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08 March, 2016

Perilous polarisation

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Sixty-six years ago the fathers of the Constitution brought forth upon this subcontinent a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are equal. Now we are engaged in a great battle, testing whether a nation so conceived and dedicated can long endure in a land which has experienced centuries of graded inequality, established and sustained through violence by a minority which arrogated to itself the authority of the dominant religion.

The echoes of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in the above lines are intentional. For, although the battle is fought mainly on the political plane and in constitutional forums, the nation stands polarised perilously and the calculated use of force by one side, which also makes strident calls to arms, has created an air of civil strife.

As of now the outcome of the campaign launched by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh through its students’ organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, remains open. Even before the backlash of the tragic end of Rohith Vemula, Dalit research scholar of the Hyderabad University, subsided, the Sangh Parivar opened a new front in the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Judicial intervention has checkmated it there.

Some worrisome flip-flops preceded the Delhi High Court’s grant of conditional bail to JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, whom the police arrested on sedition charges following complaints filed by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party MP Maheish Girri and ABVP members. His arrest had angered and united the political opposition at home and invited sharp criticism from academics in different lands.

On February 15, pro-Parivar lawyers assaulted Kanhaiya Kumar and JNU students and teachers who had turned up to demonstrate solidarity with him and media persons in the trial court premises, dubbing them anti-nationals. The police merely looked on.

Two days later, the lawyers did it again, contemptuously ignoring the presence of the Registrar of the High Court, who was deputed by the Supreme Court to watch the situation, they also stoned and chased away senior lawyers who too were sent by the apex court.

In view of the unprecedented developments on the lower court premises, Kanhaiya Kumar’s lawyers moved the Supreme Court directly for bail, and his application was scheduled for consideration the next day. However, when the matter came up, the bench headed by Justice GS Khehar backed off. It asked him to go to the High Court, saying its entertaining the bail application directly would create a new precedent.

The High Court took 12 days to grant the student leader bail. In her judgment, Justice Pratibha Rani went beyond the requirements of law and virtually endorsed the prosecution case against him, using terms lifted from the vocabulary of the current political Establishment which dubs its critics anti-national.

In a channel debate, former Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly said Justice Pratibha Rani’s comments were “an act of judicial cowardice.” Alluding to her directive to Kanhaiya Kumar not to actively or passively participate in anti-national activities, former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising said, “There can be no anticipatory restraint on free speech.”

Three weeks after pro-Parivar lawyers created mayhem on the court premises there has been no sign of effective action against them by either the police or the judiciary, although there is in the public dominion a video in which some of them brag about their criminal act.

The Bar Council of India, which initially said it would take strong action against erring lawyers, is now providing them cover by describing their conduct as a response to provocative slogans by JNU teachers and students.

There are other disquieting developments too. The Delhi High Court has permitted a Parivar-affiliated lawyers’ organisation to hold an International Women’s Day function on its premises and Chief Justice G. Rohini is to be the chief guest. Indira Jaising criticised the move as indicative of the court throwing its weight behind the Parivar body.

Meanwhile, Hindutva elements continue to exacerbate the situation with hate speeches. One organisation offered a cash award for harming Kanhaiya Kumar. One leader exhorted his followers to prepare for a last battle against Muslims.

Sixteen eminent citizens, in a letter to Chief Justice TH Thakur and other judges of the Supreme Court drew their attention to the alarming and threatening statements of persons in power. They said these statements, which seemed to be part of a pattern, had caused fear and insecurity among the citizens, particularly minorities, Dalits and Adivasis and solicited suo motu constitutional action.

Along with it, they sent with recordings and press reports of a score of hate speeches by different leaders, including RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and members of the government.

The signatories to the letter included former judges PB Sawant, Rajinder Sachar, BG Kolse Patil and Hosbet Suresh, former police officers Julio Ribeiro and SM Mushrif and well-known scientist PM Bhargava. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 8, 2016.

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