Disquieting signs

When the Pune police arrested several well known social activists and accused them of plotting the assassination of the Prime Minister and of being involved in the Bhima Koregaon incident earlier this year, the initial public response was one of utter disbelief. Immediately, several well known academics like historian Romila Thapar and economist Prabhat Patnaik and three others filed a PIL in the Supreme Court against the arrests in which they alleged that the arrests were an attempt by the Government at “stifling of honest dissent” and their petition was to “protect democratic values and democracy.” That the Supreme Court found substance in their case was proved by its order directing the police to keep the arrested detained in their respective homes. The police were insisting on taking them into custody for interrogation. But the apex court stuck to its decision.
Later, however, the police strangely omitted the charge of murder plot against the PM and confined to the Bhima Koregaon incident. The accused asserted they were not at Bhima Koregaon on the day of the incident. Now the Supreme Court has said it will scrutinize the police evidence against the activists to see whether the evidence is “cooked up”. If it is found to have been “cooked up” the court will consider appointing a Special Investigation Team (SIT). The Pune police are already in the back foot. The Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the State, has questioned the right of a citizen to approach the apex court directly. He also questioned the propriety of the apex court’s right to “interference” in such cases. The ASG’s stand betrays the mindset of the Government which is anything but democratic. It is only when the Government finds itself cornered does it question the right of a citizen to approach the highest judiciary and goes even further to question the right of the judiciary itself to take cognizance of a matter.
If the ‘evidence’ eventually does not stand judicial scrutiny and is found to have been cooked up to implicate law-abiding citizens whose political beliefs differ from those held by the ruling party and the Government, what steps should be taken against the officers concerned and their political masters who ordered them to do what they did? That the police do bring false charges has been established in many cases, the latest being the one in which an ISRO scientist was falsely charged with spying for Pakistan. The social activists are well known persons. And so are those who have filed the PIL. What does the common man do when the State turns against him?

Tuesday, 18 September, 2018