From Javed Akthar’s Twitter feed: “Dr Binayak Sen’s life imprisonment reminds us that standing by the poor and the helpless is an unforgivable crime in our society”. This sentiment is repeated in different ways in the general chatter about the Binayak Sen verdict—he is an awarded doctor with a sterling record of public service and what a terrible country India is when such a man be punished when corrupt officials who siphoned off crores walk free? Unfortunately all of this is emotional hot-air used by activists, with a definite agenda, to provoke an emotional response rather than a cerebral one. Even the LET’s parent organization does extensive social work in Pakistan and Kashmir as part of their outreach activities and, for that matter, so do Naxals themselves—-as a matter of fact, C. Vanaja’s extremely sympathetic dispatches on the developmental work done by Naxals were themselves awarded by the Prime Minister of India as part of the RN Goenka sponsored “Uncovering India Invisible”. Hence using Dr. Sen’s record of altruism is neither here nor there and should have no bearing on whether he is a criminal or not except proving that unlike champagne liberal hypocrites of the Azmi and the Roy type, this man has the conviction to walk the talk. Which is admirable no doubt. Also just because corrupt officials go unpunished should not excuse Dr. Sen, should he be guilty, as two wrongs we all know just make two wrongs and not one right.
One’s opinions then should be formed by considering two things—-the case against Dr. Sen and whether what he is being accused of should get the life sentence? From a general look at documents available on the Net, one can conclude that there is little credible evidence to establish that Dr. Sen was involved in the operational details of Maoist terrorist activities. The prosecution’s attempts to link him to ISI have been farcical. Of course by the “creativity” of their charges, they have weakened their own case when it goes inevitably to the Supreme Court (They did exactly the same thing for S.A.R. Geelani, the defense just had to show that the prosecutors irregularities, call into doubt their motives and the man walked free) and have had made it that much easier for supporters of Dr. Sen to call into doubt the other more credible charges that exist against Dr. Sen. Similarly some of the defenses given by his supporters available on the PUCL website are structured like this: “Mr. X could not have written the letter as he was arrested six days ago. There is no record of him being arrested of course but Mr. X has told us he was arrested and we believe him.”
However what is pretty clear, and that has not even been denied much also, is that Dr. Sen is a strong Maoist sympathizer. Searches of his house revealed ultra-Left literature and I think we can all agree that if you have a stash of Playboys in your cabinet, one can safely say that you like women. Dr. Sen had been actively working in the legal defense of Naxal terrorists like Narayan Sanyal which explains the cash found on him which was going to be used as payment for Sanyal’s lawyers. Sanyal had written to him from jail and while these letters have the standard bromides against imperialism and the Indian state (and could be argued to contain the philosophies of a banned organization) [source] and the need to extend their activities among the peasantry and in urban centers, there are not any operational details of illegal activities. He and his wife had been instrumental in getting jobs for people accused of being Naxalites but then again considering the kind of company the Sens kept, being Maoist sympathizers themselves, that is but natural.
According to the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), any kind of facilitation for members of unlawful organizations is a crime and by that token the case against Dr. Sen is strong. But the terms of imprisonment according to the law, are in the range of two to three years and definitely not life. This is why I strongly believe that Dr. Sen’s punishment will be overturned by the Supreme Court.
Taking a step back, the larger issue is “Is it a democratic right to believe in “banned” philosophies and to facilitate the nominally non-violent activities (like passing their propaganda around or helping in their legal defense) of those who plan and engage in violence against the State”? Or in other words, is CSPSA by definition anti-democratic? Is it within the purview of democratic rights to stockpile SIMI literature for instance, carry around suitcases of cash for the defense of SIMI activists as a courier and publicize their rants against the Indian state while making the point that though you do not agree with SIMI’s philosophy of violence, you agree with their assertion that India is a Hindu state that is involved in the genocide of Muslims and hence you are advancing their interests (this is the kind of argument Dr. Sen makes but with respect to Naxals—-he does not support violence but is sympathetic to their aims with respect to getting rights for tribals and fighting Salwa Judum, an organization that rivals the Naxals in their brutality except that it was supported by the Chattisgarh government to put down the Naxals extra-constitutionally)?
Putting it another way, at what stage does facilitation end and freedom of dissent begin?
Dr. Sen’s case is a case which sits right in this twilight zone. Working tirelessly all his life for the uplift of the dispossessed, Dr. Sen has frequently found common cause with Naxalites and even if we accept his contention that he does not support their methods of violence, their goals and his overall philosophy has been congruent. Given this, it is only natural that the lines of cooperation between them would become blurred over the years and what the State considers active facilitation he would put down to legitimate political activity in support of people whose goals he supports. Unfortunately what most people do not understand that the goals of the Naxals are not restricted to only getting tribals their rights, an admirable one but one primarily used as a PR front to hide their real aim—- overthrow the Indian state, loot the wealthy (yes even Javed Akthar and Azmi won’t be safe) and re-distribute it, make the intellectuals work the fields (yes Ms. Roy won’t be safe either, should she not be in Boston sipping latte when the revolution happens), in essence establishing a Pol Pot-type regime of Marxist totalitarianism where democracy has no place. To that aim, they are willing to use the cover of democracy and free speech for now purely as a strategic weapon to be abandoned once they come to power.
Given that, one needs to ask are we willing to let these people use the shield of democracy to push forward their anti-democratic final agenda through “the extension of their movement” (as Narayan Sanyal’s letters said) [as per their own website’s report] or are we prepared to ensure that terrorist philosophies of Naxalism are put down with a firm hand? If you believe in the second, then you also need to ask—-do we risk making Dr. Sen a martyr by bearing down on him so severely (and mind you, he already has the halo attached to his head) or are we better of doing a strategic “leaving the ball outside the off-stump” in his case, considering the greyness of the entire affair?
Points to ponder.