Jobs @ MG
The underpinnings of dangerous thinking
|BJP ideologue Arun
Shourie's new book Courts and Their Judgments is illustrative of the
blinkered thinking and blind zeal that informs the government's draconian
new antiterrorism legislation, says Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
The problem with anti-terrorist legislations, like the Prevention of
Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), and its predecessor, Terrorist and Disruptive
Activities Act (TADA), is that they never manage to get the terrorists.
For every terrorist caught, these laws enable the brutal police force in
this country to arrest, torture and kill scores of innocent and poor
people. The State becomes a monster because it wants to save the people
from other monsters. It is a heavy price to pay at the worst of times.
And anyone opposing anti-terrorist legislation is accused of sympathising
with the terrorists, and the vulgar rhetoric of jingoism is whipped by the
high and the low in the ruling party.
Though many, especially in the media, are concerned about the restrictions
that the new ordinance imposes on journalists, what is even more dangerous
is the fascist philosophy of a "strong state" which underpins
This philosophy is preached without any apologies or nuances by the best
of people in the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Though people like Home Minister L K
Advani, a known hardliner, is an enthusiastic proponent of arming the
state to the teeth with inflexible laws, the rationale, and the most
blatant kind at that, is provided by the ideologues in the party and the
We need not look too far for the ideological statement behind the
ostensibly anti-terrorist legislation, which this government wants to
impose on the country. Minister for disinvestment and controversial author
Arun Shourie has recently written a book called, "Courts and their
Judgments". Aptly titled "Some rules of thumb", chapter 11
sets out the case on behalf of the police with a dangerous kind of naïveté:
"'Sir, for a moment put yourself in the kind of situation in which we
are every other day,' a police officer said. 'A young girl has been
kidnapped. The kidnapper has been caught. But the girl has not yet been
recovered. Where she is being held is not known. One member of the gang of
kidnappers is caught. He is brought to the police station. Should the
investigation officer offer him a cup of tea, and try to cajole into
revealing the whereabouts of the girl, or should he use third-degree
methods and extract the exquisite information from him?'"
Shourie tells us that the police officer made this remark during a
discussion organised by the Delhi police on "balancing human rights
and the needs of law enforcement".
And he quotes a senior lawyer at the discussion saying, "We should
leave that decision to the policemen on the spot, but he should lean
towards the side of law."
Shourie is not too happy with even that bit of moderate caution. He
retorts in the following paragraph, "The presumption behind even such
a cautious remark is that policemen do not adhere to the second part of
the senior advocate's rule: that all too often they overstep the limits
prescribed by law."
In an enraged tone, he argues, "The problem is that the rest of us
stick to neither part of the rule. Imagine that the girl is someone we
know - our sister, a niece. We would want the policeman to do whatever he
wants, so long as he extracts the whereabouts of the girl from the
kidnapper, and rescues her.
"Similarly, when the policeman on the spot has in fact taken the
decision and acted accordingly, and especially once the problem is over,
we march in and arraign him for doing what he thought was appropriate. Not
just what he thought was appropriate, we arraign him for doing what we
ourselves were screaming to do. What else explains the prosecutions of
policemen in Punjab that we just considered? Prosecutions which have been
instituted after a concerted campaign by religio-politicos who went from
congregation to congregation exhorting people to file complaints against
those who had prevented Khalistan from coming into being. Prosecutions
that have been instituted in contravention of the substance, if not the
letter of the law."
A book on courts and judgements, we would expect, would give both sides of
a case, which is what "judiciousness" is all about. It does not
occur to Shourie to raise some simple questions. For example, in the case
of the kidnapped girl, it is perfect if the kidnapper is tortured to save
the innocent victim. But what if the wrong person is accused of being a
kidnapper, a thief, or a murderer, and is tortured to get a confession out
of him for a crime the person had not committed. Shourie does not even
consider the possibility that the police catch innocent people and torture
them. So blinkered is the frame of mind, that the issue of the fallibility
of the police force does not arise in his argument.
Similarly, he does not ask how many innocent young people were tortured by
the Punjab police, and how many of them were killed? He does not even talk
about how innocent people, who were arrested and tortured, went on to
become terrorists. And he does not consider remedies for protecting the
innocent from police atrocities.
The philosophy behind the BJP's POTO is informed by one-sided blind zeal
of the Shourie kind, and that is why it poses a danger to democracy. And
it does not really answer the challenge posed by terrorism.
Surprisingly, an eminent Supreme Court lawyer, Rajeev Dhawan, and a
teacher of philosophy at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, Pratap
Bhanu Mehta, who had reviewed Shourie's book in The Hindustan Times and
The Telegraph found the book useful. While Dhawan refrained from taking
issue with Shourie's jurisprudence, Mehta found it praiseworthy. It seems
the arguments quoted here did not disturb them at all.
There is also a need to look at the complex reasons that went into the
success that marked the fight against terrorism in Punjab. It was not just
the ruthlessness of the police force that did the trick. In Punjab, the
ordinary people were fed up with terrorism. In Punjab, after a point of
time, Pakistan stopped supporting the terrorists. And these are no
It is both a dangerous and foolish idea that terrorism can only be fought
through unbridled police brutality. Laws like POTO end up making the
police more tyrannical than ever.
The threat of terrorism should not be used as a ruse to make the State
more tyrannical than it already is.
And people should not fight shy of opposing POTO, because it allows BJP
ideologues like Shourie to throw the accusation that we are fellow-travellers.
There are people who differ with the ideological persuasion of the
right-wingers, and are just as determined to end the menace of terrorism.
Patriotism is not the monopoly of the party in power (tehelka.com). q