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13 March, 2008

Political establishments in search of convenient enemies

To me, August 15, 1947 is not a day in history. It is a day in my memory. Only one difference was noticeable in the country on that day. The flag flying on top of government buildings changed. The officers were the same. The laws were the same. The way they were implemented was the same. With the Constitution coming into force in 1950 efforts to democratize the establishment began. The old laws and feudal-colonial traditions created obstacles to democratization. The Communists experienced its ill-effects most.

Under the impression that circumstances were favourable for revolution, the Communists had begun an armed struggle. Following this, the party was banned. After abandoning armed struggle, it regained freedom of operation. A. K. Gopalan’s release from preventive detention and lifting of the ban on Crossroads weekly, which was propagating the party’s views, were decisive judicial interventions. Despite aberrations like dismissal of the first Communist government and proclamation of the Emergency, the nation stuck to democracy.

Apart from Communists, from the Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu to tribes of the northeast, many sections had rejected the nation. Most of them are now part of Establishment. Followers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which had promoted the Hindutva ideology that led to Gandhiji’s assassination, are also active in power politics. A truly democratic dispensation must be able to take in all. We have been able to do it substantially. For India, this is a new experience. The basic character of the system that prevailed in the country for centuries was rejection, not inclusion.

In many parts of the country, democracy is now getting circumscribed even without Emergency. The Congress, which had taken over from the colonial administration, and parties of the Right and the Left which later found places in power politics, are one in limiting it. The cases of Binayak Sen, P. Govindan Kutty and Lachit Bordoloi, who were arrested in Assam, Kerala and Chhattisgarh, which are under the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party respectively, testify to the return of anti-democratic conditions.

Sen, who was arrested last May, is a paediatrician who has been working among the tribes of Chhattisgarh for years. Apart from trying to solve the Adivasis’ health problems, as an office-bearer of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties he took an interest in civil rights as well. This he raised his voice for those who were denied legal protection and human rights following allegations of extremist links. Govindan Kutty, who gave up his job in a scientific establishment and launched People’s March to propagate Left ideology, was taken into custody by the police in December following the arrest of a Naxalite leader of Andhra Pradesh from his hideout near Kochi. Bordoloi, a journalist, was picked up by the police last month while trying to prepare the ground for talks between the government and the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), an extremist organization.

All three have been charged with having links with extremists. Of the three, only Govindan Kutty has been able to get bail, and that too subject to stiff conditions. Sen and Bordoloi are still in jail, having been refused bail. The charge-sheets against them are packed with puerile references. One of the allegations against Sen is that he visited Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal 33 times in jail. All the visits were made with prior permission with a view to making arrangements for a surgery for Sanyal. A deputy inspector-general had given a letter to the jail superintendent stating that the police has no objections to Sen meeting Sanyal.

The charge that Bordoloi was in touch with Ulfa is even more ludicrous. How could he try to bring the organization’s representatives to the conference table without getting in touch with it? It is obvious that those who do not favour restoration of peace are behind the move against the mediator.

Govindan Kutty countered the allegation that People’s March was propagating extremist ideology by pointing out that it was being published lawfully. Applying hindsight, the administration cancelled the magazine’s licence. That a government under Communist leadership has taken the country back to the pre-Crosswords period can be taken as a cruel irony of fate.

Governments are denying civil rights invoking two kinds of extremism. One is Left extremism. The other is Islamic extremism. Both are, of course, active in several parts of the country. But each administration approaches them in the light of its own political interests. Each party finds the enemy that suits its purpose. It prepares the police for its own purposes using various tactics, including infiltration.

While speaking at a police function recently, Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan recently asked the Special Branch police to identify the ideology behind extremist activities and submit the kind of reports needed to root it out. This is something the police has done since the colonial days. Today, with men holding party membership in the force, this can be done even more efficiently. It is against this background that the reference made by a judge of the Kerala high court to the credibility of the police must be seen. The unease caused by unpleasant truth is evident in the State CPI (M) Secretary’s angry response to it.
Based on column Nerkkazhcha published in Kerala Kaumudi dated March 13, 2008

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