Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Rights “fashioned”

There, it wasn’t so hard, was it? However hard ~ or imagined to be hard ~ when it is necessary, the sensible and the right thing must be done. This becomes all the more imperative when the sensible thing is also a constitutional mandate ~ hence it is the right thing.  Perhaps after a lot of hamming and hawing but finally the Nagaland Government has done the sensible thing by revealing its COVID-related expenditures since last year. Why it took so long is a multiple choice question. Anyway, at least this has satisfied the public and the Opposition’s curiosity for the moment and denotes that our Government cannot turn a deaf ear to public demand, which is healthy in a, and for, democracy. Now, it is for the CAG to scrutinize where every paisa has been spent and why ~ vis-à-vis market rates, etc., and for the Opposition to demand explanations from the Government after the CAG audits these figures. Only after that, we can conclude that our State Government has indeed fulfilled its constitutional mandate. In democracies, there are rules and regulations, norms and conventions, and processes and procedures for all aspects of governance that Governments often attempt to circumvent ~ often successively ~ but an alert Opposition and an informed public must provide the checks and balances on the foundation of which democracy would either be a success or failure. Now that lump-sum figures of the Government’s COVID-related expenditures have become public, it is for Opposition parties to ensure that our Government reveals the break-up figures because they are also elected representatives therefore answerable to the people and for the CAG to scrutinize that every paisa has been well spent because it is its constitutional mandate, as also for the public to keep the Government on its toes ~ democracy demands it. Over the decades, the CAG has been auditing and red-flagging Government expenditures, unfortunately the Opposition, the public and the media have not taken the Governments to task, thus causing great loss, monetarily and in all aspects of governance and development, to the people and the State. This has to change and this is the right time to make change come. The headlines of the lead news of the December 15, 2020 issue of The Morung Express read: “Criticizing Govt. has become a fashion: CM”, which was a report of our Chief Minister’s virtual address to the All Nagaland College Students’ Union (ANCSU) in the ‘E-Collegiate Meet-cum-Beat Contest’, hosted by the Government Polytechnic, Kohima, on December 14, 2020. The news report quoted the Chief Minister as saying it has now become “… a fashion for young people to criticize the Government … instead of putting our full energy into criticizing the Government, some youthful energy should also be used to encourage each other and march together hand in hand.”  So far, the Chief Minister has not refuted saying the above, so we assume that he has said it. We don’t know exactly what was in his mind but his quoted statement implies his aversion to criticisms against the Government ~ all Governments are. But Governments will either have to live with it or fulfill their constitutional mandate towards the people’s needs and benefits. Most importantly, criticizing the Government is not a “fashion”; it is the constitutional right of every citizen. The Supreme Court saying that it will examine the interpretation of sedition law over right of press and free speech on May 31 indicates accentuation of this constitutional right. Actually, it is unfortunate that criticizing the Government(s) more, as and when needed, isn’t as “fashionable” as it ought to be ~ because in these criticisms or “fashion”, the seeds of improvement, rectifications, reformation, change and acche dins are sowed to sprout in the soil of tolerance, air of egalitarianism and water of consensus ~ all hallmarks of functioning democracies and States. It would also serve Governments well to remember that one day it would become Oppositions and have the same rights to be “fashionable”. It may also serve Governments well to remember that the media also has the right to be “fashionable”. Seeing that the space and scope of the Opposition and citizens to criticize here and across the country are becoming increasingly limited, Governments today may be Oppositions tomorrow and would need the same media space to be “fashionable”. So it must ensure that when bench-shifting happens, it would be given the space to be “fashionable” ~ and its rights not “fashioned”.