There are ominous signs on the Indian horizon. Two weeks ago Parliament ended its winter session without transacting any worthwhile business. Last week a district court in Chhattisgarh state sentenced a highly respected paediatric surgeon to life imprisonment on a charge of sedition.
Both houses of Parliament had remained paralysed throughout the session as a result of a strategy worked out by the main opposition, the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, to force the government to accept its demand for a joint parliamentary committee to go into what is believed to be the worst scam in the country’s history. The Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, worked with it on this issue.
The scam relates to the allocation of 2G spectrum by A Raja of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as Telecom minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. He resigned a few days ago and the Central Bureau of Investigation later interrogated him.
The last time the CPI-M and the BJP came together was in the early 1980s when both backed and sustained the government led by VP Singh. At that time the BJP raised the communal temperature in the country by mounting a campaign in support of the demand of its Sangh Parivar patrons for the construction of a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. Earlier, Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime had thrown the CPI-M and the BJP’s predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, together by targeting both simultaneously. The new camaraderie between the two parties is a matter of concern as the previous joint ventures had resulted in a weakening of the secular fabric.
Both the BJP and the Left have indicated that they will stall the budget session of Parliament also if the demand for JPC is not conceded. If the government is unable to present the budget and get a vote of account passed before the current financial year ends on March 31, 2011, there will be a constitutional crisis. It was stultification of the parliamentary process that had paved the way for the rise of fascism in Europe in the period between the two World Wars.
The Congress has its share of responsibility for the current impasse. There is reason believe that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was aware of the 2G scam but did not act in time.
The opposition’s fondness for JPC is misplaced inasmuch as previous JPCs did not yield any concrete results. The JPC on the Bofors scandal is an example. The government’s dislike of JPC is equally misplaced inasmuch as previous JPCs did not pose any insurmountable problems for the government of the day.
Developments on the judicial front, like those on the parliamentary front, are fraught with serious consequences for the future of the democratic set-up. The conviction of Dr Binayak Sen, who was working in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, is a case in point. What brought him into conflict with the authorities was his championship of human rights as president of the state unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
Chhattisgarh has been witnessing armed conflicts between Maoists and government forces for a few years. The support the rebels get from the tribal population has been a source of worry for the authorities as it hampers the operations of the police and paramilitary forces.
Sen was arrested in 2007 for allegedly aiding the banned Maoist party and held without bail for two years before the Supreme Court ordered his release and directed that the trial be concluded expeditiously. The trial court delivered judgment within the deadline set by the apex court but its finding has been received with shock and dismay by human rights activists in India and abroad. Amnesty International has declared Dr Sen a Prisoner of Conscience.
So flimsy was the evidence the prosecution presented that the judge could not clearly define the nature of the relationship between the rebels and Sen and his co-accused. He could only say they were “either members or supporters” of the banned group and “either participated in its organisational work or provided support and encouragement.” He justified the harsh sentence by pointing to the ruthless and merciless killing policemen and tribals by Maoists. His reasoning echoes the jingoist arguments of right-wing propagandists.
These developments suggest that the time has come for secular and democratic forces to mount an all-out campaign against incipient fascism.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 27, 2010.