Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Note to the Editor in Chief, The New Indian Express, Chennai on the High Court Incidents

Dear Aditya,

I am writing this to you to draw your attention to a set of facts that are relevant to events in the Madras High Court premises on Thursday, the reports on them and your editorial today. And it is necessary to do that given the long and glorious tradition of your newspaper and its reputation of being a crusader against the establishment. I do not have to recall and remind you that your institution has had to suffer at the hands of the establishment for being what it is.

Let us now take up the relevant facts of the case in hand.
(1) The lawyers have been on a course of boycott of courts demanding the intervention by the Union Government to halt the onslaught by the Sri Lankan army in the Tamil dominated Northern region of Sri Lanka. Your paper, like many others, may have a different opinion on the demand as such. But then, is it fair to insist that the lawyers shall not have their opinion on the issue? And when the lawyers boycott courts, they too suffer because the norm of no-work-no-pay applies here as much as in the factories!

(2) Then there is the issue of egg being thrown at Subramanian Swamy and your editorial comment that none of the forums spoke against it. Let me draw your attention to the newspapers the day after and the act was condemned by lawyers of repute. And the Madras High Court has taken suo motu notice of contempt and a five judge bench has been constituted to deal with the case. So, it is not as if the process of law taking its course has been delayed in this regard. In any case, there is no role for the police in this case where the act was committed inside the court hall and the judiciary is already taken up the case.

(3) As for the immediate provocation to the police action on February 19, 2009, the police attribute it to a scuffle inside the police station when a group of lawyers were being arrested. While the facts on this are yet to be established, there is another side to the story. The lawyers had gone to the police station to register a complaint against Subramanian Swamy under sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and demanded Swamy’s arrest. Well. The law provides for the immediate arrest of the person against whom the complaint is made and puts the onus of proving innocent on the accused. I am sure that you will not blame the lawyers for having known the law and insisted that it be implemented. I am also sure that you will not describe this as an instance of the lawyers taking the law into their hands!

(4) This took place at about 3 15 pm that day. And within minutes, the Swift Action Group personnel as well as many senior police officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields and lathis were found chasing anyone and everyone in the premises and on the corridors of the City Civil Court, the Small Causes Court and the Family Court. I do not think I must tell you that the lathis they carried were not the same as the ones they carry on ceremonial occasions; they also put them to liberal use and did not spare Justice Arumughaperumal Adityan in the process. This resort to naked violence, we now know from your own paper (Saturday, February 21, 2009, page two: No permission granted: HC) without obtaining the necessary permission from the appropriate authorities. And it went on, unabated for four hours during which time the police went about smashing up the windshields of the carss parked in the premises, damaging the two wheelers and also the window panes of the various rooms in the court buildings. They wielded the lathis indiscriminately and you could have confirmed, from the footage on the various TV channels, the way the policemen went about smashing up the windshields of the cars parked in the premises.

(5) As for the police station in the premises being set on fire: The sequence of events and the large posse of police personnel in the premises are important facts that have to be factored in this regard. The lathi-charge by the SAG personnel started at about 3 15 pm and there was no let up by them at any point of time. They were moving about the premises and all over the compound since then and beating up anyone and everyone who were seen around. Now, do you believe that the lawyers, who had by now collected themselves inside the MHAA library and also around the chambers of the judges could have reached the police station which is on another side of the premises and set fire to it? And that the police, now made of over five hundred personnel, were unable to protect the police station? And that too when they were successfully made the city court and family court premises into sterile zones? As for the timing, the police began acting at 3 15 pm and the police station caught fire after 6 pm.

(6) There is now the story of one DySP having been held captive inside the office of a Public Prosecutor, that he was stripped naked and that he had sent across an SMS from his mobile phone seeking help and that the police then let the SAG to release him. Does this story sound convincing to you? There was no such explanation on Thursday night. The story, even now does not talk about the specific location of where the police officer was held captive; it does not explain how this officer could use his cell phone when he was being stripped and the only explanation of this would be that he was like one of our filmi heroes who manages to do the right thing even in adverse situations. And if it was the case that a police officer who came to discuss a case with the Public Prosecutor, then tell us the name of the lawyer in whose chamber the officer was held up. And in any case, the Commissioner of Police could have gone up to the Acting Chief Justice or the Registrar General to tell them the story and then ordered the ``rescue’’ operation with their sanction. I am delighted that your newspaper has not carried this fairy tale as narrated by the Commissioner of Police.

The point behind narrating these facts is to put the whole issue in perspective. There may be difference of opinion on what must happen in Sri Lanka or on whether the lawyers must go on strike at all. You will also appreciate if I say that we have journalists who indulge in corrupt practices or other such unfair practices. But then, do we then argue that the media professionals as a whole have utmost contempt to the morals and principles and hence hold a brief for the police to beat up all journalists once in a while? I do not have to recall instances of police high-handedness with journalists in the past and how the powers that be arm-twist pliant journalists and editors to fall in line. Do we appreciate all that or do we stand up and say No to such cheap tactics?

As I mentioned in the beginning, your paper has stood up to pressure and abuse of executive authority and that is why I decided to write this to you.

Yours Sincerely,
V.Krishna Ananth,
Advocate, Madras High Court,

Friday, February 13, 2009

The clamour about Gandhi's belongings being auctioned

Reports of an auction of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal items, scheduled for early March in New York, have sent a cross section of our MPs into a clamour for Government’s intervention. The MPs have demanded that the Government either try to stop the auction and in the event of that being impossible, to participate in the bidding and get the items back home and place them at Tees January Marg!

Well. It is likely that Sonia Gandhi wakes up and instructs Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to do the needful. Parties across the spectrum will only welcome such an initiative. After all, it makes ample sense to have the Bapu’s personal belongings at the museum on Tees January Marg and most importantly have a function organised to mark the day when they are brought back from New York. Such a function would provide an opportunity to those MPs to visit the place (some of them may not have gone there until now even if they have been living close by), to show themselves as the inheritors of the Mahatma and his legacy!

The fact is that these leaders of our political establishment continue to have ample use for Gandhi’s image. And where the image alone and not the values that Gandhi lived and died for is of use, the Bapu’s personal belongings are of immense use to them. Ram Manohar Lohia, who could probably be described as a Gandhian political activist among other things, did notice the beginnings of this tendency and derided it as either priestly or governmental Gandhism and that the two got along, so well with each other, to reduce Gandhi’s thoughts into an anemic doctrine.

This, in due course, led to painting Gandhism as a sterile idea that merely relies almost exclusively on changing the heart of the well-placed to the utter neglect of bringing about a change in the heart of the poor and the oppressed. It was necessary, for this project, to reduce Gandhi into a messiah or an idol to be worshipped. The Bapu’s personal belongings and his images are indeed essential to further this project. And that clearly explains the clamour for Governmental intervention in the context of the auction in New York in early March.

This is not to say that it is alright to let the Bapu’s memory be erased. The point is that Gandhi is as relevant today as he was in his own times. And even if the Bapu’s personal belongings are not with us in any of the places connected with the Mahatma and his life – at the ashrams in Sabarmathi, Wardha or at the Gandhi Smriti on Tees January Marg – the fact is that Gandhi and his ideas continue to reverberate in many others parts of the country.

Irom Chanu Sharmila, fasting since November 2, 2000, demanding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is scrapped is keeping the Mahatma alive even sixty one years after Nathuram Godse shot him dead. Or Vinayak Sen, a humane medical professional, detained in one of Chattisgarh’s prisons, is indeed among those who ddid not believe in reducing Gandhi and the ism into a sterile idea that merely believed in changing the heart of the bent and the beautiful and instead went about organizing the poor and the oppressed to fight for their rights.

Similarly, Medha Patkar and the people in the remote villages in the Narmada valley, by not submitting to the powers have kept the Gandhian legacy alive. And the same holds good for the adivasis in Kalinganagar who bared their chests before the armed police to stop their lands being taken away.

It is appropriate, in this context, to present the case of the victims of the gas leak from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in December 1984. The hundreds of children from Bhopal, born to parents who were victims of the leak, these children continue to suffer from a host of health problems. But then, a number of them were here in Chennai last week to register their protest at the corporate office of Dow Chemicals. They did that because they all find Gandhi and his ideas – that machines and high technology cannot solve the problems of mankind and that it is one’s moral duty to struggle against injustice – relevant even today.

A short note on Dow and its connection with the Bhopal gas leak will be in order here. Multi-national Corporation, Dow Chemicals, has taken over Union Carbide and hence is the owner of all that remains of the Bhopal plant from where lethal Methyl-Isocyanate leaked causing one of the biggest industrial disasters in India. And according to established canons of law, Dow is bound to clean up the contaminated sumps inside the plant and also spend on the measures that are inevitable to render the land around the plant free from the toxic deposits. The toxins have sunk so far and deep that the water table in most parts has been affected. MNC Dow, however, is refusing to do that. And the Government of India, whose duty it is to ensure that Dow does what it is bound to do by law, is not enforcing the law all these days.

Like Gandhi himself, the true inheritors of his legacy are those who lead such struggles and are part of every such movement against injustice. These men and women stay away from the rigmarole of elections and shun offices of power. Gandhism, to them, is neither priestly nor governmental.

As for our MPs and others who clamour that Gandhi’s belongings are brought back, they will do great service to the cause they claim to fight by taking time off to read The Story of My Experiments with Truth. It may help them understand what Gandhi represented. In the last but one paragraph of that, Gandhi makes the point about himself: ``The experiences and experiments have sustained me and given me great joy. But I know that I have still before me a difficult path to traverse. I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him.’’

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do we need the CBI to know if Mulayam has assets disproportionate to his income???

The myth about the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) being an autonomous agency has exploded once again. The about turn by the agency in the case involving Mulayam Singh Yadav is the latest of these instances.

The case against Mr. Yadav is that he owns assets disproportionate to his known source of income. That is what the CBI said until sometime ago. The provocation for the agency to deny its own case now is clear to anyone. And it was reported in the media, on the day before the case came up for hearing in the Supreme Court, that the investigating agency was going to deny its own case. In other words, the secret was out there in the open even before the apex court was told that there-is-no-case-now.

And if there is someone there, reading this column, who does not know the reason behind the change in the CBI’s position, it is like this. Mulayam Singh Yadav, after having saved the Manmohan Singh Government from falling and ensuring that the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal did not collapse, has turned into a national hero. And it is important that the nation accord him the status of a national hero. There is, after all, the contextual setting in which a criminal act is to be seen.

Recall what Prakash Karat said in a recent TV interview: That the charge against someone being a criminal will have to be seen in a context and that he went on to explain that by stating that he too had broken the law on several occasions and charged under sections of the criminal law. Well. If someone’s character is to be decided upon whether he or she had been to jail, we will have to include a number of our beloved leaders among the list of bad people.

The point is that it is important to see the charges against a public person from the context in which it is made. And the CBI, as an institution, cannot see crime from out of the context and go about prosecuting someone just because the agency found evidence against that person. In other words, being an agency of the Government and meant to protect the national interest, the CBI just had to do what is in national interest at any given point of time.

This, indeed, is how the CBI’s turn around can be explained. When the Samajwadi Party was part of the opposition and the Manmohan Singh Government was comfortable having a majority in the Lok Sabha, it was the CBI’s duty to persecute Mulayam Singh Yadav and investigate into his income and assets. He was, after all, acting against the ``national interest’’ then! He was critical of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi then. And on top of all that, he had Amar Singh with him whose statements about the Congress icons bordered on abuses. The CBI then had to reign in such persons as part of its duty!

All that changed after July 22, 2008. Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh turned into holy men. And with Kalyan Singh too in the fold, the Samajwadi Party is now a bunch of saints and the CBI, naturally, had to change its stand. We did see that happen in the Bofors case earlier. The CBI, after having got all the necessary documents to nail in the recipients of the kickback from the Bofors deal (by way of the papers from the Swiss Banks) when Deve Gowda was Prime Minister did a shoddy job in the courts to ensure that the accused got away.

That the CBI had to do that because the list of accused in that case included one Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian national and a close friend of Sonia Gandhi is known to all. But there are some people who pretend to be unaware of such simple facts. And this is the same case in the Mulayam Singh Yadav case too. And this is most likely to happen in the Pinarayi Vijayan-SNC Lavalin scandal too. The point is that the CBI is not an autonomous agency. It is meant to catch the thief only when the ruling party wants that!

All this does not mean that there is no case against Mulayam Singh. Anyone in Uttar Pradesh and in Delhi knows about Mulayam Singh and his financial status when he entered public life sometimes in the early Sixties. Everyone knows that he was not a wealthy person when he became MLA in 1967 and minister in 1977. And even a child in Uttar Pradesh, who knows to count money, will know his worth now. He is worth several thousand crores; and his brothers who have not done any productive work for several years too are worth several thousand crores.

In other words, we do not need the CBI to establish that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s assets are disproportionate to his known source of income. But then, why single out Mulayam Singh Yadav alone for this. I think it will be a better idea to employ the CBI to investigate and tell us about political leaders whose assets are proportionate to their income!

I used to know a few persons of that kind. Some of them are dead now. V.P.Singh, Madhu Dandavate, Nripen Chakroborty, Kamaraj and Kakkan. I may have missed out a lot of names. Let us put the CBI to bring out that list because it calls for some experts to work.