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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 11 New Delhi March 5, 2016

A Danger to Democracy

Wednesday 9 March 2016, by Rajindar Sachar

There is a figurative way of attributing intense stupidity to an individual or a political party in the idiom, ‘He is own worst enemy.’ This occurred to me by the idiotic way the BJP Central Government has handled the recent student protest at JNU. According to the Students’ Union, a meeting was held in the campus by some outsiders wherein slogans favouring Afzal Guru were raised by them. Students maintain that they condemned these slogans and they cannot be blamed. In the normal course the protest would have passed off without any problem and forgotten.

But then a curious turn of events which one suspects was a planned conspiracy by the BJP and its student wing, the ABVP, took place. Mahesh Giri, MP (Delhi), and the ABVP filed a complaint before the police, which registered a case of sedition against unknown persons. It is impossible to accept that the police will act so unprofessionally except under political pressure.

A further mystery was added by the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh’s statement that Hafeez Mohd Saeed, the head of an internationally known terrorist group situated in Pakistan who was said to be responsible for various terrorist attacks in India including the recent one at Pathankot, was so short of work that he had to stoop to provoke the JNU students in order to boost the morale of his followers—how nitwit can our NIA (National Investigation Agency) be!

Since then, it is quite clear that this incident at JNU is being exploited by the BJP’s dirty campaign cell to malign the opponents of the BJP and cause permanent danger to the internationally respected JNU. The latest rowdyism and violence by the BJP-affiliated lawyers in even threatening lady journalists and beating students and in not allowing the court proceedings at the Patiala House Courts is shameful.

To add further shame, seniors advocates sent by the Supreme Court were abused and not allowed to carry out their mandate. It is hard to believe this conduct of junior lawyers could have been done except at the instruction of the BJP high-ups to defile our judicial system. Would the government consider such acts as treason and take action not according to my view of law but on the same view taken by the government in the JNU case?

 It is needless to repeat that all earlier allegations on what happened at the JNU on February 13, 2016 pale into insignificance at what the BJP-controlled elements are doing to spread fear under the cover of fighting sedition —no private person can take the law in her/his own hand, it is only the state which can so act—no bunch of self-appointed false patriots can defy the law. As it is, even police action is vindictive and illegal. It is well settled by the Supreme Court decisions that mere speech, howsoever strong, against the government is not sedition, unless accompanied by some violent act, of which there is not even a whisper against the students. Let me quote what Gandhiji said when he was prosecuted for sedition in 1922: “Section 124A, i.e. under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political section of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen; affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law. If one has no affection for a person, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence.”   (emphasis mine—R.S.)

Let the BJP not trout its patriotism because this noble sentiment is so cynically exploited by politicians that it made the English writer, Samuel Johnson, give a warning: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Human Rights can never be violated under any circumstances. Let me quote the warning given by the US media within a couple of days of the massive tragedy of September 11, 2001; Washington Post wrote: “The country cannot allow terrorists to alter the fundamental openness of US society or the government’s respect for civil liberties.”

Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: “We feel rage. We feel fear. We are bewildered. We can’t avoid acting on those feelings. Yet we must calibrate our response against the ideals of liberty and tolerance that have made this nation work so well for so long.”

 Thus Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington office, criticised the US Patriot Act thus: “This law is based on the faulty assumption that safety must come at the expense of civil liberties.”

Mr Muggeridge, the former Editor of Punch (UK), once warned: “The choice for us is between security and freedom. And if we ever ceased to prefer the latter, we should soon find that we had nothing of any worth left to secure anyway.”

The BJP’s antipathy to freedom of speech has now earned international condemnation but it has also led to anti-BJP rallies throughout India.

In this matter of JNU the top of BJP leadership has acted so stupidly that it has allowed the Congress and Rahul Gandhi to be seen as champions of the dignity of Afzal Guru and Kashmir, when in reality the conduct and action in the case of Afzal Guru by the Congress in the past had incurred it massive condemnation in J&K when it ignored the appeal of a large section of abolitionists of the death penalty not to hang Guru. But the most shameful part was when the Congress hanged him in utter secrecy, against the well-accepted law that the convict’s family must be allowed a last opportunity to meet him before the execution. Massive protests then demanded an innocuous and justified request to take Guru’s body to be buried according to tradition at the family graveyard in Kashmir. But the Congress/UPA Government rejected it cynically because of the pending general elections in India. The J&K people never forgave Congress as the results of the latest State J&K elections have shown. Likewise the BJP’s false pretence of patriotism is glaring when it is having a coalition with the Mufti of the PDP, which has always condemned the action taken against Afzal Guru. In that context the BJP Government’s dishonesty in proceeding against the JNU students in the name of patriotism is the limit of hypocrisy in politics.

The happenings in the Patiala House Courts would have pleased Marx who envisaged the ultimate victory of the proletariat when the “state will wither away”; this having not happened even in the USSR and Mao’s China, has occurred in India. This is the only excuse which the Modi Government can put forward at its shameful spectacle of having to carry Kanhaiya from the court to prison in disguise and in a closed police van protected by hundreds of policemen for the fear of the police being overwhelmed by a coterie of BJP lawyers and other goons from the custody of the mighty Indian state!

The author, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, was the Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s high-level Committee on the Status of Muslims and the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. A former President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), he is a tireless champion of human rights. He can be contacted at e-mail: rsachar1@vsnl.net/rsachar23 @bol.net.in