The day the eminent lawyer Soli Sorabji told the listeners of a TV programme in no uncertain terms that the interpretation of the term sedition in the case of Binayak Sen belonged to a bygone era and is no more legally valid, there were others who were trying to preach otherwise. One of these assertive voices came from journalist Sawapan Das Gupta (SD ji) who chose to tell us “How Binayak Sen became a cause celebre”; while, in the same paper and on the same day, economist Amartya Sen said that the verdict “smacked of political motivation” (TOI Jan 9th, 2011). Thus we hear two sets of voices, one giving reasons for the fallibility of the verdict and thereby questioning the wisdom of the Sessions judge, and the other asking us to have blind faith in the judicial process and not use our reason nor raise doubts about it.
One may ask, if the debate around Binayak Sen is a fabrication of the minds of a handful of cause-hungry intellectuals, then why has it spread so wide? Why has SD ji too joined it and is now emphasising the “image make over”of Binayak Sen? Is he just angry that Binayak Sen, “did not fit the (read ‘his’) mental image of a dangerous man”, or, is he now contributing to theory by introducing such innovative categories of social analysis as bearded men, men without jhola, and men who sport both? He perhaps thinks that through this rude, flippant, and callous articulation (which he well recognises), he will add some weight to the judgement and thereby contain the emerging trend where the judiciary is being questioned and accountability demanded of it, because it is unable to show that it respects the law that it practices.
Let us look at the game SD ji is playing.
According to him Binayak Sen’s crime is:
(a) shaving off his beard (that amounts to destruction of evidence!);
(b) transforming from a relatively unknown activist (only known to the unknown of Chhattisgarh);
(c) choosing to highlight the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act in a state that is “the rotten apple”; and
(d) being deserving of defence by Amartya Sen (who is chided for his “arrogance”).
Since SD ji is not inclined to look at the “technical issues” such as the evidence, the authenticity of legal procedures, or the interpretation of conflicting evidence and evident failure to establish association – all of which makes the judgment unfathomable – he unilaterally acquires the right to assert that “to assume that any alternative perspective implies a bent and biased system is rash”.
The story of Chhattisgarh is no secret. It is best told by its HDI rank, based on achievements in health, education, income, and gender development, where it is ranked among the worst performing States. To address these critical issues the State can think of nothing better than to set up an Army training centre there that would “naturally” require heavy security measures. Is this the alternative perspective that SD ji is hinting at? Where it is natural and justified that judges should be influenced by the seriousness of the overall situation? And where the basic principle of justice, that the more severe the punishment the more careful should be the assessment of evidence, can be easily belied?
Such a perspective attempts to reduce the gap between reason and unreason by making light of the goings on in States like Gujarat and Chattisgarh. It values the glamour of annual Prabasi winter meets, but disapproves of NRIs going beyond the set boundaries to see and experience their own country. It is a perspective that, in its effort to influence “the young and impressionable” thinking people, attacks all liberal intellectual thought attempting to protect a judicial system, and all institutions that represent the liberal dimension of Indian democracy, which is gradually curtailing all rights and freedoms.
SD ji says nothing about all this but he does claim a wide following amongst those who disagree with the perception that there is a concerted programme of expropriation, “governed by the political first cousins of those who administer Gujarat, heavy-handed policing, law of the jungle, capitalist iniquity and the brutal suppression of tribal rights”. He altogether misses the point that majority assertion and reasoned arguments are two different domains, and that he has failed to offer any reason for the susceptible to shed their understanding and join his ideological brand of paranoia. He also misses the point that undermining criminal law amounts to undermining of constitutional provision of fundamental rights. The lower courts cannot be callous towards principles and procedures of justice just because correctives are possible at higher levels of appeal.
SD ji dubs all those who disagree with him as unthinking and providing “unintended” legitimacy to Maoist insurgency. One may be grateful for his generosity in using the word unintended, but will he tell us which India does he cherish? – the one where people have a right to demand reason from governing structures or one where rules, however unreasonable, must dominate?
This Post is in reply to Swapan Das Gupta’s Article in Times of India How Binayak Sen became a cause celebre