Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bal Thackeray and Markandey Katju

Justice Katju has stated that he cannot pay a tribute to Bal Thackeray because of the latter's divisive politics. Thackeray's 'sons of the soil' theory militated against the country's Constitution and was unlawful. It ran counter to principles of federalism.

As Amartya Sen argues in "The Argumentative Indian", everyone has multiple identities. In addition to being a controversial politician Thackeray was also a creative cartoonist, a charismatic leader and a bold person who never minced words. Katju also has some Thackeray-like qualities in him: self-righteous, obstinate, intolerant of criticism, etc. We should judge a person by the combination of his qualities and not be prejudiced by just one aspect of personality.

Thackeray's creativity was exhibited through his cartoons, Katju's through his love for literature. The former vociferously supported inposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi. Though I don't know whether Katju had a similar liking for emergency, I believe he also must have been a votary of emergency to 'impose discipline'. Katju's views on the need for a third-party regulator for media support my belief.

Assuming that Katju was against emergency because it was anti-democratic, would he have abstained from paying a tribute to Indira Gandhi on account of this part of her personality?

Anyone, and particularly a judge, must abstain from forming a general opinion about a person on the basis of a single facet of the person's views or behaviour. Issue-based conclusion is the foundation on which impartial justice rests. I wonder what would have happened if a case against Bal Thackeray had gone before Justice Katju's Bench. Would he have recused himself because of his bias? Only Katju can answer.

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