While the courts have often been criticised for overreaching their mandate, a recent judgment of the Punjab & Haryana High Court sets a good example of judicial restraint. According to The Indian Express, the High Court—hearing a public interest litigation asking it to bar newly-elected Punjab legislator and the state’s local government and tourism minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu, from appearing in a comedy show on TV— said that it can’t “start moral policing politicians”. Although it cautioned that those in public life should exercise restraint, it rhetorically asked how far could courts go in exercising authority. “Participating in a television show is an engagement of an artiste and not a business or employment. The petitioner should prove that it was a propriety or conflict of interest issue,” the court observed. The present problem is rooted in the expectation of superior conduct from lawmakers in public life. While Sidhu’s appearance in a comedy show where jokes laced with double entendres are cracked by both the host and Sidhu himself doesn’t behove his position as a lawmaker, upholding the dignity of the office he now holds rests upon him entirely. And if the public feels the minister continuing with his ribaldry act is demeaning, it has the right to chastise him at the hustings at the next opportunity.
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The outrage against Sidhu also seems moored in another extreme that mass opinion has reached—the dim view held of lawmakers participating in any legal activity for personal economic interest. Of course, such discouragement makes sense if there is a conflict of interest involved, but why frown at legitimate economic activity? In a country where donations to political parties have legally been kept opaque—the anonymous electoral bonds do just that—why protest or clamp down on legal, and thus transparent and traceable, sources of pecuniary gains? The Punjab & Haryana High Court has taken pragmatic stand, one that the public at large will do well to adopt.