In­dia de­vel­op­ing a two-tier democ­racy

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - M.J. Ak­bar

In­dia has be­come a strange democ­racy where Bi­nayak Sen gets life in jail and dacoits get a life in lux­ury. It takes years of pres­sure for govern­ment to move against those loot­ing the nation's trea­sury; and when the ma­jes­tic forces of en­force­ment do go on a "raid" they give their quarry enough time to re­move ev­ery trace of ev­i­dence. You have to be ex­cep­tion­ally stupid to store ev­i­dence of your own cul­pa­bil­ity in a tele­com scan­dal where deals were made and money paid three years be­fore. Or, for that mat­ter, even six months ago, as in some in­stances of the highly lu­bri­cated Com­mon­wealth Games. By this time the money has ei­ther been spent, con­verted into as­sets, or sent to a con­ve­nient haven abroad. The po­lit­i­cal-in­dus­trial nexus is above the law, be­cause it con­trols en­force­ment. But if the rul­ing class of In­dia could have hanged Bi­nayak Sen in­stead of merely try­ing to send him to jail for the rest of his life, it would have done so.

Bi­nayak made a fun­da­men­tal, mor­tal mis­take. He was on the side of the poor. That is a non­nego­tiable er­ror in our oli­garchic democ­racy. Christ­mas must be truly merry in the homes of So­nia Gandhi, Man­mo­han Singh, P. Chi­dambaram and, of course, Ra­man Singh this year. The Congress and BJP dis­like each other with a pas­sion that only a thirst for power can gen­er­ate; they dis­agree on just about any­thing and ev­ery­thing. But there is per­fect har­mony be­tween them over Nax­alite pol­icy. End the Nax­alite prob­lem by elim­i­na­tion of the mes­sen­ger; and the poor will not have the courage to ask for more than the trickle al­lot­ted to them by a glut­tonous govern­ment.

Me­dia are obe­di­ent door­men of this nexus, pro­tect­ing their in­ter­ests with a zeal that should sur­prise even the bene­fac­tors. The ar­rest of Bi­nayak was con­verted into in­stant ac­cusatory head­lines. His trial was ig­nored by the press, which is why we do not know that there was vir­tu­ally no sub­stan­tive ev­i­dence. Suf­fice it to say that two of Bi­nayak's jailors, dur­ing his de­ten­tion with­out bail, were de­clared hos­tile by the pros­e­cu­tion. Pros­e­cut­ing lawyers are in the pay of govern­ment, as are the jailors. And yet two po­lice­men re­fused to back the pros­e­cu­tion. A fab­ri­cated un­signed let­ter, ap­par­ently cooked up on a com­puter print­out, seems to have been suf­fi­cient to con­vince the hon­or­able guardians of our ju­di­cial sys­tem that Bi­nayak Sen de­served a sen­tence re­served for only the most hard­ened mur­derer.

It is an­other mat­ter that Sen, who was se­nior to me in school, was and re­mains the gen­tlest of peo­ple, dis­tin­guished only by a fierce com­mit­ment to his cause of choice. I do not agree with his po­lit­i­cal views or in­cli­na­tions; nor does the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. But it is only in a dic­ta­tor­ship that dis­agree­ment is suf­fi­cient rea­son for in­car­cer­a­tion. In­dia seems to be de­vel­op­ing a two-tier democ­racy: Gen­eros­ity of the law for the priv­i­leged and vin­dic­tive, dis­torted ap­pli­ca­tion on the un­der­priv­i­leged.

It is ironic that the Bi­nayak judg­ment ap­peared on the front pages of the Christ­mas day news­pa­pers. We all know that Je­sus was not born on Dec. 25; it was only in the fourth cen­tury that Pope Liberius de­clared this date to be a birth­day be­cause mys­tery and mir­a­cle has been as­so­ci­ated with the win­ter sol­stice from time be­yond me­mory. Christ­mas has be­come an in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­val be­cause it rep­re­sents the most im­por­tant val­ues that give life some mean­ing and hold the com­plex so­cial web to­gether: Peace, and good­will to­ward all men, with­out which there can­not be peace. This good­will is not sec­tar­ian; it is easy to have good­will to­ward some men, friends or bene­fac­tors. Christ­mas is the fes­ti­val of the Other.

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