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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 43 October 15, 2022

Saibaba release suspended while convicted murderer at large | Faraz Ahmad

Saturday 15 October 2022, by Faraz Ahmad

On the day the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court set aside the conviction of 90 per cent physically disabled former Delhi University English professor, Prof. G.N. Saibaba, for lack of requisite necessary sanctions, back in Nagpur, under a BJP-ruled state government and a BJP ruled Central government, the same day another BJP ruled state Haryana, let out on a forty-day parole Gurmit Baba Ram Rahim Singh, the head of Dera Sachcha Sauda, convicted of multiple rapes and murders and thereby serving a life sentence.

Within hours of Bombay High Court order which the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta must have come to know so fast only through TV channels’ breaking news, the Government law officer rushed to the Chief Justice of India to immediately stay the release of the extraordinarily brilliant scholar who despite his debilitating physical limitations not just excelled in education and scholarship but led a useful constructive life, identifying with the people’s causes and concerns for which he has been in jail for last eight years. While one bench led by in coming Chief Justice of India Justice D.Y.Chandrachud refused to entertain Mehta’s plea, Chief Justice U.U.Lalit referred the matter to the bench led by Justice M.R. Shah.

The last time Dera Sachcha Sauda chief was enlarged by the Haryana government for 21 days was in February as the assembly elections to Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where a substantial number of devotees of the Dera live and could have been influenced by Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, approached. Obviously in the eyes of the BJP and its myriad governments from the Centre to almost all the states, Dera chief is perceived as a political asset to influence his devotees in favour of the BJP.

It is a curious coincidence that the same day the Election Commission announced the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections scheduled with polling date set for November 12. Now Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh will be at large till the end of November. Gurmit’s 40-day parole lasts well beyond the polling date for Himachal polls giving the Baba enough leeway to influence the outcome of Himachal elections. The Election Commission seems not to take notice of the blatant misuse by the BJP of its government in Haryana. In the perception of the BJP governments this convicted serial killer and rapist is no threat to either the society and most certainly not to the country. Nor of Baba’s much publicised instructions to his followers not to take decisions on their own and instead be strictly guided by the leader.

Whereas the 90 per cent physically disabled intellectual, with both his lower limbs and on account of maltreatment in eight years imprisonment now even his left arm non-functional poses a grave danger to the society! Excited by the prospect of her husband’s release order by the Bombay High Court Saibaba’s wife A.S. Vasantha Kumari announced the same day that her first priority upon his release is to rush him to a proper hospital because apart from the above-mentioned ailments he suffers from a number of accompanied debilitating afflictions.

But Saibaba, in the eyes of Tushar Mehta, who described him as Urban Naxal, is such a grave danger to the country and society that he should rot and die in jail like Father Stan Swamy an octogenarian tribal rights activist, charged by the same National Investigative Agency (NIA) again for his alleged association with Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), and slapped the same Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) who again, suffering from several incapacitating ailments kept pleading before higher courts for a bail in view of his advanced age, Parkinson disease and the accompanying ailments. Every time his bail plea was rejected by the courts till he finally died in incarceration. To-date nothing is proven against the late leader who stood to defend the legitimate rights of the Adivasis. That’s what, in the eyes of this government, is the crime of G.N.Saibaba.

Never mind the fact that cutting across party lines, the Congress, the CPI-M and the CPI all had welcomed the Bombay High Court order and debunked the charges against him as bogus. Reacting to the High Court judgement CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat said the judgement highlighted the “utterly arbitrary, politically motivated and illegal methods used to book persons under UAPA. CPI general secretary D.Raja commented on Saibaba release order thus: “Truth has finally triumphed. Struggle for human rights, repeal of draconian laws and release of political prisoners will continue.” Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, the acquittal “proved that the Urban Naxal tag (on Saibaba) was completely bogus.”

Yet Justice M.R. Shah bench acted with such alacrity to suspend Saibaba release order as if heavens would have fallen if Saibaba were not pushed back into his cell even in this precarious state of his health, “Having heard the learned counsel (mainly the SG) for respective parties…we are of the opinion that this is a fit case to exercise powers under Section 309 CrPC and to suspend the impugned judgment…,” adding further that “the offences are very serious against the sovereignty and integrity of the country.”

Saibaba’s Defence counsel senior advocate R.Basant pleaded before the bench that even if it was suspending the Bombay High Court order, it should at least allow house arrest for Saibaba in view of his health condition since even the NIA allegation against Saibaba is not of any direct activity but only being ideologically involved and being the brain. But rejecting the Defence plea, Justice Shah observed, “So far as Maoist activities are concerned, the brain plays a significant role” and postponed any further hearing of this matter till December 8. Justice M.R.Shah invoked Section 309 of Cr.PC to justify the haste with which he passed orders favouring the government in this case. But Section 309 reads, “In every inquiry or trial, the proceedings shall be held as expeditiously as possible,.” However it also reads further “and in particular, when the examination of witnesses has once begun, the same shall be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless the Court finds the adjournment of the same beyond the following day to be necessary for reasons to be recorded” But Justice Shah has set the next date of hearing the case as December 8, which certainly doesn’t qualify for an expeditious day to day trial.

The UAPA law is not a new one brought in by the then Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram as is stated by many critics blaming the Congress led UPA government which was in office till 2014. The fact is that the UPA government scrapped the Prevention of Terrorism Act, (POTA) 2002 brought in by the then Home Minister L.K.Advani which in a blatant travesty of established law of the land, gave sweeping powers to the Police officers making a presumed confessions before a police officer (and not a magistrate, mandatory under the existing laws) admissible evidence before a court. The civil society was very critical of this draconian law and the UPA in the run up to the 2004 general elections had promised to scarp POTA, which they did, whereupon Advani and the BJP pounced on the UPA government accusing it of being in cahoots with terrorists. The 2008 attack by Pakistani terrorists on Mumbai provided the BJP ample opportunity to raise hell on the UPA government failure due to scrapping of POTA. That is when Chidambaram amended the Act to make it more stringent. Yet there are provisions in the Act to protect the interests of individuals who may be wrongfully accused by the Government. Section 45(2) of the UAPA reads “Sanction for prosecution under sub-section (1) shall be given within such time as may be prescribed only after considering the report of such authority appointed by the Central Government or, as the case may be, the State Government which shall make an independent review of the evidence gathered in the course of investigation and make a recommendation within such time as may be prescribed to the Central Government or, as the case may be, the State Government.” Therefore the denial of protection of the accused under UAPA under Section 45(2), according to legal experts amounts to a mistrial and the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court naturally then threw the entire case against Saibaba and five others out of the window.

But It is evident now that this government feels no threat to the society and the country from the likes of Baba Ram Rahim Gurmit Singh. Instead it dreadfully fears the independent minded dissenting intellectuals. All the 16 accused in the Bhima Koregaon case languishing in jails since 2018 are eminent intellectuals, while the RSS men who committed violence are roaming free. The victims of Bhima Koregaon incident are, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen Mahesh Raut, P. Varavara Rao, Sudha Bhardwaj (out on bail due to health issues, after the judicial murder of Father Stan Swamy), Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Gautam Navlakha lodged in Mumbai’s Taloja jail. Add to this list Anand Teltumbde, Father Stan Swamy, Hanny Babu, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, and Jyoti Jagtap. Many of them like Gautam Navlakha are above 70, suffering from multiple ailments, have been pleading for bail before unresponsive courts.

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