Column: Courting ideology

Jul 08 2011, 00:55 IST
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SummaryThe recent Supreme Court order on black money is really good news.

The recent Supreme Court order on black money is really good news. It suggests that unrestrained and uncalled for action by the Court in areas where it has little expertise has peaked. Let me explain.

The study of time trends, from the Tulip Mania in 1637 to the 2008 sub-prime crisis, and the 2010 crisis of governance in India, etc, has one characteristic in common—irrational exuberance on the part of the major players. And a major cause of this irrationality is hubris. The reason the UPA lost all control and authority 2009 onwards was because it believed it could do no wrong, and that its ideas and mishaps of governance would not only be tolerated but approved by the people who had given it a strong mandate in the 2009 election. The Congress thought that whatever it proposed was “right” and damned any objections to its irrationality. In graphical terms, hubris leads to a blow-out or equivalently a collapse, i.e., an extreme turning point is reached.

In the vacuum created by the UPA’s lack of leadership, in walked the Supreme Court. In one sense, this is as it should be—after all, that is what checks and balances are about. But this marching in can create problems if the balances transcend a reality check. And this is what seems to have happened with the Supreme Court. Over the last six months or so, the Supreme Court has enjoyed popularity and support for making decisions per se; when the Executive and/or Parliament is either impotent or makes the wrong decisions, the democratic polity will cheer anybody. Witness the outpouring of support for the motley crew of “actors” in the shape of civil society, media, babas and yoga practitioners. But this support is now waning, and that is happening for two reasons: first, the interlopers have been found wanting on many counts, and second, the traditional decision makers have got the message—either act rationally and decisively or get shamed, and worse, booted out.

Hubris leads to blindness. In its most recent pronouncement on black money, the Court has most likely over-exposed itself. This 50-page document is historic, make no mistake about it. But historic does not mean good—it just means an extra-important event and, in my opinion, this judgment will mark the peaking of Supreme Court’s activism for activism’s sake. The black judgment is questionable on several counts, and I will attempt to document the pitfalls.

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