On December 24, 2010, Dr. Binayak Sen was convicted for sedition and various other charges at the district court in Raipur, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The 92 page judgment - of which I have just received a copy - could not possibly have done justice to the entire range of evidence brought by the prosecution, and the detailed counterarguments that were made by the defence team in the eight or so days before it was delivered. Most of the defence arguments seem to have been ignored altogether.
Once again, we are left wondering whether our country is turning into something that its founders would - if our nationalist hagiographies are to be believed - scarcely have recognized: a kleptocratic republic in which the state and powerful institutions are the foremost violators of its laws.
When a state organizes the fabrication of evidence for someone like Binayak Sen, and the judge simply relays the opinions of the prosecution without considering the arguments and the collapse of the evidence in his own court, how is one supposed to retain any confidence in the system of justice that we have? I know we will have to use the same justice system to appeal against the sentence and seek bail for our brother. But just because a patient suffering from progressive brain cancer retains moments of lucidity, we do not conclude that all will be well with him. In fact, when we succeed in getting the patient to communicate, we might feel even more fortunate and grateful that we have beaten the odds. But even if Binayak is ultimately freed - a likely but painfully protracted prospect, I understand - it will not bolster my confidence in the system by even an iota.
First Wikileaks, then 2G, and now Binayak's sentence, have entrenched in my mind the near-conviction that the state in India, like states elsewhere, has been showing increasing signs of regressing towards the abandonment of consitutionalism. In his "Grammar of Anarchy" speech urging the abandonment of all forms of political struggle outside those prescribed in the constitution, BR Ambedkar also prefaced his remarks thus: "When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods." We appear to be returning to such a condition, when constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectiives are being increasingly ignored and abandoned by both private corporations and agencies of the state, each in league with the other.
Apparently the normal "business-as-usual" workings of an electoral democracy aren't enough to stop the natural tendency towards the misuse of power. Until we have a vigilant and well-infomed citizenry, and a state that sees itself as their servant rather than their master, and unless we have mechanisms of accountability, transparency, responsiveness and popular participation embedded in the organs of the state, the degeneration of the state into a vast predatory machine extracting the national wealth for the benefit of a kleptocratic elite is a virtual certainty. Surveying the contemporary scene in India, Ambedkar would probably now say that the language of governance is being spoken in the Grammar of Anarchy.
The fragile and illusory security of our daily lives that we enjoy as members of the middle class has long been lost among tribals and dalits, among rural peasants and urban workers who are constantly abused by agents of the state in various ways. Of course the picture of social anarchy is probably not yet universal, but we seem to be getting there with disturbing rapidity, despite occasional small and tenuous gains like RTI made after long and arduous struggles. Here too, one must invoke Ambedkar in the same prescient speech:
We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well....[meaning] a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. ....We must begin by acknowledging the fact that there is complete absence of two things in Indian Society. One of these is equality. On the social plane, we have in India a society based on the principle of graded inequality which we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty. On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has laboriously built up. [Emphasis added]
If these arguments appear to be the febrile rantings of a disturbed mind, I am open to efforts to convince me I'm wrong. But until someone does, I'm increasingly afraid of the future that we have left our children.
Meanwhile, hold them, if you have any, ever closer to your heart. The encircling and deepening gloom makes the "affirming flames" and "ironic points of light" even more necessary.
PS: See also an earlier post titled Alternatives to Naxalism.