An eminent and seasoned civil servant once observed that there was no institution more sensitive to political nuances than the Supreme Court of India. That averment has been authenticated by the masterly manner in which their Lordships defused the distasteful scrap played out at Kolkata’s Esplanade. Each side claimed “victory”, but a dispassionate evaluation would point to them all actually being taken to task. If only the government could emulate the dexterity displayed by CJI Rajan Gogoi, who was joined on the bench by justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjeev Khanna this nation would take pride in the quality of its governance. Instead, the muscular Modi-administration appears to thrive on igniting/fuelling such fires ~ at times having its reputation charred. For in reality the victory chants were hollow, and Arun Jaitley’s claim that Mamata’s dharna was a “disproportionate reaction” could equally well apply to the home minister’s tirade in the Lok Sabha ~ the court did not subscribe to the Constitutional breakdown theory Rajnath Singh had floated as a threat to another misuse (abuse?) of Article 356. Happily, their Lordships attempted to restore sanity in a senseless stand-off. Little need to reiterate the finer points of what was essentially an interim verdict, there is much fact-checking to be done before “judgment” is pronounced as the courts get enmeshed in yet another political brawl. For the new CBI Director, it is hardly an auspicious beginning: the strong message from the court was that even when toeing the government line the agency could not function like Hitler’s Gestapo. Nor could Kolkata’s CP take evasive measures under the Constitutional provision that law-and-order was a state subject. And that those guilty of duping the common folk in the chit funds scam getaway on political grounds.

Though the controversy will, hopefully, eventually end with judicial determinations, the political war was one of “optics”. With her dharna shaking the establishment and striking a chord across the Opposition spectrum Mamata Banerjee clearly emerged on top, even the fence-sitters tilting in her favour as she did what she has ever done well ~ fighting from the streets. Even the norms-disrespecting Modi government was left shell-shocked. Ravi Shankar Prasad had neither the legal nor political firepower to match Mamata in the perceptionbattle, even Smriti Irani and Arun Jaitley’s supporting fire did not succeed. For such is the NDA track record that charges of misusing all enforcement mechanisms for political gains were easy to “sell”. The NDA’s arrogance proved its come-uppance: crossing swords with the firebrand from Bengal was a grave miscalculation: the Modi-Shah-Adityanath combine was “worsted”. Having breathed new fire into the Opposition, Mamata will now have a challenge on hand. Will Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, Stalin etc surrender their leadership aspirations to the woman who has just out-punched the BJP? Why, after the “encounter” at Esplanade which exposed BJP vulnerability, even Priyanka might nurse ambitions.