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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 43 October 15, 2022

Can the Bharat Jodo Yatra trigger democratic governance? | Vikash Narain Rai

Saturday 15 October 2022

by Vikash Narain Rai *

The over enthusiasts would be searching for glimpses of Mahatma Gandhi’s historic nation building marches in the on-going Bharat Jodo padayatra to showcase Rahul Gandhi’s campaign against communal hatred. However, what can not be denied is that like Gandhi ji, Rahul too is seeking a vision of inclusive India at immense personal risk. The remaining Yatra agenda of combating the unemployment and price rise would at present be comparable to the status of a PIL (public interest litigation) which raised expectations but deferred hearing.

First, a thought to the security concern. The 3500 kilometres of well publicised route is attracting large crowds, very enthusiastic but sizably unchecked and unvouched for. There are any number of impromptu halts and interactions coupled with usual surging of the crowds. This warm trend is likely to become more and more pronounced as the Yatra gains further political traction. It also opens up possibilities for mischief to cause physical harm. Rahul’s aggressive tirade against the allegedly communal hatred agenda of certain parties/organisations is adding gravity to his threat perception by each passing day on the road. Many frenzied groups and individuals must be feeling the heat of his logic and the polarity it appears to be gaining.

In my considered view, the situation warrants nothing less than Rahul being extended the SPG security cover, which is the best system in India to safeguard an individual in all circumstances, for the duration of the march, brushing aside technicalities. The central government must consider this option immediately, taking cue from the well documented analyses of the flawed security trajectory culminating in the tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

The adding kilometres on foot is certain to turn into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between BJP and Congress, amidst the contrasting ideological claims over the politics of justice. A confrontation in the same genre, subtle but equally momentous, between judiciary and executive, could be recalled from the bail proceedings of the journalist Mohammed Zubair in the Supreme Court in July, for allegedly insulting religious beliefs on social media. To the State’s submission that Zubair, co-founder of a fact checking website, critical of Prime Minister Modi and his party, be barred from airing his views on twitter, Justice Chandrachud had straightaway declined, “How can we pass an anticipatory order that someone will not speak.”

However, it is a two way downward spiral the criminal justice system (CJS) in the country is presently witnessing; a tentative rule of law approach pinned down by an audacious law and order administration hastening it. There is no majesty of law to be invoked in the process; only occasional judicial magnanimity. The grant of interim bail, after her two months of vendetta incarceration, to the 2002 Gujarat pogrom activist Teesta Setalvad by the Supreme Court, is being touted by her adversaries more as an act of judicial mercy extended to a woman. The recent registration of an extra territorial counter FIR, under the SC suspended ’Sedition’ provisions of the Penal Code by the MHA controlled Delhi Police, at the behest of a BJP MP, against a Jharkhand DM, has said it all. Earlier, the same MP and his associates were lawfully charged by the same DM for breaching security at the ATC of an airport under his jurisdiction.

How does the scenario impact the numerous ecosystems impacting justice down the administrative lanes? Towards the end of his tenure, the previous CJI Ramana had taken upon himself to diagnose the malignancy in the CJS, famously concluding that the process had become punishment. An obvious admission that howsoever democratic our constitution might be; it could no longer be sustained by an administration with a colonial mindset. Worst scenario is presented by the unchallenged shrinkage of the democratic space in the social sectors.

Take the vulnerable routine of the ODF (open defecation free) scheme targeted population in busy cities, forced to compromise on their dignity and safety and the affected womenfolk facing sexual harrasment on daily basis. ODF is one of the extensively publicised flagship schemes of the Modi government as well. An impression has been created that in recent years the rural and urban India both have been rendered an almost ODF territory. On the 11th of August, in the close vicinity of the nation’s capital, a 12-year-old girl met the most tragic death at the hands of her rapists in the smart city of Faridabad. She was abducted from an open defecation spot along the railway tracks, catering to her basti of more than 10,000 economically weaker strata inhabitants. A quick look in the aftermath of the incident by the local activists revealed that there were as many as 60 such bastis of varied sizes within the city zone where the residents are compelled to defecate in the open, risking darkness and other vulnerabilities. In addition to the railway tracks, such spots included the Ganda Nala, canals, dumping grounds and available vegetation cover. Whatever ODF measures the administration had undertaken over the years to cater to these people were abandoned and forgotten, being unhygienic and insufficient with no routine for maintenance and inspection. What could be a more insulting reminder to the inadequacy of our democracy in the 75th year of Independence?

Considering that the transformational policy initiatives do occur in the political space, a stream of right-minded intellectuals has lent their active support to the Rahul Yatra claims of being a resolve to break the political inertia in generating awareness for saving the constitution, democracy and nation, the three allegedly pitted against the onslaught of the BJP government’s dictatorial, divisive and diversionary policies and subversion of key institutions.

But the doubts persist; can the Congress add credibility to their approach? To start with, let them quickly enumerate the draconian penal protocols emanating from the colonial era and their own long rule, and resolve to abolish them. The Bhasmasur laws and agencies such as UAPA, PMLA, NSA, Sedition, Criminal conspiracy, Unlawful assembly, Preventive detention, CBI, ED, NIA being used today to browbeat and incarcerate the intelligentsia and adversaries by the ruling clique, owe their anti-people legacy to the long colonial and successor Congress regimes. They must undergo nothing short of a democratic metamorphosis.

The Congress can still be the pioneers in the field of democratic governance, drawing from their rich historical legacy of consolidating India into a tolerant and participating society. For example, even the well-meaning Rights Acts of the Manmohan Singh era supplement the discretion of the authorities and do not empower the entitlement of the people. This trend can be demonstratively reversed by absolutely shifting the burden of the outcome of the empowerment matrix on the official machinery with omissions attracting penal consequences, shutting out the present system of mocking at the individual beneficiary, labouring and greasing against the red tape.

There is no substitute to empowering the people in a democracy. The administrative protocols need to be geared up towards this parameter first. RB Sreekumar, former IPS, who is still languishing in jail as a co-accused of Teesta Setalvad, for his fearless reporting on the omission and commission of the government machinery during the Gujarat pogrom phase, has quoted a verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in his well-documented book, ’Gujarat Behind the Curtain’- "Law is King of Kings; / Nothing is superior to law; / The law aided by the power of the King / Enables the weak to prevail over the strong.” Rahul’s political forefathers’ historic marches had contributed to the foundation for the independent India’s democratic constitution; his long march must mandate at what has all along been missed out in governance, a matching democratic administration to uphold inclusive India.

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The war mongering and hate mongering are the two sides of the same coin. In the European war zone, Ukraine’s Zelenski has proved to be a NATO puppet, and on the other side Putin’s war ambitions are driving hundreds of thousands of his own people out of Russia. Back home, it seems MP Pravesh Verma has purposely given vent to the tactics of BJP to keep the communal pot simmering by a public call to socially boycott Muslims, akin to ’Muslims, Bharat Chhodo’. In coming days, India might see a disastrous head on collision between the driving forces of Rahul Gandhi’s ’Bharat Jodo’ Yatra and BJP’s ’Bharat Chhodo’ campaign. Trying times, when one can’t stand aside.

* (Vikash Narain Rai, Former Director, National Police Academy, Hyderabad and Former DGP (Law & Order), Haryana)

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