Citizens for Justice and Peace


08, May 2017

A strange democracy


M.J. Akbar


India has
become a strange democracy where Binayak Sen gets life in jail and dacoits
get a life in luxury. It takes years of pressure for government to move
against those looting the nationÂ’s treasury; and when the majestic forces of
enforcement do go on a “raid” they give their quarry enough time to remove
every trace of evidence. You have to be exceptionally stupid to store
evidence of your own culpability in a telecom scandal where deals were made
and money paid three years before. Or, for that matter, even six months ago,
as in some instances of the highly lubricated Commonwealth Games. By this
time the money has either been spent, converted into assets, or sent to a
convenient haven abroad. The political-industrial nexus is above the law,
because it controls enforcement. But if the ruling class of India could have
hanged Binayak Sen instead of merely trying to send him to jail for the rest
of his life, it would have done so.


Binayak made
a fundamental, mortal mistake. He was on the side of the poor. That is a
non-negotiable error in our oligarchic democracy. Christmas must be truly
merry in the homes of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and of
course Raman Singh this year. The Congress and BJP dislike each other with a
passion that only a thirst for power can generate; they disagree on just
about anything and everything. But there is perfect harmony between them
over Naxalite policy. End the Naxalite problem by elimination of the
messenger; and the poor will not have the courage to ask for more than the
trickle allotted to them by a gluttonous government.


Media is
obedient doorman of this nexus, protecting its interests with a zeal that
should surprise even the benefactors. The arrest of Binayak was converted
into instant accusatory headlines. His trial was ignored by the press, which
is why we do not know that there was virtually no substantive evidence.
Suffice it to say that two of BinayakÂ’s jailors, during his detention
without bail, were declared hostile by the prosecution. Prosecuting lawyers
are in the pay of government, as are the jailors. And yet two policemen
refused to back the prosecution. A fabricated unsigned letter, apparently
cooked up on a computer printout, seems to have been sufficient to convince
the honourable guardians of our judicial system that Binayak Sen deserved a
sentence reserved for only the most hardened murderer.


It is another
matter that Binayak Sen, who was senior to me in school, was and remains the
gentlest of people, distinguished only by a fierce commitment to his cause
of choice. I do not agree with his political views or inclinations; nor does
the political system. But it is only in a dictatorship that disagreement is
sufficient reason for incarceration. India seems to be developing a two-tier
democracy: generosity of the law for the privileged and vindictive,
distorted application on the underprivileged.


It is ironic
that the Binayak judgement appeared on the front pages of the Christmas day
newspapers. We all know that Jesus was not born on 25 December; it was only
in the fourth century that Pope Liberius declared this date to be a birthday
because mystery and miracle has been associated with the winter solstice
from time beyond memory. Christmas has become an international festival
because it represents the most important values that give life some meaning
and hold the complex social web together: peace, and goodwill towards all
men, without which there cannot be peace.

This goodwill
is not sectarian; it is easy to have goodwill towards some men, friends or
benefactors. Christmas is the festival of the Other. It is the embrace of
the dissident, or even the enemy. The most famous display of the Christmas
spirit was the pause on the frontline in the First World War, when a few
British and German soldiers announced an impromptu truce, played football,
shared a drink and became human for a day before their superiors ordered
them to return to the savagery of a terrible war that wrecked Europe.


If Binayak
Sen is guilty of sedition on the basis of fictitious evidence, then, as was
famously said during the great Gandhian movement against the British between
1919 and 1922, there are not enough jails in India to hold those equally
guilty. The reference is not accidental. Governments have begun to opt for a
colonial approach towards Naxalism and its myriad manifestations. The
reason? Fear, perhaps terror. The corrupt can recognise their nemesis.







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