Hon’ble Chief Justice, Shri K.G. Balakrishnan; President, Inns of Court (India) Society, Shri Ashok Desai; Other Learned Members of the Bench and the Bar; Distinguished Guests; and Ladies and Gentlemen:
I feel greatly honoured to have been invited to deliver this Lecture in memory of the legal luminary Late Shri C.K. Daphtary. I am grateful to the Inns of Court (India) Society and the British Council for giving me an opportunity to pay my respectful homage to his memory.
Shri C.K. Daphtary was one of the most outstanding lawyers of his times. His encyclopaedic knowledge of law and remarkable art of persuasion in the presentation of cases before the judges made him a legal professional par excellence. His competence of creatively applying the principles of jurisprudence to the legal cases firmly established him as one among the country’s brightest legal minds. His brilliant professional record and reputation made him the First Solicitor-General of India in 1951 and subsequently the Attorney General of India in 1963. In recognition of his passion, commitment and dedication to the legal profession, he was nominated by the President as a Member of the Rajya Sabha in 1972. He lent dignity and distinction to all the offices he held. A man of high learning and outstanding eloquence, Shri Daphtary is remembered for the contribution he made to the debates of the Rajya Sabha which always bore the stamp of his great erudition and intellectual attainments. Whenever he spoke in the House, he was listened to by all sections with full attention. For his distinguished services to the nation, he was conferred ‘Padma Vibhushan’ in 1968.
A man of singular affability, ready wit and innate charm, Shri Daphtary was extremely popular among all sections of the people. It has been more than twenty five years since we lost him in 1983, but his contributions have made him immortal and he will be remembered forever by the people of this country.
Shri Daphtary’s transparent image and remarkable ability to ingeniously handle even the most complex issues endeared him to one and all. More than anything else, Shri Daphtary was a firm believer in ethical values in public life. As a tribute to his memory, I have today chosen to speak on the ‘Importance of Value-Based Politics’, a subject of seminal importance in the present context.
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Politics in a broader sense is public life, which impacts the lives of all, more so the lives of millions of the common people as it involved affecting the society, for its good or otherwise. As such, it is undeniable that the exercise of political authority, in the Government or outside it, be based on ethical considerations and moral values as it has an overriding influence on society as a whole.
‘Ethics’ is the science of morals in human conduct and the expression, ‘ethical’ means what is morally correct and honourable. ‘Moral’ is defined as what is concerned with goodness or otherwise of human character or behaviour, which makes a distinction between what is right and what is wrong. By moral behaviour, we consider behaviour that conforms to accepted standards of general conduct, which are based on rules and standards of human behaviour. It is essential that politics is governed by moral behaviour, which is an essential part of ethical and value-based conduct. Thus, morality in public life will signify the degree of conformity of an idea or practice to well-established ethical principles and from that point of view, good governance must be based on moral virtue, which will ensure justice to the people and the country at large according to ethical standards. Thus, value-based politics postulates a political system which functions on the basis of high ethical standards, based on exemplary moral behaviour.
Mahatma Gandhi said very emphatically, that it is inconceivable to view politics detached from ethics. In other words, ethical considerations are the most important aspects of human behaviour and, as such, are, and should be, central to politics. We cannot think of politics dehors principled behaviour and discipline which determine how individuals having different, even conflicting, interests must co-exist peacefully in an organized society, the State.
Lenin, one of the greatest revolutionaries of modern times, said prophetically, that if politics determines our destiny, then we must determine what our politics should be. As politics decides our future, it should be based on a value-system, which will be central to it, and, therefore, if politics is unconcerned with just, ethical, moral and fair principles, not only politics but the entire value system which influences peoples’ actions and concerns will be vitiated. This, I feel, is the importance of the theme of today’s talk: ‘Importance of Value-Based Politics’. I believe, there are no two views on the imperative of values in politics and the question is how much is practised in public life by those who deal with or expect to deal with the affairs of the nation, and of the people.
The Constitution of India, a product of the sagacity, vision and the collective wisdom of a whole generation of our nation’s leadership, is an embodiment of the values that we as a nation deeply cherish. Those who hold public office take an oath to uphold the Constitution, which is based on a value system in itself and has to face the test of time. Speaking on the 44th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Shri Daphtary had also voiced similar views when he had stated that ‘I for one, Sir, have regarded the Constitution not only as sacred but as something which has stood the trials of time very well.’
Our Constitution is, indeed, a codification of our fundamental objectives and methodology as perceived by men and women endowed with a broad and inclusive national vision and enriched by the experiences of various countries, which had striven before us to establish a just society, respecting individual freedoms and assuring the basic needs of a dignified existence. A commitment to fundamental democratic values is central to it. Those who provided leadership to the country in the early years of the Republic were acutely conscious of the need to conduct themselves and the affairs of the country in a manner reinforcing respect for the ethical values among our people, and in public affairs and conduct. In many ways, the survival of Indian democracy, against many adversities, can be attributed to the quality of leadership that our country was fortunate to have in those critical years. Despite having spent years as Solicitor General and Attorney General, Shri Daphtary was fearless when it came to speaking on issues that he felt strongly about. He had taken a bold stand against the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha and had ‘protested vigorously’ against its anti-people provisions.
However, unfortunately, over the years, it appears that growing sections, representing practically all walks of life, particularly the political class, and most worrisomely, even some in the Judiciary and the media, have begun to think that values and principles are dispensable attributes and that only assumption of power or authority or quick money, is what counts. Politics is no longer seen as a noble vocation in the service of the people, but it is all about the “art of the possible”, which signifies that neither the means nor the end matters. No society can insulate itself from the consequences of such politics for far too long. All major maladies our society is afflicted with today, have their roots, in my view, in the conduct and politics devoid of values, of which the political community seems unmindful: to them it is the end that matters and not the means, although it preaches otherwise for public consumption. The ever-widening gap between precepts and practices and private and public morality has greatly contributed to the erosion of values, polluting the public functionaries in our country.
Politics reflects on the essential characteristics of the larger society itself. They both impinge upon each other in diverse ways. The logic that politics is independent from society and operates on a separate set of rules is something that unrealistic critics who do not want to play or recognize any proactive role in restoring politics into the framework of an acceptable value system would want us to believe. We have endless number of critics, but not many who want to intervene to correct the aberrations. Everyone seems to think that it is sufficient to point out the defects in the system and be a critic only, and it is someone else’s responsibility to bring about the changes.
One is reminded of the forceful stand taken by Shri Daphtary on the Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matter Bill, 1976 which aimed at putting severe restrictions on the freedom of the Press. Emphasizing the role of the Press as the fourth pillar of democracy, he observed, and I quote:
(This) Bill is not calculated to further democratic principles. We have heard so much in the past six months about things being done, things being said in order to save democracy that I am surprised that a Bill should be brought forward now which has the contrary effect. … the freedom of the Press is vital, is vital to the growth of democracy, is vital to the progress of the country and it is vital that every one should have the right to free speech subject only to the restrictions of libel, etc. which right will not be hampered by an executive authority sitting over their heads all the time and they should be free to express their opinions. The only effect of this Bill will be that there will be no opinion expressed against the Government or against any of its measures.
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