The question of ethics for a representative government is to the fore with Opposition parties demanding the resignation of Union home minister Amit Shah for being hopelessly ineffectual in dealing with the recent communal riots in Delhi, and doing nothing to put spine into Delhi Police, which falls under his bailiwick. The violence, which began last Sunday, looked like tapering off on Thursday, but the death toll has climbed to 38, with well over 200 people injured.
The issue is: Should a Cabinet minister put in his papers when things go horribly wrong, as in the present case where the police have been accused of complicity with elements associated with the ruling party — such as a former MLA known for his viciously communal speeches — who are thought to have ignited the trouble?
The riot appears to be a tangle of many elements, among the most important of which is the widespread sense that Hindutva elements have done their worst and have sought to create communal polarisation in the wake of the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act last December, which has been opposed vociferously throughout the country, with Shaheen Bagh in the national capital — which the BJP-RSS viciously oppose — becoming the iconic epicentre of the protests.
Only an impartial commission of inquiry can help establish the causes of the communal conflagration in northeast Delhi, and its terrible consequences, as we have sought in this space earlier. However, pending such a searching examination, should the home minister remain in office?
The ethics of ministers in a democratic dispensation offering their resignation is rooted in the notion that everything must appear to be above board, and a minister under whose charge things have gone badly wrong ought not to remain in a privileged position which he can conceivably misuse to extricate himself from trouble, and falsely blame others. It is the principle of accountability that is sought to be upheld. This is why when ministers are slow to put in their papers, Prime Ministers are known to step up to the plate and dismiss a thick-skinned colleague.
The case of Lal Bahadur Shastri, railway minister in the Nehru government, is part of folklore. He resigned following a railway accident, although he was told that could possibly be no fault of his. In a later era, civil aviation minister Madhavrao Scindia resigned from the P.V. Narasimha Rao cabinet after a plane crash. Shivraj Patil resigned as Union home minister in November 2008, owning up constructive responsibility for 26/11 and the deteriorating internal security situation when the Congress Working Committee took a dim view of the situation. Later, Prime Mnister Manmohan Singh elicited the resignation of Pawan Bansal as railway minister and Ashwini Kumar as law minister in the wake of public criticism, chiefly in order to satisfy the ends of democratic morality.
In light of such precedents, the actions of Mr Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are apt to be watched. The Congress, NCP and the CPI(M) called for the home minister’s resignation on Wednesday. Parliament, when it re-convenes on March 9, is also likely to be agitated over the issue. Mr Shah will take the high road if he accedes to the demand of the government’s opponents in Parliament....