Unlike Kafka’s Joseph K., Iftikhar Gilani is now free. Feeling the freedom of being free in his own county. Free of all the false charges, lies and accusations imposed upon him by the home ministry and the police. But who will wipe away the wounds on his mind and body, and the humiliation and suffering of his family? If this government is not responsible for this grave injustice, who is?
For seven long months, Iftikhar Gilani, senior journalist with the Jammu-based Kashmir Times, was kept under detention under the instructions of the central government. He was labelled a terrorist and charged with being in possession of deadly secrets which allegedly endangered the security of the country. His continued detention was also cited as the BJP-led government’s commitment towards its ‘war against terrorism’.
His protests that the ‘deadly secret’ with him was a published article freely available on the internet fell on deaf ears. Bail was repeatedly denied to him under government pressure. Now, after seven months, the government has decided to withdraw the case against him, but only after the director general of military intelligence (DGMI) told the court that the document found in possession of Gilani was not only a published article freely available in the public domain, but also of no security significance.
At first, the home ministry was inclined to contest the opinion of the DGMI, but then sensing the adverse publicity being generated both nationally and internationally, decided to withdraw the charge. Thus, after seven long months, Gilani will be able to see his wife and two small children.
There is then the case of Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, an academic in Delhi University, who has been charged and convicted by the designated court for being involved in the conspiracy to attack Parliament. The only evidence produced against him was:
- That he was known to and had been in touch with Shaukat and Afzal who have also been held to be involved
in the conspiracy.
- That a day after the attack, in the course of a conversation with his brother on the telephone, when his brother asked, "What happened in Delhi?", he reportedly replied, "that was necessary".
Knowing the other conspirators, who hailed from the same district, or being in touch with them is hardly adequate evidence to conclude that Geelani was involved in the conspiracy. If this becomes the basis for conviction, then all politicians would be guilty of being involved in conspiracies in which any of their colleagues has been involved. The telephone conversation between Geelani and his brother was on all kinds of issues including the syllabus and prospectus of an examination. In the course of this conversation, Geelani’s brother asks him, "What happened in Delhi?"
Though Geelani’s response to this question is unclear in the tape produced by the police, the police produced a vegetable vendor who translated his reply as, "that was necessary". Geelani explained that this conversation referred to some domestic problem between him and his wife. This is a plausible explanation. Under the law he cannot be convicted — far less sentenced to death — in such circumstances.
Even if the conversation did refer to the attack on Parliament and Geelani’s response was what the police claimed it was, at worst it shows a casual lack of condemnation of the attack. Several people I spoke to on that day said that it was a pity that the terrorists had not been able to accomplish their mission. This was not a serious reaction. This was simply a populist reaction based on utter cynicism and disgust at the state of affairs in the country. Also, such is the contempt with which politicians are held today.
Geelani did not stand much chance of getting a fair trial in the atmosphere created by the government, which had made this trial not just a test case of the draconian POTA, but also a demonstration of their touted commitment against ‘Pakistani sponsored terrorism’. The fact that the Zee telefilm, based on the police version which graphically depicts Geelani as having been involved in the conspiracy, was slated to be telecast two days after the judgment of the designated court was scheduled to be delivered, tells its own story.
Would Zee have dared to show this film (which was endorsed not just by the Delhi Police but also by L.K. Advani and the prime minister) two days after the judgment was to be delivered, if they were not certain that Geelani would be convicted? What if he had been acquitted? For Zee to telecast a film two days later showing him to be involved in the conspiracy would have made it an open and shut case of civil and criminal libel. But they spent a huge amount of money from December 6 onward to advertise that they would show the film on December 13. It appears that they knew that Geelani would be convicted, or that the delivery of the judgment would be postponed from December 11 to 16, or perhaps both. In any event, the showing of such a film during a trial would unfairly prejudice the accused, and amounts to criminal contempt of court.
The Shiv Sena has now threatened Ram Jethmalani, indeed any lawyer who takes up the case of Geelani, with dire consequences. A mob of Sena activists, armed with lathis, went to his office in Bombay, almost broke open his office door and shouted slogans to intimidate him. The Delhi Shiv Sena chief threatened Jethmalani with violence if he dared to appear for Geelani.
All this has been happening in full glare of the media and of the police authorities (and the home ministry and PMO). It not only amounts to criminal intimidation but to a gross contempt of court, since it’s a clear interference with the administration of justice. Yet, no cases have been registered against these Shiv Sena anti-socials who appear to have the tacit support of the Centre.
All this is of a piece with Praveen Togadia’s repeated public threats to give "death sentence to the secularists", etcetera.
The similarity of the rhetoric and methodology that the VHP, Shiv Sena and top BJP leaders are now using to that used by the Nazis in their pursuit of power is unmistakable. The arousal of pseudo ‘nationalistic fervour’ by the continuous invocation of a foreign threat as the source of all problems is only the first point of similarity. The demonising of an entire community to build communal support is the second point of similarity.
The open advocacy and use of violence against not only the minorities (as happened in Gujarat with full State sponsorship) but also against those from the majority community who stand up for the fundamental rights of all Indian citizens, including the minorities, was the trademark of the Nazis who are being emulated by the Shiv Sena, the VHP and allied fronts of the Sangh parivar. These are unmistakable portents of fascism that we are seeing in the country today.
We would be deluding ourselves if we believe that Vajpayee or Advani is too moderate to allow the State to become fascist. Though they may choose to distance themselves from Togadia to appear more statesmanlike now and then, the entire campaign in Gujarat was spearheaded by the Modi-Togadia duo and repeatedly blessed by Advani. Even a flip-flop Vajpayee did not do anything to stop the communal campaign in Gujarat. In fact, he has now openly taken a hardline Hindutva stance, as his recent utterances show.
In any case, after Gujarat, Vajpayee and Advani are only marginal factors; it is the Togadias and Modis who will be calling the shots.
We would also be deluding ourselves if we believe that the Hindus will be safe from this brand of fascists. No one can be safe for long from people who have no respect for human rights and think nothing of killing innocent people or sending them to prison or to the gallows in their lust for power.
India is a land of minorities. Everyone belongs to some minority. When the fascists are through with the Muslims and Christians, they will turn on the others. Soon it would be you or me. The fire is at our doorstep. If we do not act now, it will soon consume us all.
(The writer is a public interest lawyer, Supreme Court of India. This article was first published by The Hindustan Times)