The CAN Foundation hosted a webinar with Senior Advocate and MP, Mr. Kapil Sibal, on Saturday, titled ‘Constitution and the Times: Four Decades of My Professional Journey‘. Mr. Sibal talked about the worrying state of democracy in India, the dismantling of the rule of law, police encounters, and more.
The conversation touched on issues like political defections, toppling of governments, and the internet ban in Kashmir. On the Vikas Dubey encounter, Mr. Sabil stated; “How can a democracy governed by rule of law ever accept encounter as a valid tool for doing justice… I think it is the most barbaric way. Then how are you different from a country that cuts off your arms for stealing?”. He reiterated that even the worst criminal or terrorist has a right to legal representation before the courts in India. In relation to this, the issue of prominent lawyers refusing to take up briefs in ‘controversial’ cases was brought up. On this, he said; “You may not take a brief for whatever reason but you don’t have to prove your nationalism in public”.
Mr. Sibal was also critical of the media for exercising not “free speech but rather commercial speech” and peddling a narrative of “assertive nationalism”. In discussing free speech, he also criticized the BJP government’s imposition of internet restrictions in Jammu & Kashmir, by which citizens there are being deprived of their fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. He argued that the possibility of terrorist attacks alone cannot be used to justify the denial of fundamental rights to a whole people/region.
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He discussed legal principles such as the Basic Structure doctrine, without which, Mr. Sibal mentioned, an authoritarian mindset could have led to the destruction of democracy. However, we are now at a stage where the political class no longer needs to amend the Constitution to destroy democracy, he reflected.
Mr. Sibal noted that, “it’s time for Courts to realise that slowly and slowly, democracy is being destroyed in India through political tools, whether it’s using tenth schedule to their advantage or to topple governments or these encounters or spreading fear in a section of the community”. “Courts must recognise this fact and take up matters suo motu“, he said.