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During the five-day sojourn in the heartland of India for the Simhasth Kumbh, I met several people. One thing that I heard from an elderly gentleman kept echoing in my head as I boarded the flight back to Singapore. He said that the prime minister had not reckoned with the courts when he made the promise of “achche din" in his election campaign in 2014. Perhaps, his remarks apply to the entire political class.

Many politicians and their party workers have braved the scorching summer heat and conducted election campaigns in the past two months. In the light of the judicial activism that the country is witnessing, it seems like an expenditure of colossal human effort for the election of figureheads.

No, this is not about the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Uttarakhand case. There, the court did the honourable thing by countermanding the dishonourable conduct of the Union government. The latter was digging deeper despite being in a hole. In the end, it was as much a political self-goal as it was in violation of the spirit of the Constitution. Those are the kinds of issues and disputes that are fit for the judiciary to intervene. Among the various priorities that India has, the return of the Kohinoor diamond will come so far down below in the list that it will not get a berth even under the Tatkal scheme. The fate of commercial and contractual disputes that are legitimate areas for judicial interference and pronouncement is similar to that of unrequited love. Paucity of judges will be binding and biting if the judiciary does not clearly identify priorities and lets the country know the basis on which they take up cases for consideration. For the naïve outsiders, the process is an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

In the US, one of the signs of the decay of the society and the system was when central bank governors began to compete for magazine covers with elected politicians and corporate leaders. That malaise has spread to the rest of the West now. Central bank heads are the only game in town. Political inaction is blamed for the activism of the central bankers. However, executive-legislative failure is not an adequate justification for technocratic infringement of the rights and responsibilities of elected officials. Central bankers are now struggling to wriggle out of the trap that they had gotten into, of their own volition, motivated in part, by delusions of grandeur.

They may be realizing, even if they are not admitting publicly, that a third-best world is not the answer to a second-best world. The parallels with judicial activism in India are as striking as they are disturbing.

The extraordinarily noble act of relieving helpless humans from the yoke of bonded labour might have heralded the era of public interest litigation. Similarly, the justifiable desire to prevent diversion of funds meant for development birthed the right to information. But, Indians know only too well that even nectar is poisonous if indulged in excess. Right to information (RTI) queries, these days, are not just about executive decisions but also about processes. However, RTI queries are helpless to peer behind the curtain of judicial verdicts.

Whether it is diesel, drought or social engineering, courts neither have the expertise to make decisions nor can they be held accountable for the consequences of their decisions. With the executive, there is recourse. With the courts, there is none. The parents of the Indian Constitution would not have imagined that the route for Indian democracy to descend into anarchy would be through the streets of kritarchy.

The Supreme Court overturned a law passed by both the Houses of Parliament and endorsed by more than the required number of state legislatures in making selections to its own ranks. It is perhaps unprecedented in the annals of democracies. Similarly, now with its order on the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET), the court has ignored constitutional niceties. Tamil Nadu has passed a law that has received presidential assent on its right to conduct its own examinations.

Yet, the state was willing to relent and participate in NEET from next year as it would be unfair to deprive students of an opportunity for no fault of theirs. The decision to implement NEET from this year is as bad as the retrospective tax legislation that India has still not expunged from its statutes.

Much as there is considerable merit in the idea of a common entrance exam across the nation for students, its implementation schedule could have been such that it did not disadvantage students from particular states.

Who is to say that not many of them would not find their dreams shattered and not be demoralized enough to take irreversible actions. This letter from Jugal Piprewar in Firstpost will hurt and must hurt.

Governing India today is like driving a car with hand brakes permanently raised. It prevents accidents no doubt but it permanently slows down progress. Along with climate change and water shortage, the erosion of executive and legislative authority is a key risk to India’s economic progress and social stability.

V. Anantha Nageswaran is an independent financial markets consultant based in Singapore.

Comments are welcome at To read V. Anantha Nageswaran’s previous columns, go to

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