Weekly Round Up: SC Finds Its Mojo; Power Marches In, Marches Out 2,50,000 Dead

Supreme Court And Its New-Found Mojo

The Supreme Court has so far been accused by almost everyone outside the Bhakt world, to be Modi’s kangaroo court (I ask My Lords’ pardon, I am only stating what people say), including the protesting farmers who refuse to take their case to SC. Such is the loss of confidence in their Lords, the Justices of India. But now the SC has suddenly found a bit of mojo to prove it is independent. It has challenged revered leader Modiji’s dream of becoming India’s ‘Dear Leader’ by rampart use of Indian Penal Code article 124A.

To the surprise of everyone, the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana has suggested that IPC article 124A, sedition, should be scrapped! What! Imagine Modi ji receiving this news. He probably summoned the Attorney General and ordered him to slap IPC 124A on the Justice. ‘Can’t be done Vasudev Maharaj, he is Chief Justice of India’.

Boldly, the CJ stated, “Sedition is a colonial law. It suppresses freedoms. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak … is this law necessary after 75 years of independence?

That must have sent tremors in the esteemed IAS officers of Indian bureaucracy who probably thought in silence, ‘Umm, we have been running British Colonialism mark 2 all this time with help of sedition and anti-terrorist laws, police brutality and army interventions. Does this CJ understand India will break up if we give that up?’ The IAS was set up by the British and its purpose is to keep the system functioning as was intended.

But CJI went on, obviously raising some blood pressures in the Modi-Shah Government. “The use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself”.  Is the SC turning seditious!

And then sort of ordering the Attorney General, Venugopa, “Your government is taking out a lot of state laws from the law books, why have they not looked into this”. Boom, Boom. Imagine the scene in Home Minister Amit Shah’s office.

Then the Chief Justice went on to rub the entire Bhakt world, “If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used, it is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties”. Will it undermine the fourth pillar of Hindutva advance by use of 124A.

There were 93 cases on ground of sedition in 2019 and perhaps a lot more in 2020. Only two have been successfully convicted. But the scars on the rest must have been deep and long waits for court hearings, mentally draining.

124A has been the cornerstone of Government oppression in many areas. This recent case included veteran journalist Vinod Dua who criticised Govt lockdown policy without adequate preparations when hundreds of thousands workers were forced to walk home for hundreds of miles. Govt couldn’t quite say ‘Fake News’ as BBC had reported it, so it clapped IPC 124A for attempt at disaffection.

Other famous cases in history have included Arundhiti Roy (2010), Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi (2012), climate activist Disha Ravi (2020) and JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar. In 2011 an entire village and some more, were charged with Sedition under 124A. In the protests in 2012-13 against Kudankuam Nuclear Power Plant, 9,000 people were arrested for ‘sedition’.

Not surprising when the law says “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise, brings or attempts into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with life imprisonment!”

With a law like this who needs a dictatorship. North Korea or China should consider becoming democracies to get away with complete suppression of dissent with this sort of law. Western human rights world wouldn’t even notice. After all it has been democratically enacted.

It’s not difficult to see why Modiji doesn’t like any criticism of his policy or character. He is simply upholding a democratic law in spirit and letter. That is what a leader is elected to do.

There is however a corollary. If somebody is convicted under a law still on statue, does the person have a permanent criminal record? If so, as Gandhi ji spent 6 years in prison under this law, and as this law has not been repealed by the wise and the great of Lok Sabha, is Gandhiji an ex criminal? We need a legal position on this.

Let us hope the Supreme Court mojo lasts a few more seconds. People may see that it has exorcised the Kangaroo image to a proper court. Or it could be that even the esteemed Judges have smelt that BJP isn’t invincible in elections.

USA Runs Away From Taliban After 20 Years

Being the most powerful is pointless if you lack stamina and can’t even bully a bunch of hill billies. The United States virtually walked into Afghanistan in 2001 meeting little resistance. They were against a rag tag army of the Taliban, hardly a version of the American ‘Universal Soldier’ with heavy metal, bulletproof everything, night vision equipment, satellite guided laser guns, supported by devastating air firepower, penetrating bombs blowing up deepest of secret tunnels and training that many an army would give anything for if it could afford. Yet twenty years later, with $850 Billion misspent, enough to give every poor American a free medicare for life, the best trained army has been forced to march out in the dark of the night.

The Americans wanted to ‘civilise’ the Afghan people with democracy, women rights and modern education. It would sound pious if it wasn’t that back in USA, millions of Black Americans, potential Democrat voters, have been denied votes by some administrative trickery. And the idea of a female President still shocks half of Americans.

The Taliban simply followed a long tradition of Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns. They get thrown out of their settled towns and villages only to return and chase away the enemy into history. They use the same tactic. They run to the hills, band together and then come back ferociously, persistently and tenaciously. With their home-made weapons, they haemorrhage the invader until the occupier finally decides that it’s not worth it. They did the same now. And they are quite content dying for this repeating sport. About 2,50,000 Afghans have died this time.

The irony of it is that a Taliban run State may yet put in place some form of democracy under a supreme leader after a few years. They will also provide education and jobs for women. The modern State requires some form of representation governance, otherwise missed warlords get angry. Modern economics cannot afford to feed half the population sitting at home, particularly if the State leadership wants the money to acquire big weapons, modern gadgets and have pothole-less roads to drive expensive cars on. It needs all hands to work.

All the same, American think tanks (tinker tanks) will write long articles justifying the crusade explaining how American intervention brought some form of democracy to Afghanistan and rights for women. It was all worth it depriving millions of fellow Americans free medical care. Next door Iran seems to have achieved democracy and women empowerment without American intervention and even by calling USA the devil.

Will The Congress Please Buckle Up?

India’s older intelligentsia last month went through the annual ritual of righteously, and rightly, recalling the Emergency that was imposed 46 years ago, impairing civil liberties, media freedom and right to political protest. But the flavor and tone were different this year.

Expectedly, the targets were Indira Gandhi, the prime minister who imposed it, and the Congress party. Feebly, very feebly, the party protested. While not defending the Emergency, it picked up enough courage to say that the current situation was equally bad, even worse. Lacking the necessary ballast, its voice was further muffled by a partisan media, and met with aggressive rebuttals from those in power who claim the sole right to play the victims and even martyrs.

Significantly, most other ‘victims’ now in the opposition, did not join either side. It betrayed their conflict and confusion about their role in the current situation. And, of course, their unwillingness to be seen either with an aggressive ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or with the Congress.

It is time to ask: can, or should this caution persist? Last month also witnessed hesitant moves at forging opposition unity that betrayed mutual distrust and a lack of direction. These tentative moves are obviously prompted by the electoral triumphs of regional parties, like the DMK in Tamil Nadu and by Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.

The economic stress and the misery heaped by the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to disillusionment. Together, they have caused a psychological backlash. Look at the government’s handling of protests, terming some as sedition and its vocal denunciation by the judiciary. Look at the anger at the floating corpses on the holy Ganga. This is unprecedented, and not a result of the opposition’s foreign-made ‘toolkit.’

ALSO READ: Nation Rising Up, Opposition Holed Up

However, what could be a golden opportunity is being wasted, not just by the squabbling Congressmen, but also others fearful of the BJP’s dominant presence and aggressive implementation of its political agenda. Some like the Samajwadi and BSP are busy poaching each other’s workers and lawmakers. They have learnt little from the past and presently, the way the BJP poached from other parties, mostly to dump them. When it overdid that in West Bengal – a lot more was overdone, like a toxic, personalized campaign that boomeranged when Mamata Banerjee was individually abused – the reverse process began within weeks. The TMC turncoats want to return to it after winning on BJP tickets. This is unprecedented.

The biggest failure in taking advantage of this situation is of the Congress. In the party that led the country to its freedom, the family and the organization have become synonymous. Congressmen are unable/unwilling to even consider an alternative leader or a bunch of them. Why, organizational election itself is stalled for fear of the edifice falling apart. Covid-19 was cited as the reason the last time around.  

The party could not keep its own government in Madhya Pradesh and pulled back allies from victory in Bihar. In the last round of elections, it failed to retain Kerala and Puducherry and to regain Assam. It scored a zero in West Bengal.

There is discernible disenchantment with the leadership at the top. Here, too, the voices are feeble. The Gandhis are unable to prevent internecine warfare and seem clueless about how to stem the rot and plug the leaks. Incumbent chief ministers are facing revolt from factions and ambitious youngsters.

Punjab has been a success story, but dissensions have emerged with elections due next year. Navjot Singh Sidhu, seen by many as more of a show-boy and a possible tool/proxy of god-knows-who, could quit if not ‘accommodated’. Ditto, Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, who, however, has a better track record than Sidhu. Unsurprisingly, the BJP in Rajasthan and in Punjab, the Badals and Bahujan Samaj Party, besides AAP’s Kejriwal, are readying to demolish the two last Congress fortresses. The attitude of each party towards the continuing farmers’ agitation, drawing much of its sinew from Punjab, has made the situation more complex.

ALSO READ: Can Amarinder Singh Save The Congress?

Despite all this, the Congress is seen as the pivot of any opposition unity move by the elderly Sharad Pawar and a young Tejashwi Yadav. It urgently needs to choose its own role and direction if it is to play any role that could lead to opposition unity. A national party it certainly is, but only if it can carry others along. Days of others rallying behind it are over, at least for now. An ailing Sonia Gandhi, formally still the Congress president, had wisely pulled that off in 2004. Can Rahul and/or Priyanka, with their dismal track record in elections, repeat that?

As BJP lords it over, deprecating the Congress ‘dynasty’, but not the other small and big ones in the opposition, there is a point to ponder. No political party is homogenous – it cannot be. When you take too many people from outside, you dilute your own organisation and your ideological mores (many don’t have). As a mass-based party, the Congress embraced all and sundry, since that was also its role during the freedom movement. But many left it to join the opposition while retaining the ‘Congress’ label, thus hurting the ‘parent’ party.

The BJP, on the other hand, is a party with a strong ideological mentor in the RSS. Embracing too many MPs and MLAs from elsewhere has caused it greater pain than, perhaps, the Congress. But then, Mr Amit Shah is playing realpolitik, taking a leaf from L K Advani’s book authored in the 1980s and 1990s. The pain is visible in West Bengal and other places could follow as time goes. 

Talking of the 1990s, one misses Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the hands-on Marxist who rallied parties with diverse political platforms to forge coalitions that governed, however briefly. Now, Sharad Pawar has initiated the moves, tentative though they are.  Not himself a chief minister, he reputedly runs a government of diverse parties in Maharashtra, a major state.

It will be some time and much effort before the Pawar-Mamata initiative gains momentum. Without subscribing to any one or collective platform, it needs stressing that a healthy democracy requires balancing. India needs, as a Hindi expression goes, “loha lohe ko katata hai” – you need iron to cut iron.

At stake is not just the healthy functioning of a multi-party system, but also federal relations, particularly when and where different parties are elected. The Constitution provides for a federal governance and a multi-cultural ethos. In this context, one fully agrees with what the Chief Justice of India, N V Ramana, recently said of greater checks and balances to make a democracy thrive.

It is not going to be easy. One hears of ‘files’ with the Union government, those that ensure silence of some of the opposition leading lights. On the other hand, the BJP is certainly growing strong in terms of men, money, media and muscle as the party in power. Finally, at its helm is Prime Minister Modi who, as sociologist-politico Yogendra Yadav rightly predicts, “will fight till the last”. Can the opposition prepare for the seven states that will have elections next year, before the Lok Sabha polls? 

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

‘Devangana’s Arrest Was A Message To Activists, Their Families’

Andre Ling (38), husband of student activist Devangana Kalita, says it was terrifying to see his wife being targeted by an entire state machinery. He feels this episode is only the beginning of a long battle ahead.

I am an international development consultant working at the intersection of development and humanitarian work, particularly in conflict affected areas. Devangana (Kalita) and I met in 2008 in Rajasthan at an NGO where I was working and Devangana had gone to do an internship. We have been together since then, though we only got married in 2014.

For me, having Devangana back is like recovering a part of myself without which I could not properly function. I suspect it is the same for many others in whose life she has played a part. But we are still waiting to see what comes next, with further hearings in the Supreme Court, and ultimately the trial. In addition to that, there are so many other people locked up under similar charges who have not yet been released. In a sense then, this battle is just beginning. There is still a very long way to go.

I find it appalling that something as serious as the UAPA has been used so frivolously (as observed in the High Court’s bail order). It sends a terrifying message to the public, to all those who have grievances resulting from state policies, to those who believe in democracy, and to all those who dream of a more inclusive, free and just society.

The crackdown on dissent is part of a global wave of repression and authoritarianism that comes at a time when our economic and political systems are in a crisis. Dissent and protest are forms of collective public expression. It’s about people asking to be listened to; to have their concerns taken seriously. It strikes me as the abdication of a government’s responsibility to not listen to its people. The extent that governments will go to, to fabricate cases against democratic protesters, is chilling.

ALSO READ: An Idea Cannot Be Jailed

Seeing one’s friend or family member get arrested, with the full backing of the state machinery, is obviously terrifying. Just the emotional pain of seeing someone you share your dreams, your life with, taken away and locked behind bars makes it difficult to think or act. It sends a message that no one is safe to speak their mind or stand up for what they believe in; it made everyone afraid for their own safety and that of their friends.

Parents wouldn’t want their children to be associated with political activism. I am sure that this was the intention behind the wave of arrests – and to some extent it was successful. But when something as powerful as the truth is bottled up for too long, it starts to fester and searches for outlets. I don’t think it can be subdued for very long.

Devangana, Natasha (Narwal) and Asif Iqbal’s democratic spirit continued to radiate within jail, and spilled out into the public domain, through letters to friends and families. The fearlessness that they have shown is an inspiration to others.

The experience in jail has left a big impression on Devangana. The time spent in isolation, the uncertainty – “will this ever end?”, hardships, and the friendships forged in the jail… and the many stories shared. I was always in awe of how she managed to compose herself, to continue sending out messages of love and strength to friends and families, to file – along with Natasha – a writ petition for prison reform securing COVID vaccines for inmates, increasing the frequency and duration of contact with family members, to name just a couple of items.

I don’t think her time in jail – up close with the most dehumanising face of the state – has reduced her determination or grit at all. Rather it has expanded her perspective and given her new energy and focus for the years ahead.

I tried to be there for her and show up in whatever ways I could. At the beginning that meant following her from one police station to the next, as she went through interrogation; bringing changes of clothes and home-cooked food when it was allowed. I tried to match her seemingly endless positivity on phone calls and video calls, to make sure that she got whatever could be arranged for her in terms of books, stationery, clothing and her MPhil registration. There was quite a lot of running around to be done. I had support from friends, family and of course her lawyers, who have been outstanding in their commitment.

I believe when the truth is on your side but the state is not, you have to be brave, for in the long-run it’s worth it. There is a well-oiled machine that will try to frighten you, or force you into silence. But fear fuels injustice. Of course, everyone has their own vulnerabilities, so you just have to do whatever you can from your own social location and never give up.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

Sedition Law – A Colonial Gift For Savage Rulers

Section 124-A under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.
Mahatma Gandhi, after being charged with sedition by the British, 1922.

What is Section 124A?
Dr Binayak Sen, when charged with sedition in 2006-07, by the Chhattisgarh government.

Some things just don’t change. Thomas Macaulay, a notorious symbol of the British repressive State apparatus, first drafted the sedition law in the early 19th century. It kept coming back in different forms in the decades following, including re-enacted and used more potently by the rulers of post-colonial ‘free India’. Macaulay drafted the original law to stop, control, imprison and break the morale of the revolutionaries and freedom fighters struggling to end British rule.

This draconian law was used to suppress them and send a chilling message to all concerned to watch out before they shout even a slogan against the white masters, and the Queen, or utter, write a word, or sentence, or text or draw an image which might amount to ‘treason’ or rebellion against the government or establishment of the day, or an outright instigation in what the British perceived to encourage a potentially violent uprising. Even peaceful dissent could be construed as illegal and thereby seditious.

ALSO READ: Colonial Era Sedition Law Must Go

When it comes to repressive regimes, this one is a free-for-all against any form of dissent considered dangerous by sundry ruling establishments. Hence, it could be a mythical slogan which might have never occurred, or a cartoon or text, or, even an innocuous play or drama enacted by school children in an obscure school in a small town. Such as the one in Bidar.

A small school in Bidar in the BJP-ruled state of Karnataka is a classic example of how brazenly wrong, heartless and absurd can the law of sedition become, especially in the hands of a regime which seems to have made communal polarisation and hate politics its daily mantra, while making the Muslims and the minorities its main target day in, day out. That is the increasing perception now around the world.

A play enacted by the students of a school came into scrutiny of the police, so much so that the little children were questioned several times by the police. The principle and mother of a little girl has been arrested accused of sedition! The lady is a single mother and the child is now with a friend, even while most children are traumatised and terrorised, as a ruthless police seems relentless in continuing interrogation inside the kids’ classroom.

Even in some of the worst historic excesses around the world interrogation of little school kids for performing in a play was never heard of. This is a new low not only for India but for the world.

ALSO READ: Anti-CAA Protest Organiser Booked For Sedition

The closest such a xenophobic interrogation can be equated in contemporary times is only in the massive detention centres/prisons/reformatories in Xinjiang in China where the local Uighur Muslim minorities, in tens of thousands, are imprisoned and ghettoized, in their own homeland, by the totalitarian regime of the Chinese Communist Party. It is now widely reported and confirmed with evidence that the young and old, including little girls and boys, school kids, are being forcibly indoctrinated with Han Chinese ideology, including the Xi Jin Ping variety of communism, in violation of all fundamental rights of humanity and religious freedom. Why is democratic India competing with a totalitarian regime?

A week ago, on a cold early morning in Azamgarh’s Billariyagunj, at 4 am in the morning, Yogi Adityanath’s notorious police entered a small tent where women were sleeping. They were peaceful protesters against the CAA/NRC. The police used tear gas, pelted stones, beat up men and women, including one old woman who was hospitalized with serious injuries. The police generally went berserk. There was no reason for the police to behave in such a crude and inhuman manner, but, in the Yogi regime, this is becoming a norm in UP. There are unconfirmed reports that several individuals have been slapped with the colonial era sedition cases, etc. One wonders what freedom was about if colonialism’s excesses were to be continued after the colonialists left!

Earlier, the UP Police killed over 22 people in the protests against the CAA/NRC, including innocent bystanders who had nothing to do with the protests. Hundreds of otherwise innocent people have been charged with cases, including asked to pay huge sums for the destruction of public property. In most cases, there has not been an iota of evidence. And Yogi gave an open call for “revenge”. There seems to be a new meaning to ‘dharma’.

The cops had apparently entered homes after midnight in small towns, beaten up residents, mothers and daughters, broken windows, doors, TV sets and furniture, and generally spread terror and mayhem in western UP. Locals alleged that some cops even looted the homes, including one home where two educated daughters were meant to get married.

Is this the new normal in UP? With some ray of light from the justice system, the lower courts in town after town are discharging the accused who have been charged with false cases. But it does not seem to deter the UP Government.

Meanwhile, Yogi can come to Delhi and repeatedly sayt that if “they” can’t understand ‘boli’ (talk), surely, they will understand the language of ‘goli’ (bullets). This, after three cases of gun-toting men dangerously stalking Shaheen Bagh and Jamia in Delhi. Predictably, with the Election Commission looking away, and even the Delhi chief minister being branded as an “anarchist and terrorist” by top BJP leaders, it is a grotesque carnival of bad language and inflammatory rhetoric.

However, when it comes to the BJP, they appear to be protected by divine law. The cops and the administration seem to work in remarkable synthesis with rabble-rousers. For instance, they have still not identified the masked goons of the ABVP who went berserk with iron rods on that bloody evening in JNU on January 5 with what appears to be the tacit and overt backing of the Delhi Police. The world saw with alarm when e one madcap Hindutva fanatic, Rambhakt Gopal, made a deadly public spectacle in Jamia with his country-made pistol shooting a journalism student on his palm – the bullet could very well have hit his chest. What were the police doing?

Compare this with a TISS student in Mumbai who shouted a slogan in support of Sharjeel Imam. Surprise, surprise, she has been charged with sedition. Surely, most people who have heard Sharjeel’s ramblings, don’t agree with him. However, to slap sedition charges on him is an abuse of the law, especially when compared with the manner Yogi, Anurag Thakur and Pravesh Singh in Delhi have been allowed to go scot free. If the TISS student can be charged, then surely the entire crowd which shouted ‘goli maaro saalo ko’ with Anurag Thakur leading, should also be booked.

Clearly, there are too many blatant contradictions smacking of injustice and lack of fair play in the manner the colonial era law on sedition is being applied by the police and various governments. Indeed, even the Supreme Court had earlier interpreted that the freedom of thought, unless it instigates violence, is not seditious.

The only crime of Dr Binayak Sen has committed was that he chose to work among the poorest of poor in Chhattisgarh. Only when several noble laureates, academics, artists, actors and writers from all over  the world, and people, petitioned, campaigned and protested on the streets, that he was given relief. But, he had to suffer imprisonment and trauma for more than two years on cooked up charges of sedition etc.

The charge of sedition is not used selectively on individuals, as on Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and later on Dr Binayak Sen, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya.  It seems common. Yet not a single false sedition case seems to have been proved or has stood the test of truth in a court of law; only the harassment and the torture continued, apart from the attack on individual reputation and social demonization.

The chargesheet against the January 2016 cases against the JNU student leaders is yet to be filed. Undoubtedly, this will also fall flat in a court of law for lack of evidence. And, yet, BJP leaders, including its top functionaries in the government, never tire of demonising the entire university of JNU.

Significantly, earlier, in a collective punishment, hundreds of peaceful fishermen protesting against the nuclear installation at Kudankulam were charged with sedition. Tribals in Jharkhand, seeking autonomy, have also been charged with sedition.

It is time this brazenly unjust and colonial law of sedition, used arbitrarily and randomly against all concerned by an insecure and bitter regime with no evidence, should be dumped in the garbage can of history. It does not belong to a modern, secular democracy. As Mahatma Gandhi had said, this provision in the Indian Penal Code has no purpose other than violating the freedom and liberty of a free individual and lawful citizen of a free country. When will India be free from the shadow of colonialism and its proteges?