This is not a new debate, but one which never ceases to be relevant. What happens when the vanguards of democracy begins reducing democracy to a private party. There has been for instance so much talk about judicial activism with the judiciary proactively intervening in an effort to straighten out the executive in matters of corruption. But what if the judiciary itself is not free of corruption and there would be millions who would vouch this is actually the case on numerous occasions? What if in a hypothetical situation the stomach begins to digest itself, what then would be the strategy to tackle the problem? There is a Meitei proverb which expresses the same dread: “What happens if the fence you erect to keep away the cattle begins eating up the vegetables in your garden?” The disease is not only terminal but frightful too. Without going into hyperboles, suffices it to say that this disturbing question always arises? Exactly how are monitors to be monitored against committing the same offences they are supposed to monitor? How do you ensure that the thief catchers do not turn thieves, and crime fighters do not turn criminals?
This is known to have happened so many times and therefore it is imperative that smaller and more specific safety measures are built into the larger check and balance mechanisms of any democratic polity. We refer to democracy not only because we follow such a system, but also because it is the only system that theoretically encourages checks and balances into its own functioning. No dictatorship or monarchy would tolerate challenges to the ruler’s absolute whims in the interpretation of law or the execution of authority. The matter comes to mind in the light of a recent ugly incident in which policemen on night duty in the heart of Imphal city were put behind bars because they hauled up a haughty and inebriated man in an expensive SUV for illegal parking, and that too with the headlights of his SUV on high beam, blinding all in front of the vehicle, including the police picket. If the person in question was a VIP whose protocol the policemen on duty are obliged to show deference as government employees, there would have been some excuse for the atrocious response of the law but this was not the case at all. The law breaker was not a VIP by any means, and his only claim to fame was nothing more than being the brother-in-law of the chief minister of the state, and by that virtue probably a filthy rich government contractor. The incident should have made all law abiding citizens fume with fury, but far from it. They were more busy either campaigning to be made scheduled tribes or else wrecking normal life, holding bandhs and blockades. Nothing right is expected to work in such an atmosphere of corruption perpetrated those holding executive powers of the state on the one hand, and on the other by the complete silence of our so called intellectual elites, who are most of the time busy scouting for new avenues to advance their careers and service perks, by making sure they annoy nobody who can come in their way.
Perhaps what is essential is to make the checking mechanisms a cycle too, so that the hunter and hunted can easily and legally change places, with nobody absolutely at the apex of the checking hierarchy. In the true spirit of modern democratic law, everybody must be made equals before it. This will ensure that the hunter is not given impunity from prosecution or public censure. There is a lesson to be learnt in this from the way America, arguably the most successful democracy today, has tackled the issue. The American constitution, it is often said is built around a principle contained in the words of one of its founding fathers, the fourth president of the country, James Madison: “If men were angels”, he is famously said “there would be no need for governments.” Hence, since men are not angels, the call is for always holding a healthy suspicion of power accumulating in any single hand or institution. To this we may add, always suspect money accumulating in any single hand or institution. A suspicion not born out of malice but out of a will to ensure democracy’s instruments are not hijacked for vested ends of any ruling clique. In short, a suspicion to ensure that power and money are always accountable. In governance terms, this suspicion must translate into a comprehensive check and balance mechanism. The judiciary, executive, legislature and all other organs of democratic governance must be open to constitutionally sanctioned and easy to approach, mutual as well as public scrutiny. In the nightmarish event of the stomach beginning to digest itself, rather than solely depending on external medicines, the body must be enabled to heal itself.