Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Sedition Scam

We have to hand it to the Indian government. Cocking a snook at critics who have accused it of being a soft target for terror attacks and insurrectionary militias, the government and the laws have demonstrated just how tough it can be when it wants to. It has struck a mighty blow for democracy and in one stroke symbolically put paid to the so-called Naxal menace which reportedly has affected over 160 of the country's 600 districts. The Naxal menace been described by the Prime Minister as India's biggest single threat to national security, more so even bigger than the Pakistan-inspired terrorism.

The Indian government and the judiciary achieved this by arresting and giving a life sentence for sedition to a frail, ailing, 61 year old doctor-cum-social activist who has dedicated all his life to the welfare of tribal communities and other marginalized people who are too small and insignificant to be noticed by the Indian from the remote and lofty perch that it occupies.

Despite appeals made not only by 22 Nobel laureates, including economist Amartya Sen, but also by numerous human rights organizations across the world that the detainee, Dr. Binayak Sen, be released but the Indian government and judiciary have stood its ground with admirable firmness. Dr. Sen had been found guilty by a court of law for his "connections" with the Maoists, whose avowed agenda is the violent overthrow of the Indian state. As such, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, Dr. Sen is guilty of sedition , a crime which carries life sentence. That the case against Dr. Sen is based on a highly questionable police report, which, among other anomalies, contained a "typographical error" regarding the exact locations where the alleged "linkages" took placehas not deterred the course of justice. Nor does it matter whether there is no evidence whatsoever that the accused has himself ever committed or instigated acts of violence. He has been found guilty by association; of being a Maoist sympathizer if not an actual Maoist. That is enough for the Indian judiciary and government which, tired of being called a soft target, wants to show to the world, but most of all wants to project itself, just how tough it really is. Throw the guy in jail and while you're at it, throw away the key.

Dr. Binayak Sen is not the only one on whom the Indian state recently demonstrated its toughness. Arundhati Roy and Hurriyat SAS Gilani both have had charges of sedition slapped on them for espousing the cause of Kashmiri azaadi. The Indian judiciary and government--which appears to have 100% tolerance for scams and swindles of various kinds--has zero tolerance for sedition. As interpreted by the state, sedition seems to mean not just any attempt to overthrow it but to in any way show sympathy with those who question or rebel against the legitimacy of its actions.

Dr. Sen's imprisonment has in no way helped quell Maoism (indeed P. Chidambaram recently admitted that the Naxals still had "the capacity to strike at will, giving them the upper hand over security forces") does not matter. Nor does it appear to matter that, even as the Home Minister was making his statement about the undiminished Maoist threat, Pranab Mukherjee said that the spread of Naxalism in backward areas was a "reflection of our failure in meeting the expectations of the local people." Is the minister's admission of "failure" itself liable to the charge of sedition in that it undermines the authority of the judiciary and government?

Dr. Binayak Sen's imprisonment will not in any way help in tackling the Naxal "menace". The sedition charges against Arundhati Roy and Gilani will not in any way help in tackling the 62 year old Kashmir problem. But perhaps, the real purpose of such measures is not to solve these deeply entrenched problems--born out of the chronic weakness of the state's policies--but only to show the selective toughness of the government and the judiciary. Perhaps the reality of weakness is not important; the perception of toughness is.

If this is indeed so, "sedition" is the biggest scam of all, sponsored by the judiciary and government.

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