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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 48, New Delhi, November 13, 2021

The Politics of Inverted Binoculars | TJS George

Saturday 13 November 2021, by T J S George

IMPRESSIONS

"In UP you won’t see a criminal even if you use binoculars." In India you won’t find a criminal making such a claim, but you will find politicians doing it. Hence the amazing assertion made by India’s amazing Home Minister. Are Indians as dumb as he thinks? No one needs binoculars to see how hooligans often rule the roost in UP. This has been the case for quite some time. Who can forget Raja Bhaiya, described by BJP leader Kalyan Singh himself as Kunda Ka Goonda? Legend has it that those who opposed him were thrown into a lake in his estate; permanent residents of the lake were crocodiles.

Amit Shah must be using special binoculars that shuts out what he does not want to see. It is astonishing that the Home Minister of India thinks that Indians are stupid enough to swallow what the Government says.

There is a sinister side to this game. The way the Home Ministry uses the UAPA, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, brings this out. A casual look is enough to see that the rule is: What is unacceptable to the Home Minister is unlawful. The abandon with which this Act is used against people the Government dislikes can be seen from a simple statistic: Cases taken up under UAPA have seen only 2 percent conviction rate. That means the vast majority of UAPA cases are politically motivated, filed outside the scope of law.

An India Today report two years ago said that 68 percent of prisoners in India have not been convicted by any court. Forty years ago the Supreme Court had said that the high prevalence of undertrials in jail was "a crying shame on the judicial system." It remains so.

The law lends itself to be misused. There are said to be upwards of 500,000 prisoners as of now, 70 percent of them undertrials. In other words, thousands of citizens are kept in jail for years without their cases being heard and without bail. The state’s ability to imprison people not convicted under due processes of law is disturbing. The situation becomes alarming when we realise that UAPA cases can be fabricated with ease. It is a state of affairs where law turns meaningless.

Add to this, emotional — as distinct from rational — interpretations of events. Three Kashmiri students were recently arrested for celebrating Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match. Worse, they were charged with treason and cyber terrorism. They were promptly suspended by their college.

The students were of course stupid. Their stand on Kashmir in the current situation is emotional, not political. Knowing that, they raised the issue to political levels. So they have no one to blame except themselves for the actions that followed. But the question that India must answer is: Did the adoption of a tough position based on "patriotism" serve the cause of India? Will the extra emphasis on patriotism have a positive impact on Kashmiri students, or will the impact be negative?

For any nation, the purpose of policy ought to be the achievement of justice for citizens and goodwill for the country. When policy leads to the loss of justice and goodwill, it ceases to be a policy beneficial to the country and becomes one reflecting a loss of perception and foresight. It is amazing that policy-makers in Delhi have not yet realised the counter-productive nature of their "tough" stand on Kashmir. Toughness must produce results that are good for the country, otherwise it can only do harm. Those who are tough for toughness’ sake live in a make-believe world of their own, unaware or unconcerned of the negative impact of their actions. They hurt India.

These are times when the attitudes of the top leadership have double importance. They are vital to policymaking and they are vital in creating public confidence. In such a situation senior leaders ought to consider what impact their words would have on the people. To say that any state in India, let alone UP, is crime-free amounts to admitting an inability to see what is crime. It also means saying in effect that people cannot distinguish between good and evil. When the Home Minister of the country makes a statement implying such things, people feel let down. There could even be a feeling of being cheated. When the most authoritative voice in the country says that criminals do not exist, how can citizens feel otherwise?

The Home Minister’s binocular statement is an affront to the people of the country. Let there be no doubt about that.

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