[Reader-list] TOI article by Alok Rai

Ravikant ravikant at sarai.net
Thu Jun 17 11:49:39 IST 2004

For those who do not read Times of India. Enjoy and circulate it further. 

Times of India/Edit/Leader/TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2004 
Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/738962.cms  



Alok Rai

Of course I can imagine a civilized parliament and, with a little voice 
training, even Sushma Swaraj and Mamata Banerjee might be granted a place in 
it, provided they promise to keep their hair on. (And Mr Jaitley of course - 
he looks so sincere!) But if all people with serious criminal charges against 
their names are to be excluded, it will be a very small parliament indeed. 
The former Home Minister, we know, will be forced to stay at home.  And this 
is the real reason why the BJP has dug up the quaintly religious idea of a 
"taint", whereby a flexible sort of distinction is sought to be established 
between different sorts of charges and different sorts of unconvicted crimes.
Thus, the Bihari Uddins, so to speak, are accused of offences like kidnapping, 
extortion and murder. And these are, beyond doubt, horrible crimes. And so 
the Uddins are deemed to be "tainted" merely by virtue of the fact of being 
accused of such heinous crimes. It is of course a damn pity, and an 
embarrassment, that these people have all been elected - rather like Mr 
Advani and the infamous Modi. One may still try to base some kind of 
distinction on the grounds that one lot are elected because of their crimes, 
while the others are elected despite them. But I defy anyone to work out 
which is which. (Consider Shahabuddin: despite? because? Consider Modi: 
because? despite?…)
But, be that as it may, election can hardly offer exemption from justice. 
Legislators cannot be presumed to be above the law, like policemen. We know, 
of course, that all of these people are still unconvicted - so perhaps we 
could just pick on the judicial system, and forget the whole messy business? 
But even this would be somewhat complicated by the fact that, until lately, 
Mr Advani actually presided over the very department that was supposed to 
investigate and perhaps convict him! I suppose saints must be presumed to be 
above mere conflict of interest.
So, what is the real distinction between the tainted and the sainted - between 
say, Shahabuddin and, say, Advani? Somehow, the implication is that the 
former's crimes are worse than the latter's; that the latter's crimes are, in 
fact, not crimes at all. Mr Vajpayee is actually quoted as saying only 
yesterday [ PTI, June 10 ] that the cases of his colleagues were “of a 
different nature”. He introduced the notion of a “political crime” that was 
fundamentally different from the “other” kind. He opined magisterially if 
ungrammatically that “you cannot have one gauge to (sic) all issues,” thereby 
lending his authority to the idea of multiple standards. 
Now, I hold no brief for the louts, those ordinary “ordinary” criminals - 
exclusion isn't enough, hang them if you can, pull out their fingernails! But 
I wish to examine the arguments whereby Advani and MMJoshi and Uma Bharati, 
the Babri Three, are sought to be exempted from this necessary justice.
One can understand why the "sainted" ones are reluctant to name the tradition 
whose moral glamour they seek to invoke in their favour. This is the 
tradition of civil disobedience, associated indissolubly with the name of the 
assassinated Father of the Nation - assassinated, let us never forget, by a 
member of Mr Advani's own ideological fraternity. In civil disobedience, the 
law is broken publicly, declaredly, without violence and with the explicit 
political intent of subjecting the law to the critique of a higher, 
undeniable moral law. One thinks of Gandhi breaking colonial law on the beach 
at Dandi; of Martin Luther King breaking the segregationist, racist law in 
the southern U.S.; of Mandela and apartheid…
It is of the very nature of such "law breaking" that conviction is a certainty 
- unless of course one is a friend of the Home Minister or, better, one is 
oneself the Home Minister! Gandhi, as every schoolboy knew - before Joshi got 
to work on the textbooks! - actually requested Judge Broomfield to convict 
him. Though Vajpayee may claim that Advani's "crimes" are different, the fact 
of the matter is that Advani, unlike Gandhi, has actually sought to escape 
conviction - rather like the Bihari Uddins, in fact!
But, perhaps, there is something in Vajpayee’s distinction after all. It is 
possible that the "crimes" of Advani et al are a distinct third category, 
distinct both from the common or garden crimes of the Uddins and from 
non-violent civil disobedience. The difference lies in the fact that these 
are calculated acts of public violence, executed in order to achieve 
political ends. The commonly available designation for such acts, I fear, is 
Lawyers make a fundamental distinction between civil and criminal law. While 
disputes regarding property fall within the purview of civil law, resorting 
to extra-legal means to settle such disputes - whether through violence or 
subterfuge, as in forgery - are the subject of criminal law. In the light of 
this distinction, the violence of the Uddins are still, essentially, about 
seizing property and are arguably therefore, admittedly from a macro godlike 
perspective, still a zero sum game: your money, my pocket, that sort of 
But the political violence associated with the proponents of "cultural 
nationalism" is radically different. When it rises "idealistically" above 
mundane intentions like clearing slum properties and benefitting land mafias, 
it aims at nothing less than kidnapping the nation, Constitution and all. The 
existing civil and criminal law – existing by virtue of the same Constitution 
- can hardly capture its fundamental enormity. After all, Germany barely 
survived the paroxysm of perverted Hitlerite nationalism in the 1930s. I 
believe that India 2004 has had a narrow escape from a similar fate: India, 
that is Bharat, that might have been Modi’s Gujarat. Mere murderers are 
nothing compared to these madmen. And women. Of course they must all, the 
tainted and the sainted, be convicted under the existing law. But it is only 
consistent with the moral altitude claimed by these “sainted” ones – 
perpetually implying and declaring that they are “above” the law – that they 
receive a “higher” sentence.

(Alok Rai teaches English at Delhi University)

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