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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 31, July 24, 2010

Upholding the Rule of Law

Sunday 25 July 2010, by Shree Shankar Sharan

There is a whole lot of commotion in the country that our lives and liberty are being increasingly handed over to the police and the rule of law, whose main purpose is to punish the guilty and protect the innocent, is being given a go-bye.

Several events lend credence to this sad conclusion.The killing of Azad, a widely travelled and respected Naxal leader, allegedly in an encounter by the government is not borne out by the statement of Swami Agnivesh who had been in touch with Azad and that talks were in progress within the knowledge of the Home Minister for facilitating a Naxal-government dialogue on the condition of a mutual ceasefire. It beats credibility that in such a frame of mind the Naxal leader would opt for an encounter with the police and get killed. The killing of Pande, a journalist whose Naxal links were denied by his wife, seems a mystery, unless the story of encounter was fake and Pande was killed to eliminate a witness. Clearly the matter calls for an impartial inquiry and a government directive to the police to act with restraint.

The current upsurge in Kashmir seems the direct result of unrestrained use of force by the CRPF against protesting processions and mobs against previous shootings and loss of lives. Had the CRPF tactically been replaced by the J&K Police in closer coordination with the State Government in time, the tension might well have been avoided. The CM’s expression of distrust in the the CRPF should have been more speedily addressed. The Kashmir situation is undoubtedly aggravated by the separatists, but could have been defused by taking the right steps or at least won the support of of the non-separatist sections.

The question of hanging of Afzal Guru on a death row and his wife’s petition for clemency are now with the President, the Home Ministry having advised against clemency. The issue has been highly politicised and an Opposition pressure whipped up to execute him. If a case ever deserved clemency Afzal Guru’s case is one. There is no direct evidence of his complicity in the terrorist attack on Parliament and the indirect evidence is not such as to warrant capital punishment. There is a lot of evidence that he did not get a fair trial at the hands of the court-appointed counsel and his defence went by default. As a young Professor with a young wife, he does deserve clemency, even if the Supreme Court has convicted him, under a constitutional power vested in the President. The government should also be mindful of the repercussion that his execution will have on the volatile situation in Kashmir. As a matter of principle the government should avoid hanging political offenders involved in political struggles, for example, in J&K unless personally guilty of a gruesome act. The mischievous provision in the Unlawful Activities Act to treat NGOs or individuals who intercede and interact with the Maoists or other groups and the government, to end violence to bring them in the mainstream, as offenders under the law liable to ten-year imprisonment is the surest way to gag civil society and the media and is reminiscent of the Emergency and could be revisited by heavy political cost. The sooner it is repealed the better for our much trumpeted democracy.

I would urge the PUCL, the top civil rights organisation in the country, as well as eminent citizens including Justice Sachar, Justice Krishna Iyer, Kuldeep Nayar, Rajni Kothari etc., to take up these matters of grave import with the President collectively by a deputation or a statement and by mobilising public opinion by other means.

The author is a Convenor, Lok Paksh, Patna/Delhi.

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