The second hearing by the Supreme Court of the case against the so-called “Urban Naxals” will not only determine whether they pose a genuine threat or whether the police charges are an attempt by the government to create a smokescreen of terror to buttress its electoral position. The first hearing did not go well for the police as the court refused to accept its plea for custody and put the accused under house arrest. Considering that one of the charges against them is a plot to assassinate the PM, it is odd that the court virtually pooh-poohed the allegations.
It is no secret that the police in India do not enjoy a high reputation for professional integrity. Indeed, the police and the supposedly autonomous investigative agencies are generally seen as the govt’s poodles. The reason is the stranglehold of the political masters over them. There is little difference in this respect between the BJP or the Congress or the Leftists. As the National Police Commission said in 1978, “political control … over the police … has led to gross abuses”. Besides, police are noted for “corruption and inefficiency”, according to the police commission of 1905 and “money is extorted as the investigation proceeds”. The police had also been stigmatised by Justice AN Mulla of the Allahabad High Court, who said that “there is not a single lawless group … whose record of crime comes anywhere near the record of that organized unit which is known as the Indian police”.
Police stations are horror chambers
More recently, in the case of the rape of a young woman in Unnao in UP where a BJP MLA has been implicated, the Allahabad High Court said that the medical officers and police officers were “hand in glove with the accused”. Moreover, the father of the victim was “merciless beaten” when in the custody of the police and later died.
Not surprisingly, the police stations are generally regarded as horror chambers by the ordinary people and it has to be an exceedingly brave person whose heart beat does not go up when he enters a thana.
Given such a murky background, it will be difficult to believe that the police are abiding by the rule book in the case of the “urban Naxals”.
Ideological proximity of activists to Maoism
- It is true that some of these activists have been arrested before, a fact which Union home minister Rajnath Singh has mentioned. But it is also true that they had all been released since nothing dangerously incriminating was found on them.
- Nevertheless, it is a perilously thin line which they tread since their ideological proximity to Maoism makes them vulnerable to being regarded as active supporters who look upon the insurgents as heroes even if they are fighting for a lost cause.
A ploy to divert attention?
- The suspicion is that they have been targeted to divert attention from the involvement of a Hindu right-wing group, the Sanatan Sanstha, in terrorism.
- None of this is good news for the government, especially when it is not believed to be on a strong wicket where the forthcoming assembly elections are concerned.
- Besides, it is virtually taken for granted that Hindu right-wing activists are behind the recent cold-blooded assassinations of members of the Left-leaning Intelligentsia.
- The expediency, therefore, of shifting the focus to the “threat” to national security posed by Maoist sympathizers in cities is understandable.
Police must now present a cast-iron case
- Given their closeness to the rebels, it may not be difficult for the police to spot subterranean links.
- The problems, however, will lie in presenting these as credible proof of complicity.
- Since the judiciary has seen the Maoist sympathisers as no more than dissenters who are needed to let off steam in the matter of social and political oppression, they can be deemed to be not only law-abiding but even valued members of society.
- Therefore, to move against them, the police will have to present a cast-iron case.
Int’l media is watching
- The government, too, will have to be aware of the fact that in a globalised world where the eyes of the international media watch every event, a misstep can have damaging consequences for its reputation.
- A democracy simply cannot allow a government to display authoritarian tendencies. Nor is it much of a certificate to the ruling party if the judiciary comes to be seen as the only bulwark against arbitrary conduct.
- As the various judgments and police commission reports have shown, there has been virtually no change in the moral standards of the police since the days of colonial rule.
- Indeed, the situation may have become worse with the entry of criminal elements in the legislatures. The urban Naxal case may well be a benchmark, therefore, where the rule of law is concerned.
(Author is a Senior Journalist)