AGENDA | Sunday, January 9, 2011
Selective amnesia of our 'liberal democrats'
[ Their hearts beat for Binayak Sen and assorted terrorists and secessionists, but they are prompt in condemning others being tried by the same system of justice ]
With some amusement I read reports last Friday about jailed Maoist Binayak Sen having moved a court in Chhattisgarh against the sentence of life imprisonment awarded to him last month. I say amusement because only 48 hours prior to his going in appeal, his wife Ilina Sen lashed out at the Indian judiciary, police, Government and finally India itself. Declaring that her husband's trial was staged, that the whole thing was a frame-up and Indian courts were putty in the hands of politicians, Ilina Sen said she had no faith in the fairness quotient of India's judicial process. She went on to add that in view of the harassment her Maoist husband had undergone, she would seriously contemplate seeking political asylum in a "genuine liberal democracy", implying Indian democracy was a sham.
After that outburst, broadcast on various news channels and extensively reported in newspapers (English-speaking Maoists get a lot of mileage in the English-language media and relatively little in their Indian-language counterparts), one would have expected Sen's considerable brigade of supporters to move international agencies to process his application for "political asylum". Since the convicted leader has no faith in the Indian judicial process, it would only be appropriate that he should pursue migration abroad.
But I wonder what kind of "genuine" liberal democracy Ilina Sen has in mind. Since Maoists are fighting the Indian state with the aim of establishing a proletarian dictatorship in India and avowedly reject Western-style democracy, there is a contradiction in her statement. Liberal democracy, as commonly understood, refers to the system of Government prevailing largely in Europe and North America and some countries of South Asia. In the past, Communist regimes fashioned themselves as People's Democracies that were subject to one-party rule. Barring a few countries in Asia (China, North Korea and Vietnam come to mind) and one in Latin America (namely, Cuba) that discredited system has been buried everywhere else.
Surely, the Indian Maoist leader's wife does not have any of these countries in mind when she expresses her desire to migrate! Although, it must be pointed out that most Naxalite intellectuals of the 1970s eventually abandoned the 'revolution' and succumbed to the discreet charm of the Green Card and took the first available flight to JFK once they quietly converted to the capitalist faith. Some have continued to spew revolutionary fire through their academic pursuits in US universities, turning institutions like Berkeley into quasi-Maoist dens. It would not be surprising, therefore, if the Sens are nursing a similar goal.
This is not the place to debate the merits of Binayak Sen's case. It may well be that the Raipur court has passed an unduly harsh verdict on the Maoist ideologue and his sentence would get reduced in appeal. That is a matter in the legal domain and since senior advocates of various political persuasions, BJP MP Ram Jethmalani included, are falling over one another to argue for him, I am sure that Sen will have the best defence he could have hoped for. The issue, however, is one of double standards and systematic orchestration of opinion in favour of a convict.
A friend on Facebook recently posted a count of articles in favour of Sen. On one given day alone there were 124 write-ups in the Indian print media alone, leave alone suitably tilted TV discussions and blogs! Some time ago, I was horrified to note the number of Google entries the doctor attracted. Significantly, two of my earlier pieces in these columns, predictably not flattering to him, drew the ire of hundreds. I have rarely got so much hate mail on any other subject.
Binayak Sen may eventually be acquitted. But my point is about the selective orchestration (actually manipulation) of public opinion by a set of Left-leaning radicals who have a romantic notion of Maoists, Kashmiri secessionists, 'persecuted' Christian missionary proseletysers and so on. In other words, all those out to weaken the Indian state and dilute the country's national resolve are lauded uncritically and anybody mildly suggesting anything to the contrary is howled down, apart from being tainted as a neo-Fascist. It is exactly the same way that December 13 Parliament House attack accused SAR Gilani was feted.
The same people volubly defended the secessionist jamboree in Delhi last year in which Kashmiri groups implacably hostile to India, the rump of Punjab and North-East outlaws and sundry India-bashers assembled to preach India's dissolution. Their cause was spiritedly championed by the redoubtable Arundhati Roy, who has already declared her desire to "secede" from India for a variety of imagined grievances. The separatist conference in Delhi truly crossed the borderline, forcing the courts to intervene and direct the police to file cases of sedition against the preachers of hatred, since the Government was too weak-kneed to proactively pursue them. I nevertheless believe there is a space for dissent in every democracy even for unpalatable views.
The problem, however, arises when the so-called votaries of "genuine liberal democracy" refuse to concede similar space to contrary opinion. I hold no brief for Swami Aseemananda, Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit or Pragya Singh Thakur — currently languishing in various jails for allegedly participating in terrorist activities. But when reports of the young Sadhvi's torture and serious health problems came to light, not one 'liberal democrat' questioned the apparent brutality of the Indian state apparatus. Incidentally, none of them has been convicted and from every account the chargesheets (wherever filed) are appallingly weak. On the other hand, Gilani was convicted and sentenced to death but acquitted later and Binayak Sen too is now a convict.
Even the courts appear terrorised by the hysteria these people can work up. When the Supreme Court refused to entirely endorse their plea on raising the height of Gujarat's Sardar Sarovar dam, the same 'liberal democrats' burnt effigies and vocally demonstrated outside the court premises. The judges, who would have slammed the handful of agitators into the cooler for at least seven days had they championed any other cause, dealt with this bunch with kid gloves, letting them off with a mild rebuke.
On the face of it, there is no linkage between those denouncing a Raipur court for holding Binayak Sen guilty and Congress heavyweight Digvijay Singh's strident utterances against Hindu groups and equally fierce defence of suspected terror sympathisers. But I see a pattern and a political ploy in both. The 'liberals' hold an ideological position similar to Digvijay Singh in matters of terrorism. They are trying to argue that there are 'good' terrorists, wronged by an insensitive state and 'bad' terrorists (although no terror charge against them has been proven) who are flourishing because of misguided majority support. In the process of articulating this position, they justify Maoist depredation, jihadi terror and secessionism of various hues.
I believe, despite their effort to overpower all other opinion, the silent majority will ensure India remains one and even if it takes a long time, the conspiracy of destablisation hatched by sundry malefic elements will be resoundingly defeated.
I find Chandan Mitra's writeup surprising. He demeans himself by his ad hominem attack on Binayak Sen's wife. Surely he must understanding that moving a higher court is the only way forward -- even if one surmises (as I do also) that the sentence meted out to Sen and Guha were driven by extra-judicial forces. To make jabs at a distraught lady who may just have genuine concerns for herself and her daughters is pretty low, even if one has a differing world view and ideology.
I recall a Chandan Mitra who once ran an "abstention
campaign" in a student election. One who hinted at skirting with Naxals himself. One who stood up in
an intercollegiate debate and delivered a rousing and provocative speech at the height of Mrs Gandhi's emergency that was inspiring in its daring. For one to change one's worldview or ideology over time, to
even believe that Sen was in fact guilty (however misguided I personally think it is -- actually I find it quite unbelievable that the Chandan I once knew is
incapable to seeing through the veneer of Sen's sentencing) is one thing. However, for one with such formidable past accomplishments to lower himself personally to this peurile state of ad hominem baiting is quite another.
Who then is this ghost of the Chandan I once knew.
What ails him? "selective amnesia" or "the discreet charm" of the Pioneer bully pulpit?
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