The plot to kill the prime minister is a matter of grave concern. We have been hearing about it since June. The 10 activists arrested by Pune police in two sets of raids are accused of being involved in it.
Last week, Supreme Court delivered a verdict on the activists arrested in August, which included Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and others. The lawyers arguing for the activists had demanded an SIT, which was rejected by the apex court. Justice Misra and Justice Khanwilkar said in the majority judgement that the accused do not have the right to decide who investigates them. But, Justice Chandrachud delivered a dissenting judgement. It is much more elaborate than the majority judgment, and anyone wanting to understand constitutional rights of the citizens must read it in detail.
Unfortunately, the media doesn’t seem keen on it, so it ran headlines suggesting a “defeat of activists” and “victory of the Pune police”. Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and BJP President Amit Shah said it was the victory of the government. Fadnavis even went a step further in misleading the state by saying that the Supreme Court accepted the police claims of the activists being seditious.
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But, the judgment is neither a defeat for the activists nor a victory for the police. The judgment, in fact, prevented the police from going ahead with the arrests of the activists, and ordered a house arrest. Even when the activists are charged with grave crimes, the Supreme Court extended their house arrest by four weeks, so the activists could seek justice in concerned lower courts.
The majority judgment doesn’t speak about the efficacy of the probe, contrary to what Shah and Fadnavis have bragged about. The dissenting judgment, however, does speak about it, and in detail. Justice Chandrachud has asked if the Pune police can be trusted in conducting a fair probe, pointing out the press conference conducted by the police in the middle of the investigation. While arresting the activists, noted Chandrachud, the police didn’t even follow the basic protocols. The most astonishing aspect of the entire charade is that the police havn’t even filed an FIR regarding the plot to kill the PM. Justice Chandrachud added that the government prosecutors didn’t even follow it up in courts.
The majority judgment doesn’t even get into the merit of what Pune police has done. The two concerned judges have neither rejected nor endorsed the veracity of the claims and letters put forth by the police. But, contradicting their own observation, they said there is prima facie evidence of the activists being associated with Maoists.
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Chandrachud has torn apart that claim. The police have claimed to have recovered letters written to one Maoist leader Comrade Prakash, who, according to the police, is GN Saibaba. He is in jail for a while now. How did he communicate by email from prison? Further, Chandrachud noted, the email attributed to Sudha Bharadwaj has a certain Marathi words she cannot be familiar with due to her lack of knowledge of the language.
Justice Chandrachud’s observations have been a bit overshadowed since it is a dissenting judgement. But, it is still an indictment of the Pune police. The Maharashtra government would have to answer these questions, sooner or later.
The reactions of Shah and Fadnavis portray the shamelessness of the establishment. It is a brazen attempt to misrepresent a Supreme Court verdict. It is, in a way, an insult of the highest court. Two days after the verdict, Delhi High Court set aside Navlakha’s arrest, which is a slap to Pune police and also to Shah and Fadnavis. I hope the rest of the activists get justice as well.
The matter doesn’t end here. We must not forget the five activists arrested in June. They are still languishing in jail even though the police have not submitted a single piece of clinching evidence. This is not the first time the activists have been charged with being associated with Maoists. It has happened earlier, and most of the accused have been acquitted, only after having spent years in jail for no reason.
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In his dissenting opinion, Justice Chandrachud cited the example of Nambi Narayan, who had his career as a scientist wrecked. The Supreme Court compensated him with only Rs 50 lakh. If the activists arrested today are acquitted tomorrow, would the Maharashtra government compensate them? What about the defamation and the harassment their families have faced? In Uttar Pradesh, who will repay Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Ravan for the year the Yogi government stole from him? In Tamil Nadu, activists protesting against Sterlite have suffered the same torture.
Such examples can make a book, and sadly, that is the price activists are made to pay for working for the marginalised. Unfortunately, cases of well-known activists get limelight while activists from remote places are usually ignored. Our democracy cannot breathe freely without citizens’ rights and dissent. If citizens are jailed without solid evidence, it must be treated as an attack on democracy. In other words, through the pathetic investigation of Bhima Koregaon riots and Elgar Parishad, Pune police and Maharashtra government have attacked the edifice of our republic. Let us not mince words in saying so.