Skip to main content

Upendra Baxi on foolish excellence, Indian judges and Consitutional cockroaches

By Rajiv Shah
In a controversial assertion, top legal expert Upendra Baxi has sought to question India's Constitution makers for neglecting human rights and social justice. Addressing an elite audience in Ahmedabad, Prof Baxi said, the constitutional idea of India enunciated by the Constituent Assembly tried to resolve four key conflicting concepts: governance, development, rights and justice.
However, he regretted, there has been a disproportionate emphasis on governance and development, even as undermining the two other key factors, rights and justice. According to him, while 90% of the Indian Constitution is about governance and development, only 10% of it is about rights and justice.
Prof Baxi's strong words on India's Constitution makers, though without naming them, crucially come at a time when a new wave of appears to have engulfed India in defence of the Constitution against the backdrop of the Government of India's new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Citizens Register (NCR), which allegedly seek to make religion as the basis of granting citizenship.
Those protesting against CAA and NRC are found to be strongly "defending" the Constitution, especially Article 14, which promises equality before law irrespective of religion, caste, creed, sex, race or region, even as swearing by Gandhiji and Dr BR Ambedkar.
The observations also come against the backdrop of alleged failure of the country's apex court to examine use of force to suppress the resistance in every possible way, whether in Jamia or Uttar Pradesh. Nearly 25 persons demonstrating against CAA-NCR have died, while scores have been injured.
Prof Baxi, 81, who is professor emeritus of law at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, and has been vice-chancellor of Delhi University, was delivering the Dr Ashok Hirway Memorial Lecture, organised by the Centre for Development Alternatives (CFDA), Ahmedabad, on December 23. Husband of well-known economist, Prof Indira Hirway, director, CFDA, late Dr Ashok Hirway did his PhD in law at the age of 75.
While reading out from his written lecture (click HERE to read), which several scholars in the audience, including a top social scientist, termed as "highly abstruse inquiry", Prof Baxi often diverted to make several major observations. 
Prof Baxi's statement comes at a time when those protesting against CAA-NRC are opposing 'dilution' of Indian Constitution
Titled "The Directive Principles of State Policy, Fundamental Duties of Citizens, and Human Rights: Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread", Prof Baxi sought to "suggest" during the 45-minute lecture that India's constitution-making "preceded at least by six decades of the Indian freedom struggle", which is ushered in a new India, "an era of foolish excellence."
Wondering as to why human rights and justice are mainly a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy, which are legally not enforceable but are merely a moral binding, Prof Baxi, indicated, very few duties had been made legally obligatory in the Directive Principles, one of them being being making Right to Education (RTE) compulsory.
Emmanuel Levinas, Amartya Sen
Prof Baxi referred to Nobel laureate in economics and a strong critic of the present BJP dispensation in India, Prof Amartya Sen, who developed the notion of “rational fools” in the context of the “economic man”, which in turn is analogous to a similar term floated by a well-known philosopher of the last century, Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas, said Prof Baxi, “reminded us of the virtue of ‘foolish excellence’.”
According to Prof Baxi, “If Amartya Sen was questioning the model of the ‘economic man’ as an egoistic being always intent on maximizing his or her preferences devoid entirely of sympathy or commitment to the plight of others, Emmanuel Levinas was concerned with development of an ethical philosophy that accorded non-negotiable responsibility towards the vulnerable other.”
Given this framework, the top legal expert said, what we have today in India is a legal system where Supreme Court judges, through their “foolish excellence”, remain the best option for democratizing Indian governance, especially at a time when the legal system seeks to defend the owners of the capital, not caring for anything but profit and the present, unmindful of the past and the future.
Pointing out that "our justices are no constitutional cockroaches subject to any Monsanto-like spray on the constitutional idea of India", Prof Baxi said, judges are often misunderstood as Brahmins, who sit at the very top hierarchical structure, and hope still lies with them for providing access to justice, at a time when effort is on only to empower the already empowered.
Offering the example of Gujarat in this context, where there is a law that allows defamation suits filed for a mere Rs 75,000, which is peanuts for the corporates, one reason why they all rush for it in the state, he underlined, this significantly helps “suppress dissent.”
---
Click HERE to download prepared lecture of Prof Baxi

Comments

Upendra Baxi said…
Regarding the above story, it is clear that the learned corrspondet totally misunderstood my speech and I will urge you to carry as an antidote the entire text of it.
Far from calling the learned Justices as ‘constitutional cockroaches’, I said that charges of constitutional overreach are wrong and misdirected .I stated that all the talk about Laxman Rekha can be understood as a chemical used by housewives to kill cockroaches and further that our Justices are no constitutional cockroaches subject to any Monsanto -like spray on the constitutional idea of India.
I did not say, in response to a question about access to justice, anything that would reproach the apex justices for being an aspect of Brahmanical hierarchy but said rather that litigant and lawyers rendered the problem of access to justice more complex by almost always recoursing to the Apex Court; they seemed to believe that truth always lay at the top. Indeed, I cited precedents which judicially recognized access to justice as a fundamental right and access to judicial infrastructure also as a such right.
The learned correspondent also got the observations wrong ot lowering the court fees for libel suits.The fees were determined by the State legislature which amended the Central Act in the name of access. The law then acted to enable industry to bring large damages suits with a chilling effect on the freedom of press.
I think these instances are glaring enough to suggest that my talk was understood in the light of thoughtless public criticism about Justices and Courts. The Justices have done a rather a commendable job of preserving our basic rights though constitutional interpretation.
I again request you to carry the full text of the speech to rectify many misunderstandings and misrepresentations.
Editor said…
We have made necessary corrections in the light of Prof Upendra Baxi's objections. We have also given link to his lecture distributed to the audience

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Will Budget 2024 help empower city govts, make them India's growth engines?

By Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Arjun Kumar* Cities in India are envisioned as engines of growth. Any meaningful long-term vision for India would be incomplete without planning for the cities and quite rightly, urbanization is considered as one of the country’s top developmental challenges. Realization of full potential of cities depends crucially on their ability to provide ‘enabling’ environment especially in terms of sustained provision of a wide range of urban infrastructure and services.

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".