DELHI University teacher G N Saibaba has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his links with Maoists. With due respects to the court, I beg to differ with the punishment. Maoists are ultra-left and most people in India do not like their philosophy. Some who follow them can be criticized, but cannot be imprisoned for their views and that too for life. It appears that the courts are also getting influenced by the party in power. The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) believes in Hindu Rashtra. Conceded that it is not doing anything in the form of a bill or any order to impose Hindutva, but the very fact that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi supports cause does carry weight.
The Maoists should be fought on the ideological ground. The BJP should present its case that the Hindu philosophy would bring more prosperity than that of the leftists’ which promises an egalitarian society. In fact, the left itself has to sell what it believes in and how the people, by adhering to their thesis, would benefit. India is not alone in facing the challenge. All over the world, especially after the election of Donald Trump in America, people feel insecure in pursuing their right to espouse views. As his rival Hillary Clinton said, they would adhere to what the constitution of America says on individual rights. The US President should know that the popular movement against the Soviet system which brooked no other voice was brought down by people themselves.
Even Soviet leader Stalin had to go because the people’s voice became louder and louder. Although he had suppressed every dissent, not just that of a particular community but also of others, the popular sentiment was that expression of views should be free and without fear. Germany also proved this point. It had the best of constitution which guaranteed free speech in every way, but a person like Adolf Hitler used the same constitution to found the worst of rules. It took a full-fledged war to oust him and his philosophy. Even now Germany takes different stringent steps to see that the ghost of Nazism does not surface. Nazis’ swastika has been found scribbled on the walls of Berlin. It seems that some Germans are still dreaming about ruling the entire Europe. Economically, the country does dominate but politically it has not yet learnt to take its turn.
It is surprising that Maoism has very little following although it is the same kind of philosophy which does not entertain another point of view. Nationalism in Germany is so deep that it does not allow any other thinking which may be embracing other parts of Europe. The country has allowed some immigrants who have become a great burden on Greece. Berlin is now vigilant. It is not now possible to migrate to Germany even on human grounds. New Delhi is unnecessarily worried. The idea of India counts so much with the people that there is no room for any other thought to germinate. It is probably this Indian-ness which binds people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The Maoists cannot penetrate.
Democracy is more than a faith with the people. It was seen how the popular leader, Indira Gandhi, was swept off her feet soon after lifting of the emergency in 1977. She too was defeated at the polls. The voters did not like the authoritarian rule and revolted against it when they got the opportunity. The ruling BJP, which was then Jan Sangh, also suffered and its followers were put behind bars. Even then Delhi Mayor Hansraj Gupta was not spared. Members of Jan Sangh and the Gandhites shared same cell. The Janata Party was born in jail itself. The credit, however, goes to Raj Narain, a socialist, who challenged Mrs Gandhi for her poll malpractices. Allahabad High Court debarred her from occupying from any elected post for six years. She, however, imposed emergency but that is a different story.
The DU teacher and four others who were sentenced for life did not commit any heinous crime to deserve the punishment for having mere links with the Maoists. Even otherwise, I believe that the Maoists should have a say and express their viewpoint as citizens of this country. It should be left to them to choose or reject their philosophy but the criterion should be that they would not incite violence. The experience has been that once you make leeway in one case the demand would be that the same attitude should be exhibited in other cases. The precedent will be quoted and the court would have to decide whether the case was similar or any different. Fortunately, the victims would most likely appeal in higher courts and it all will depend on what the verdict of the higher judiciary is going to be.
Ultimately, it would come to what Maoism means. In a country where the constitution guarantees free speech and expression, the views of a particular philosophy cannot be banned. But there should no exhortation to violence. The manner in which the killings have taken place in Bastar indicates that the Maoists have no respect for life and would use any method to ensure that their idea is not opposed. The court should not be influenced by what the Maoists preach or not because I find that verdicts are becoming dependent on the philosophy that the ruling party espouses. It is healthy to see that appointment of judges is now by the collegium of senior Supreme Court judges. Yet my experience says that the chief justice come to be influenced by those in power. This was not the case till recently. The judges were appointed by the government and they delivered some of the best of verdicts. It is no use recalling time but taking necessary steps to create same atmosphere of independence returns to court.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.