Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Can India Really Change Corruption and Injustice?

I came across an article written by Rajinder Puri, that speaks to injustice and lack of human rights in India and frankly the commitment to building the institutions necessary for a just and democratic society. Democracy isn't just one person, one vote - it involves having an independent judiciary, a functioning parliament or people's assembly (congress, senate) with checks and balances on executive power and a police force and security service impervious to the political flavour of the day.

India doesn't have any of these today. It doesn't mean they won't exist sometime in the future, but Puri asks the right questions. Have a read...
IIT professionals have banded together to contest the UP assembly election. They intend to contest 30 seats. They were inspired by a similar experiment in Tamil Nadu where the results were encouraging. The Tamil Nadu hopefuls obtained 7 percent votes in the few seats they contested. The Students for Equality who want reservations minus caste consideration will support the fledgling UP party. The new party leaders said they were fed up with corruption and criminalisation of politics. They were determined to end it. Many of them have entered politics against the wishes of their families. Well, a tiny swallow doesn't herald spring. Much more must happen to change the political climate. Before the young hopefuls embark on their venture they must decide: do they want to change the image of India, or India itself? Replacing criminal ruffians with decent, educated individuals will change the image, not necessarily the substance. To change India a reality check is required. Consider one current event that symbolises the real India.

Big questions
Last week the Delhi High Court admitted the CBI's appeal against acquittal of Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide, which occurred 23 years ago. Not a single senior politician has been convicted. Local Congress leaders under orders of senior leaders led mobs to kill and burn defenceless families. The police watched. Sometimes the police even encouraged mobs to burn and loot shops owned by Sikhs. Thousands of people witnessed the carnage. I was among them. I roamed the city in the heat of the rioting. Later, along with Ram Jethmalani, I visited camps set up for the victims. I wonder if Jethmalani ever recalls those days as he basks now in the glow of the Sonia Durbar. Congress leaders in those days did not hide their involvement. They flaunted it. They were avenging the murder of their beloved leader. The irony is that they never went into the question of who really killed Indira Gandhi. Beant Singh pulled the trigger. Who was behind Beant Singh? Will we ever know ? Did we ever want to know? The cover up of the truth about Indira Gandhi's assassination was as shocking as the cover up of the subsequent genocide.

The assassination investigation and trial were scandalous. It has been reported that almost immediately after Indira Gandhi was shot a TV crew on location headed by Peter Ustinov covered the next 13 minutes on camera. That film was never shown to the public, nor used in the trial. About 45 minutes after the Sikh guards killed Indira Gandhi and surrendered their weapons, they were shot in cold blood by other security guards on the premises of the PM's residence. Who ordered the shooting? Nobody was prosecuted for cold-bloodedly murdering the unarmed assassins who could have unraveled the conspiracy.

RK Dhawan stood closest to Indira Gandhi when she was shot. In the first FIR lodged with the police Beant Singh was reported to have shouted to Satwant Singh: "See that no harm is done to Dhawan!" In the subsequent trial the Judge inexplicably refused the defence lawyers permission to cross-examine Dhawan. In the appointment diary kept with Dhawan, the guard duty of Beant and Satwant, the killer guards, had been changed. The change of guard duty timing enabled both to be present when Indira Gandhi walked out to meet the TV crew that had come to televise her. Who changed the guard duty of Beant and Satwant? In whose handwriting were the changes made in the diary kept in Dhawan's possession? Did this information give Dhawan his unexplained power over the government? The government had appointed the Thakkar Commission to probe the circumstances surrounding the assassination. In his report Justice Thakkar said there was a conspiracy behind the killing and another Commission should be appointed to go into that angle. But the Thakkar Commission Report did say that "the needle of suspicion pointed at RK Dhawan".

The conspiracy angle raised by Justice Thakkar had to be addressed. The government accused Simranjit Singh Mann of being the conspiracy mastermind. Mann, a former police officer, knew how to defend himself. That charge evaporated. Then the government targeted Kehar Singh. The latter was a simple, devout Sikh. His family and Beant Singh's family were well acquainted. The only tangible evidence against Kehar Singh was that his and Beant Singh's family visited the Golden Temple together. On the basis of this evidence the Supreme Court sentenced Kehar Singh to death. But the judges knew the enormity of their folly. I was approached by Jethmalani to write an article against the judgment. I did so. It was promptly published in The Indian Express. Thereafter the Supreme Court conveyed to the President advice that he might review the evidence, and grant pardon if he so wished. This kind of advice by the Court to the President against its own judgment is surely unique in the history of Indian jurisprudence! The President did not oblige. Kehar Singh was hanged. Case closed.

RK Dhawan, against whom "the needle of suspicion pointed" for being involved in the conspiracy to murder Rajiv Gandhi's mother, was politically rehabilitated. Was Justice Thakkar's Report, then, considered flawed? That seems unlikely: Justice Thakkar was subsequently appointed Chairman of the Law Commission. Door Darshan repeatedly telecast Indira Gandhi's last rites, showing Congress workers next to her bier shouting "Blood for blood!" For weeks this scene was daily telecast during the general election campaign that immediately followed the assassination. The hysterical passions unleashed by DD across the nation procured for Rajiv Gandhi the largest number of votes ever obtained by the Congress in a general election. Under Rajiv Gandhi the Congress won over 400 Lok Sabha seats, far more than either Pandit Nehru or Indira Gandhi had ever won.

Enigmatic silence
An inexperienced Rajiv Gandhi was happy to be Prime Minister. RK Dhawan was happy to be politically rehabilitated. Justice Thakkar presumably was happy to be Chairman of the Law Commission. The nation was happy with its new young leader. Apparently, all was well that ended well. Only this scribe ~ Indira Gandhi's bitterest critic when she lived – remained unhappy. He continued to write against the conduct of the probe. Critics would claim it was all repetitive. Perhaps. But how would they describe the government's persistent and enigmatic silence ? This episode is but one example. Bofors, Jain Hawala case, post-Godhra genocide, Telgi, Volcker ~ the list seems endless. Latest is the Hasan Ali case. All these represent the real India. But change is a historical imperative. Will the IIT professionals provide the start towards change? Will they, can they, confront the ghosts that continue to haunt us...?

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