India Insight

Markandey Katju: Ex-India Supreme Court judge stirs the pot

Comments by retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju had India’s parliament in uproar this week. In a blog post published by the Times of India, the chairman of the Press Council of India hinted at a connection between the government and the judiciary in the elevation of an allegedly corrupt judge in Tamil Nadu.

This isn’t the first time that the man heading India’s print media oversight body has stirred the pot. Katju was known among his peers as an outspoken judge who passed landmark judgements and made scathing remarks in several cases.

While what he said and did as a judge might have had a legal context, Katju’s recent statements seem to have gone beyond his brief as press body chief. Take, for example, his appeal to let off convicted Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt or his objection to India’s highest civilian honour being awarded to sportspersons or film stars.

Last year, Arun Jaitley, then an opposition party lawmaker, asked Katju to quit office over his criticism of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi. Jaitley, now India’s finance minister, had said Katju should quit his “quasi-judicial office” before airing his political views.

“To those who talk of the development of Gujarat under Modi, I ask this question: should the malnourished children of Gujarat eat the roads, electricity and factories, which Modi has created?” Katju said in a February 2013 column in The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper.

Facts and figures for India’s 2014 general election

Voting in the 2014 election begins on April 7. More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — will be eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Voting will be held in 10 stages, which will be staggered until May 12, and results are due to be announced on May 16. Elections to state assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will be held simultaneously.

Around 930,000 polling stations will be set up for the month-long election using electronic voting machines, first introduced in 2004.

Key dates in India’s election history

Voting for the 2014 general election will begin on April 7, the Election Commission said on Wednesday.

(For facts and figures on the 2014 election, click here)

Here is a timeline of key dates in India’s election history:

1947 – Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers of independent India, becomes the country’s first prime minister. His appointment starts a long period of political dominance of the Congress party and the country’s most powerful dynasty, the Gandhi-Nehru family.

1952 – Nehru leads Congress to a clear victory in the country’s first ever general election and retains the prime ministership, which he held until his death in 1964.

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

India’s parliament gets its groove back, at least for now

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

India’s notoriously disruptive parliament has been going through a productive phase in the past two days. Bills are getting passed, politicians are discussing the state of the economy and for a change, members are listening to each other as they deliver well-researched speeches.

For a house with one of the poorest records of accomplishments in Indian history, the last two days were downright atypical.

On Monday, parliament debated a $20 billion plan for nine hours to provide cheap food to two thirds of the population. For a change, the government got the main opposition party on board by incorporating some of the changes that its opponents proposed.

I’m an Indian politician… on TV

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp)

Are they parliamentarians, or do they just play ones on TV? After pushing through proposals on foreign investment in the retail and the aviation sector late last year, India’s elected representatives apparently have decided to get as little done as possible during the current session.

On television, it’s another matter. Newsroom studios appear to be the preferred forum for debating problems and legislation that normally would be the province of parliament. Those include recent demands by the coalition government’s prime opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, for the resignations of the prime minister, law minister and the railway minister over accusations that the government interfered with an investigation of improper allocation of coal mine licenses and certain other bribery allegations.

Wal-Mart row puts spotlight on lobbying in India

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

Just last week, the Congress-led coalition government overcame legislative deadlock in parliament by agreeing to and winning a symbolic vote on allowing foreign companies to invest millions of dollars in India’s retail businesses.

But a week is a long time in politics. Parliament reached another impasse, and the press returned to nouns that it usually associated with parliament — uproar and furore.

A small, shameful history of unparliamentary behaviour

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Thomson Reuters)

Day two of parliament’s winter session was frustratingly predictable. Both the houses adjourned until Monday without discussing important bills. As lawmakers shouted slogans and rushed to the centre of the assemblies to pressure the speaker and the government on contentious issues, it felt like past instances of protests in various state assemblies across the country.

Ranging from quirky to disgusting, these actions by elected lawmakers justify references to India as a noisy and unruly democracy. Have a look at this collection of greatest “hits”:

Sexual harassment bill: need for a gender-neutral law

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

India took 50 years to come up with a definition for what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, courtesy of a Supreme Court judgement 12 years ago.

It makes you wonder where parliament has been, considering that there is no law to deal with the offense.

Business of adjournments in parliament

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

Talk of a trust vote, foreign direct investment in retail, and 102 bills pending overall – this is what the agenda for the winter session of parliament could have been. It was, actually, but sometimes things just get in the way.

Day one of the winter session started in the same way that the last session ended: opposition parties protesting over various contentious topics. Also, on the first day, the speaker rejected a motion to trigger early elections with a no-confidence vote.

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