In extraordinary times, extraordinary measures need to be taken. And these are extraordinary times. On Thursday when we heard these words coming from the highest seat of law, we heaved a sigh of relief. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the bail petition of a young man, Kanhaiya, saying that “a citizen has come saying that his fundamental rights are under threat…” we felt safe. We felt that the most ordinary, unarmed citizen of this country ,powerless before the might of a state and defenceless before the viciousness of a mob ,had a place to go. That in this country the life and dignity of every single person matters. That concern and care for the life and dignity of human beings survives in the otherwise soulless apparatus of the state.
After this assurance came disappointment. The counsels for Kanhaiya were asked whether they had approached the other constitutional court before coming directly to the Supreme Court. They agreed that in the lower court, situation was exceptionally serious and it was highly dangerous to go there to seek relief. But the bench felt that Kanhaiya should have exhausted his option of going to the next higher level, in this case the High Court. The argument of the defence lawyer that it was near the same hexagon from the Patiala House and barely thousand yards from where the crow flies could not persuade the bench. The counsel for the government asserted that the High Court could take care of itself.
The bench felt that accepting the bail petition of an individual bypassing the earlier layers would set ‘dangerous precedent’ and would open floodgate for other such prayers.
As a student of literature, one who is ignorant of the complexities of law, I understood that while refusing to entertain the bail petition of Kanahiya, the Highest Court was not negating its earlier exclamation that extraordinary times demand extraordinary response but its concern for form tempered this realisation.
I am not sure if this wondering of mine would be construed as an act of contempt of court or not, or even worse treason, as many of us have repeatedly been accused of by the spokespersons of the party ruling at the centre when we try to make a critique of process leading to the hanging of Afzal Guru or Yakub Memon. Should this threat prevent me from submitting that this atmosphere of intimidation and fear is not the result of a spontaneous outpouring of nationalistic anger. It is much more sinister . It has been planned systematically and executed with clarity and precision. It is not some oppositional force which is doing it, it the government and the ruling party which is escalating it.
In normal times, ruling parties do not agitate. They want order and peace. Since 2014, we have a party with an unprecedented majority in the parliament ruling at the centre. The sheer number of its MPs should have given it an assurance of stability. It should have been relaxed and taken decisions calmly. And keep itself busy with the job of governance.
Why is it that it is feeling insecure? Why are the members of the government and the party creating chaos and keeping the atmosphere tense all the time? Not a single month has passed since this government took over without an act of incitement , either from the ministers or senior officials of the ruling party.
Is this part of a well thought out design : to create chaos, to keep the temperature high, to keep the minds of the people agitated? It would lead to confused thinking and people would fail to make sense of the things happening around them. It would create a desperate situation in which people would look for an authoritative explanation . Who better than the government then to supply it as it has the assistance of intelligence agencies at all levels? Do we ever suspect our ministers to lie or take recourse to half-truth. We have seen it happening consistently for the last two years.
We expect ministers to exercise maximum caution while giving opinion on an incident. Here we see reckless statements which only muddy the waters and escalate conflict in the society.
Governments generally do not pitch themselves against an individual. It is again a question of form. But here, we saw our home minister and finance minster leading assault on individuals like Nayan Tara Sahgal or Amir Khan. What is an individual when faced with the state?
Extraordinary is a mild term to describe the times we are living in. You have a police force which can lift you from a festival for looking like ‘democracy wala’ or ‘JNU type.’ Where a police officer can question your right to sport beard. When a flag of a student organisation in your bag would be enough to make you a suspect, doubly so if your name suggests that you are a Muslim.
What is the intention then of this government? Why is the ruling party organising hordes of people all over India who are roaming around with Tricolour and raising abusive threatening slogans, attacking people at will?
Why is it that an educational institution like JNU is being vilified in most insidious manner using WHATSAPP and other media?
Why is it that professors, students and journalists are being followed, hounded, called to police station, harassed and humiliated for days together for having attended meetings which the ruling party thinks is “anti-national”?
Why and how is it that the law enforcing agencies have internalised the ideology of the ruling party and as implementers of this vision?
This is nothing but an unprecedented assault on the democratic life of India. What is at stake is the very basis of Indian democracy: freedom and liberty of individuals and groups.
Should we grudge then that there is at least one institution which refuses to get swayed and struggles to maintain equanimity in threes unsettling times? That the Supreme Court has not lost its sense of proportion? Should the gesture be seen as a challenge to the judiciary thrown by the highest seat to prove true to its calling?
‘ll the gesture of the Supreme Court also lead the government to rethink about its role? That you cannot patronise criminals,you cannot shelter them?
There are reasons, however not to share the optimism of the Supreme Court. There are unmistakable signs that there is a method in the madness that has been unleashed on the minorities and opponent political forces by the ruling part and government. After creating chaos, the government might seek unfettered powers to restore order. That would be the beginning of the end of democracy in India.
- Kafila, February, 2016