Saturday, December 25, 2010

A strange democracy

Byline by M J Akbar: A Strange Democracy

India has become a strange democracy where Binayak Sen gets life in jail and dacoits get a life in luxury. It takes years of pressure for government to move against those looting the nation’s treasury; and when the majestic forces of enforcement do go on a “raid” they give their quarry enough time to remove every trace of evidence. You have to be exceptionally stupid to store evidence of your own culpability in a telecom scandal where deals were made and money paid three years before. Or, for that matter, even six months ago, as in some instances of the highly lubricated Commonwealth Games. By this time the money has either been spent, converted into assets, or sent to a convenient haven abroad. The political-industrial nexus is above the law, because it controls enforcement. But if the ruling class of India could have hanged Binayak Sen instead of merely trying to send him to jail for the rest of his life, it would have done so.

Binayak made a fundamental, mortal mistake. He was on the side of the poor. That is a non-negotiable error in our oligarchic democracy. Christmas must be truly merry in the homes of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and of course Raman Singh this year. The Congress and BJP dislike each other with a passion that only a thirst for power can generate; they disagree on just about anything and everything. But there is perfect harmony between them over Naxalite policy. End the Naxalite problem by elimination of the messenger; and the poor will not have the courage to ask for more than the trickle allotted to them by a gluttonous government.

Media is obedient doorman of this nexus, protecting its interests with a zeal that should surprise even the benefactors. The arrest of Binayak was converted into instant accusatory headlines. His trial was ignored by the press, which is why we do not know that there was virtually no substantive evidence. Suffice it to say that two of Binayak’s jailors, during his detention without bail, were declared hostile by the prosecution. Prosecuting lawyers are in the pay of government, as are the jailors. And yet two policemen refused to back the prosecution. A fabricated unsigned letter, apparently cooked up on a computer printout, seems to have been sufficient to convince the honourable guardians of our judicial system that Binayak Sen deserved a sentence reserved for only the most hardened murderer.

It is another matter that Binayak Sen, who was senior to me in school, was and remains the gentlest of people, distinguished only by a fierce commitment to his cause of choice. I do not agree with his political views or inclinations; nor does the political system. But it is only in a dictatorship that disagreement is sufficient reason for incarceration. India seems to be developing a two-tier democracy: generosity of the law for the privileged and vindictive, distorted application on the underprivileged.

It is ironic that the Binayak judgement appeared on the front pages of the Christmas day newspapers. We all know that Jesus was not born on 25 December; it was only in the fourth century that Pope Liberius declared this date to be a birthday because mystery and miracle has been associated with the winter solstice from time beyond memory. Christmas has become an international festival because it represents the most important values that give life some meaning and hold the complex social web together: peace, and goodwill towards all men, without which there cannot be peace.

This goodwill is not sectarian; it is easy to have goodwill towards some men, friends or benefactors. Christmas is the festival of the Other. It is the embrace of the dissident, or even the enemy. The most famous display of the Christmas spirit was the pause on the frontline in the First World War, when a few British and German soldiers announced an impromptu truce, played football, shared a drink and became human for a day before their superiors ordered them to return to the savagery of a terrible war that wrecked Europe.

If Binayak Sen is guilty of sedition on the basis of fictitious evidence, then, as was famously said during the great Gandhian movement against the British between 1919 and 1922, there are not enough jails in India to hold those equally guilty. The reference is not accidental. Governments have begun to opt for a colonial approach towards Naxalism and its myriad manifestations. The reason? Fear, perhaps terror. The corrupt can recognise their nemesis.


Aj said...

I am not huge fan of u Mr.Akbar since i believe,being an editor u shud not be biased but u and ur channel are completely biased towards congress.But i must still appreciate this article as it says a lot about our blind democracy.please u guys have power and we common man are powerless...please pursue these thoughts further and make sure that a Good man like binayak sen is not punished...if he is punished it will be a death of justice.

sekhar cheemalapati said...

Hello I am an independent film maker from Andhra-now in usa studying my masters.
I wrote an article in my blog on the same issue on 24th after I read about the news online.

I follow your posts regularly and are good. Do see my blog whenever possible.

flubber said...

Sir..I don't know whether the so called crime Mr Sen has been charged of is right or wrong..but one thing i know is he is man of good heart
...filled with compassion to serve poor...n that heart is not wrong...
I have stopped reading newspapers.n watchin news...I simply can't bear the pain beyond the ..numbers shown...In this democratic India..where one commits ..99 blood drenched crimes
n accidently does a good like super hero...n one who gives his life time to 99 causes..n accidently commits a crime (in the eyes of this INDIA) a Super villian

aastha said...

"The corrupt can recognise their nemesis."

as always, you continue to educate and inform...Thanks so much :)

Dr Satya Saraswat said...

No innocent meets dreaded terrorist like Sanyal (who killed 300 innocent) ppl 33 times in a month as Binayak Sen.

Pradipta said...

That seems to. But if he only worked for poor people that is understandable. But supporting cold blooded murderer, criminals, terrorists having link with ISI and China can never be tolerated in sane mind. Those who kill teachers, school students for refusing to go in procession and forcing children and women to take up guns and killing innocent people to show protest against state torture instead of killing the erring politicians and police force are in my sense real culprits and terrorists as well as cowards. If we ban India Mujahideen, ULFA, LeT for extreme violence, why we should not consider Maoists in the same line? In the same we we should punish those anti-national culprits, so called intellectuals, in the same line. There should be no respite in this regard. Our legal system has shown real guts and given strong message by setting an example when our Central Government is afraid and acting as hermaphrodite.
Where was MJ Akbar when so many people killed in bomb blast in bus and trains carrying innocent people? Who is going to pay for those bereaved families? Have Vinayak Sen or MJ Akbar, sitting in AC office room, said a single word of consolation against those killed and blaming Maoists for such cowardly action? How come they are vocal now for this real action which is much needed?

Pradipta said...

Only some cowards and anti-nationals can support and stood behind those culprits. Then we should free Kasav, Afzal Guru and Pakistani terrorists and other anti-nationals, ULFA leaders. Why to take legal action against those people? They aslo committed anti-Indian action like Maoists and pro-Maoists leaders like these. If Chirukuri Rajkumar and Kishenji can kill so many people and have 25 murder cases on their head can be considerded revolutionists in spite of killing teachers in cold blood do gang rape of fellow female colleagues, then why to hang Kasav and Afzal Guru? What different things they have done? Why to consider Hitler as fascist and mass murderer? This Maoists are clean? If answer is no, then why those people supporting them with money and brain should not be brought to justice?

Deep said...

Thanks you, Mr. Akbar, for this impassioned and much-needed pointing-out of the hypocrisies of the Indian state.

Please, let us not distract ourselves from the real issue by reframing the debate, as Pradipta seems to be doing - this so-called anti-nationalism is a myth. Nationalism itself is a sad disease. One should examine the systemic faultlines - treat the causes, not the symptoms. Naxalite violence is merely a symptom caused by years of repression and the systematic raping, pillaging and looting of the country's poor and disenfranchised. This is not to condone the Maoists, but to point out that we should not get sidetracked by these false equivalences.

As for charges of inaction on the part of Mr. Akbar, etc, like - "This Maoists are clean? If answer is no, then why those people supporting them with money and brain should not be brought to justice?" - well, justice cannot be one-sided. By all means, murderers and rapists need to be punished, but on both sides. Is the government any less implicated in such acts? Is the media any less implicated in such acts?

Deep said...

This is a shameful day for Indian democracy, and especially pitiful it is to see these hackneyed cries in support of nationalism. What nation? Do any of the commenters on this forum have ANYTHING in common with the people Dr. Sen is going to jail on the behalf of, i.e., the tribals, the poor, the hungry, the illiterate? Are they not Indians too? I probably have more in common with my non-Indian friends at the American university I go to than with Dr. Binayak Sen or Mr. M J Akbar, both of whom are from my city, and, indeed, from my very school. Does this make me Not-Indian? Nationalism implies a sustained us-versus-them logic that is very dangerous for social justice. It relies on a complete marginalization of the Other, a (false) recognition of the inhumanity of the Other (as we see, for example, in the harsh anti-immigration laws being enacted even today in the U.S., and the rise of the extremely vocal right-wing in the guise of the openly racist and homophobic Tea Party).

By all means hold the Maoists accountable, but only if you hold the political-industrial complex of the last 50 years equally accountable.

Deep said...

This verdict spells the languorous death of democracy in India, and if civil society does not stand up for what it right, the future looks pretty bleak. Sadly, with civil society growing increasingly apathetic to what doesn’t affect itself directly, and with the media becoming more theatrical and depoliticised and beholden to corporate-government interests, there is little hope left.

As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek notes, we’re living in a collective fetishistic disavowal of the truly apocalyptic state of affairs we’re in. A much more honest approach would be to simply cease to pretend to be a democracy and announce to the world what most Indians know already – that India is a plutocratic semi-dictatorship based solely on class/money. To quote Leonard Cohen, “The poor get poor and the rich get rich, that’s how it goes, everybody knows.”

mulu said...

Dear Akbar ji
After a very long gap saw a very good peace written by heart. You wright by saying that even media is not speaking for poor but for the rich and influencial. People who are raising voice againt injustice within the consitution of the country are declared anti-national and those mis-using all the law of land are saved. But I must say your article is example of some litte hope we still have from media.

Jon said...

a brilliant piece of article from you. When I went thru the papers announcing Binayak Sen's arrest, i smelt something fishy

Thank you for bringing this out. I am glad that many of the readers have agrees to your views...altho many have sided with the gov. version

Atleast we have not gone completely senseless

and surprisingly we take gr8 pains to gv the poor soul Kasab justice where as a learned Indian like Sen is denied one!!

रजनीश said...

Respected sir,
I have a little or say no knowledge about Dr. Binayak Sen. But if he has a soft corner for Maoists, I will contempt him despite of that me too have a very soft corner for those on verge of the society. I have seen these extremists with very close eyes and found they all are only criminal elements of society and are pretending to be the good for poors.

sau078 said...

It was a nice reading but a common for your articles as all your articles are beautifully written.
But the question that triggers to the mind of common man what is the evidence that indicates he is innocent?
A harsh judgement like Binayak's by a court can't be mere on the basis of intuition or weak facts.
Media persons like you are expected to come with facts in their articles, rather than well-versed article based on childhood memoirs.

S said...

@sau078: A man is deemed unless otherwise proved so in a court of law. And as I reckon, there is no such evidence against Mr. Sen that calls for a life sentence.

@रजनीश: You have the right to your opinions, and I have the right to mine, no matter how prejudiced any of our opinions are. But when disagreeing with your opinions makes me liable for persecution by the state, it can't be called a state of democracy.

S said...

@Pradipta: The "ISI" that Mr. Sen had links to is Indian Statistical Institute, one of the most premier educational institutes in India. And China is not a failed/terrorist state, it is one of the most successful countries in the world.

It seems we are increasingly becoming a nation of jingoists. It is fine for you to hate extreme leftists, and it's fine for Mr. Sen to morally support extreme leftists; but if he is thrown in jail for failing to conform to your notions of nationalism, please do not have the audacity to refer to the system which does not allow freedom of thought as a free democracy.

windwheel said...

M.J. Akbar is winning applause from the Hindutva dinosaurs. The truth is, he- like them- still believes India is viable.
It isn't. Inexorable economic forces will tear it apart because some states have completed or are completing 'demographic transition' and can contemplate ' 5 year Income doubling' whereas other areas are moving at a different speed, or, indeed, direction.

khush said...

for miss pradipta, I receive your comment with sincere regards but i can sense newspaper vomit in your facts when you say that maoists are equal to terrorists.Your comments are far from reality with all that what you see in media.The problem is too complex for us to judge.Those who have moved in those jungles, those who know the history of this struggle are the ones who can pass judgements.Lets read the things only and pronounce the judgements only when we have genuine facts with us.