Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nation and Nationalism

Recalling the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy (George Fernandes A Nationalist or Anti National?
            Never in the recent past – in the history of independent India – has one seen so much breast beating on being a nationalist; and similarly such accusations against many of being anti-nationals for shouting slogans, invoking Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. And if only the Honourable judges of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the then Chief Justice, Justice B.P.Sinha (along with Justices S.K. Das, A.K. Sarkar, N.Rajagopalan Ayyangar and R. Mudholkar) had foreseen, they may have said, by the way (obiter dictum), that this section in the colonial code be deleted forthwith. A reading of the judgment in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar, delivered on January 20, 1962 (AIR-SC-1962-955) cannot but lead one to this.
Neither the Congress party nor the Janata cared to do that. And every regime, since then, has invoked this Section of the law and the recent instance of arresting Kanhaiya Kumar from JNU and some others along with him is only another instance of the consequence of a certain inaction since January 1962. And this argument will be won if only one tries to look further as to whether those accused all these years were at all sent up to prison, while the due process of law was in motion and thereafter as to how many were left free after being held in jail for long terms (after a while in police custody and forced to say what the men in khaki wanted them to say while in custody); and in many instances they were rendered wrecks in the mental and physical sense.
Well. There have been exceptions too when people were not reduced to wrecks. One such, even if not under this illegitimate law (as Gandhi described it while charged in the court of Judge Broomfield in 1923), when Section 121 (A) of the Indian Penal Code (a far more stringent law compared to the sedition law) was invoked against 25 persons; the gang of 25 belonged to diverse sections of the society and age groups. It included political party leaders, students, a Gandhian, mill workers and even a prominent industrialist. In the middle of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi’s police held them all guilty of attempting to wage war against the state and if the `law was allowed to take its course’ all those would have been sentenced to death, which indeed is the maximum punishment for a crime. Section 124 A warrants, at the most, jail for life!
The charge-sheet filed before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court in Delhi contained detailed accounts of how the accused (who were brought to the court on February 10, 1977 bound in chains as slaves were taken around in ancient times) had collected 836 nitroglycerine sticks (for use in making bombs) and even attempted to smuggle 500 low power radio transmitters into India to disrupt the All India Radio signals. The first accused in the case spoke eloquently about why he did all that he was accused of for the sake of the nation and to save it from the un-democracy. The lawyer goons, however, did not attempt to lynch him as they tried to do with Kanhaiya. Hired hoodlums did not walk around the capital shouting vande mataram and asking for the shooting down of those accused.
It did not take too long before the accused were left free and the charges dropped, within days after the people of India gave their verdict in March the same year. The first accused in that case, George Fernandes, would become a member of the Union Cabinet and even the Raksha Mantri of the Government of India headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee of the BJP, the party to which Narendra Modi too belongs to! Or Viren Shah, then a member of the Board of Directors of a pretty big steel manufacturing Company and a co-accused in the case would become a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha and Governor later on! Or Prabhudas Patwari, a Gandhian (68 years old when he was accused of waging war against the state) would occupy the Raj Bhawan in Madras for five years! Or C.G.K.Reddy, who had fought for the nation’s independence as part of the INA (using his skills as a radio engineer and about to be sent to the gallows if only the colonial rulers were packed off on August 15, 1947) and had joined Fernandes in 1975 to defend the freedom and was eleventh accused in the case would breath freedom again and head the National Productivity Council!
It is relevant to recall the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy case in the times we live in for two reasons. One that the nation, in fact, did not crumble because of their acts (as held by the state then and as presented by the police); instead, the nation emerged stronger because of their act. The Emergency taught the nation of the need for eternal vigilance and that the nation shall not be restricted in its definition to what the rulers, even if they were elected at some stage, considered what was good for the people. It was no wonder. The Constitution, which after all was the culmination of the national spirit that sent the colonial rulers packing did not leave all the powers with the elected representatives. The fact that the Fundamental Rights, including the Right to Free Speech were placed on a pedestal was indeed in response to the experience with the Third Reich and the disaster such untrammeled powers to define nation and nationalism was left to the Fuhrer.
The second aspect is that the way in which one section of the people (only 25 in the Baroda Dynamite case) were held as threat to the nation, built on the foundation of a massive struggle by the people and their sacrifice, was not just unfounded but even an insult to its inherent strength. To hold that students in a university will have to agree with the `elected’ government does militate against the very foundations of our wonderful constitution and is, in that sense, un-Constitutional.
And those who have gone berserk, only because they all have been assured that they will not be `dealt’ with under the law to beat up media-persons and students and using expletives against the teachers in JNU and elsewhere, are guilty of treating our nation as weak and incapable of taking dissent. Chanting Vande Mataram was indeed an act of dissent and brave men and women did that knowing they would be sent to jail for that. But then, it does not make one a nationalist to shout that in times we live in. And the nation and nationalism today will have to be seen in another context and not be reduced to a police-state sponsored act!
The point is that the nation and our nationalism is not as fragile as it is made out that a few slogan shouters can bring it down. If it was so, we would have crumbled long ago. It did not happen and will not happen only if we as a nation agree to disagree; in other words learn to put up with dissent.