A judgment in Delhi

THERE is no role, in my view, for easy emotions such as nationalist zeal for a journalist, more so if any degree of nationalism is desired or ordained by a delinquent state or its chest-thumping cronies in the bureaucracy.

American journalists and their assorted intellectuals wouldn’t expose Washington’s endless perfidy in shoring up dictatorships while preaching democracy to the rest. Nor would the Indian media probe the army’s corruption and that of the politicians; nor would their Pakistani counterparts challenge their mythically powerful spy agency in a grim war to retrieve their fundamental right to report freely; nor would objective Sinhalese journalists cry foul at the mass murder of their Tamil compatriots by the army.

This doesn’t mean that my eyes don’t moisten when a Gandhi goes on a fast to ensure that Pakistan gets its dues in a post-partition transaction delayed by India’s cussedness. But I find Allama Iqbal’s composition insisting that Hindustan was
the best in the world patently puerile. It makes the neighbours look silly and the song laughable.

And just as I was finishing today’s column on another important subject, a friend forwarded me a judgment delivered on Tuesday by India’s Supreme Court over the Maoist crisis in Chhattisgarh. I want to just sit in front of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and Surinder Singh Nijjar in silent obeisance. On occasions like this I see hope for India, and a bit of a hidden citizen stirs in me.

The judgment is a literary masterpiece inspired by Portia-like reasoning and evidence-based humanity. In my view, it has the makings of a landmark precedent to be emulated elsewhere, why not, including in Pakistan.

The judgment follows a clutch of private petitions against the use of vigilante groups — designated as Special Police officers (SPOs) — by the state of Chhattisgarh to combat Maoist rebels. This was precisely the strategy used by the federal government
in Kashmir, where it set up bandits of the dreaded Kuka Parey to identify and target fellow Kashmiris opposed to Indian rule.

Divide and rule was also India’s preferred strategy in Assam and of course in Punjab against the Sikh rebels.

Excerpts from the judgment:

“We, the people as a nation, constituted ourselves as a sovereign democratic republic to conduct our affairs within the four corners of the constitution, its goals and values…. Consequently, we must also bear the discipline, and the rigour of constitutionalism, the essence of which is accountability of power, whereby the power of the people vested in any organ of the state, and its agents, can only be used for promotion of constitutional values and vision.

“This case represents a yawning gap between the promise of principled exercise of power in a constitutional democracy, and the reality of the situation in Chhattisgarh, where the respondent, the state of Chhattisgarh, claims that it has a constitutional sanction to perpetrate, indefinitely, a regime of gross violation of human rights in a manner, and by adopting the same modes, as done by Maoist/Naxalite extremists.

“The state of Chhattisgarh also claims that it has the powers to arm, with guns, thousands of mostly illiterate or barely literate young men of the tribal tracts, who are appointed as temporary police officers, with little or no training, and even lesser clarity about the chain of command to control the activities of such a force, to fight the battles against alleged Maoist extremists.

“As we heard the instant matters before us, we could not but help be reminded of the novella, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, who perceived darkness at three levels: (1) the darkness of the forest, representing a struggle for life and the sublime; (ii) the darkness of colonial expansion for resources; and finally (iii) the darkness, represented by inhumanity and evil, to which individual human beings are capable of descending, when supreme and unaccounted force is vested, rationalised by a warped worldview that parades itself as pragmatic and inevitable, in each individual level of command.

“Set against the backdrop of resource rich darkness of the African tropical forests, the brutal ivory trade sought to be expanded by the imperialist-capitalist expansionary policy of European powers, Joseph Conrad describes the grisly, and the macabre states of mind and justifications advanced by men, who secure and wield force without reason, sans humanity, and any sense of balance. The main perpetrator in the novella, Kurtz, breathes his last with the words: ‘The horror! The horror!’ Conrad characterised the actual circumstances in Congo between 1890 and 1910, based on his personal experiences there, as ‘the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience….’

“…Through the course of these proceedings, as a hazy picture of events and circumstances in some districts of Chhattisgarh emerged, we could not but arrive at the conclusion that the respondents were seeking to put us on a course of constitutional actions whereby we would also have to exclaim, at the end of it all: ‘the horror, the horror’.”

The court did not justify Maoist violence, but offered an explanation. “People do not take up arms, in an organised fashion, against the might of the state, or against fellow human beings without rhyme or reason. Guided by an instinct for survival, and according to Thomas Hobbes, a fear of lawlessness that is encoded in our collective conscience, we seek an order. However, when that order comes with the price of dehumanisation, of manifest injustices of all forms perpetrated against the weak, the poor and the deprived, people revolt.…”

The court offered a possible reason for the strife. “The problem rests in the amoral political economy that the state endorses, and the resultant revolutionary politics that it necessarily spawns.

In a recent book titled The Dark Side of Globalisation it has been observed that: “India has come into the 21st century with a decade of departure from the Nehruvian socialism to a free-market, rapidly globalising economy, which has created new dynamics (and pockets) of deprivation along with economic growth. Thus the same set of issues, particularly those related to land, continue to fuel protest politics, violent agitator politics, as well as armed rebellion…. Are governments and political parties in India able to grasp the socio-economic dynamics encouraging these politics or are they stuck with a security-oriented approach that further fuels them?”

It’s truly a red-letter day for India’s often faltering but inevitably self-correcting judiciary.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.