retreat.

That the leader of a government with 80 percent seats in the legislature had to eat crow should be both a lesson and warning for Raje. The lesson—as many before her have learnt through similar misadventures—is that even a majority doesn't bless a government with the power to wilfully suppress democratic institutions. Even a huge majority does not turn a government into a monarchy.

The warning signs are clear: Almost every section of society was outraged by Raje's proposed gag order. The judiciary, while hearing a petition against bureaucrats on Monday—the day the bill was presented in the Assembly—verbally lambasted the government's attempt to shield the corrupt.

Rajasthan's lawyers were incensed by the crude attempt to deny judiciary the right to order a probe into charges of corruption. They saw in it a blatant attempt to strip the judiciary of its power to question the misdeeds of governments and government officials.

The state's media, though heavily dependent on government spending, denounced the government unequivocally, resorting to rare ferocity of voice and tone. Its biting coverage and sharp criticism not only pulverised the government but moulded the mood of the electorate against the draconian law.

One of the defining characteristics of Raje's personality is her refusal to back down. Imperial in her ways, pride for her has always been more important than practicality. Raje, in many ways, is a living embodiment of the famous Gabbar Singh dialogue: Jo darr gaya samjho marr gaya.

So, it must have been with difficulty that she swallowed the shreds of the bill her government drafted. That she had no option is indicative of the outrage against the bill and the impact it would have had on her own career and image.

 

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