The country’s Constitution has two articles which spell out some of the fundamental rights supposed to be the prerogative of Indian citizens. Article 19 reads as follows: “All citizens shall have the right (a) to freedom of speech and expression; (b) to assemble peaceably and without arms; (c) to form association or union; (d) to move freely throughout the territory of India; (e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; (f) to acquire, hold and dispose of property; and (g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.” Article 21 incorporates the admonition: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Both articles are in dire need of an important additional proviso: these rights are to be enforced subject to prior approval from the Shiv Sena and its supremo.
This is no hyperbole. A newly made feature film has been released during the past fortnight in several parts of the country. It has received clearance from the Central Board of Film Censors. As far as is known, the cinema houses exhibiting the film have proper licences; they should also have the protection of Article 19 to carry on this trade. So what. The Shiv Sena does not approve of the picture. It has private knowledge that the film has been financed by underworld elements with links with mafia groups operating from the Gulf countries.
It has therefore asked film-goers in Maharashtra to boycott the film. The Shiv Sena does not believe in half-measures such as peaceful picketing. Should people for whatever reason fail to comply with its directive, the party has promised to take a drastic step: it will throw thousands of poisonous snakes inside the cinema halls exhibiting the picture; film buffs should either stay away or face the prospect of an inglorious death through snakebite. The chief of the Shiv Sena is reputed to possess a wry sense of humour. He could well add, in an aside, that people have no business to complain; poison is poison; Socrates was offered hemlock, the errant crowd in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra are being offered a variant of it.
Leave aside the fundamental rights. We have the Indian Penal Code and the accompanying criminal procedures. According to their text, it is a culpable offence to murder or threaten to murder any citizen. It should be possible to post at least a dozen criminal charges against the Shiv Sena and its men for issuing the outrageous fiat. Till now, neither the Union ministry of home affairs nor the home department of the Maharashtra government has however moved in the matter. Newspapers have not bothered to write editorial articles condemning the Shiv Sena interdict, nor have they invited the public to resist unitedly fascist bullying of this kind.
There is actually an irony in the situation. This is anniversary week for 9/11, and the world will, it is assumed, take a fresh collective pledge to crush terrorism. The Indian establishment, which takes pride in describing itself as the closest ally of the United States of America’s administration, is celebrating the occasion with due solemnity. It will make the right noises to please the American bosses. Terrorism will nonetheless continue to spread its empire, without let or hindrance, across the length and breadth of the country. Somebody’s poison is somebody else’s meat. If that comes to that, vicious terror tactics adopted by a bunch of goons could even be consecrated as peaceful overture by those who matter.
The Shiv Sena has little to worry. It is nearly a decade since the ghastly rampage of January-February 1992. The Shrikrishna Commission submitted a stinging report, detailing the atrocities against civilization committed by the Sena and its hordes during those weeks. The report has been gathering dust for almost four years now. Where the Shiv Sena is concerned, the rule of law does not, cannot apply; it has the clout and capability to hold the country to ransom.
It should similarly cause no surprise if the sandalwood bandit, Veerappan, concludes, or has already concluded, that he too is beyond the pale of punishment. There is yet a third article in the Constitution, Article 14, that promises equality of treatment of all citizens before the law. If the Shiv Sena chief can go scot-free, so too can, with equal legitimacy, Shri Veerappan. On his part he knows he is perfectly safe and has been so for the past 15 years. He can commit all the crimes listed in the statute books; the Union and state governments will go through the motion of trying to apprehend him. Between the protestation and the execution, an eternal shadow will fall.
The Veerappans and the Thackerays are, in every sense, terrorists par excellence. Terrorism, though, is law in India. Terrorists can treat legality with contempt because they have the means at their disposal to blackmail successfully the powers-that-be. The terrorists satisfy the authorities, and the authorities, with due courtesy, satisfy the terrorists; it is a state of stable equilibrium. The problem arises only with those who refuse to fall in with the code of the blackmailing game. Ideologues, for one, abhor any arrangement, whose basic infrastructure is sustained by the apparatchik of blackmailing. They, therefore, deserve to be hunted. Once they are traced and encircled, they qualify to be shot down mercilessly.
There are terrorists and terrorists; those the authorities are able to strike a deal with are hailed as Robin Hoods of the first order. Those who disdain to strike a deal with the system are designated as card-carrying terrorists, and are liquidated. The Americans give a nod to such summary liquidation. No fooling, the war against terrorism must be brought to a swift and successful culmination.
A few residuary issues still remain. The masses, the bulk of them, may be unlettered; but they are not altogether devoid of common sense. At a certain point, the reasoning faculty will be activated in their mind. How come tycoons, who methodically rob the banks of hundreds of thousands of crore of rupees, are not sent to prison, and nominated to the central board of directors of the Reserve Bank of India instead' How come the Shiv Sena, despite its criminal proclivities, continues to be beyond the reach of law' How come the government of India — which spends more than a hundred thousand crore of rupees every year on defence and internal security and is listed, after Saudi Arabia, as the biggest importer of sophisticated arms — is unable to capture Veerappan even after the lapse of two decades'
The people, rest assured, will soon reach their own judgment. The inability to enforce the law, they will conclude, is a camouflage for unwillingness to enforce the law. Once this knowledge spreads, complications are bound to arise; every Dick and Harry will take advantage of the reality that the Indian Constitution and its provisions are a sham, and legality is a fig-leaf in the Indian environment. The word will travel from one neighbourhood to another: don’t you know, the government of the country thrives on bribes and blackmail' Legality too is as much a commodity in the free market economy as everything else; you can buy law and justice provided you have the right purchasing power. If you are bereft of purchasing power, sorry, you will have to be at the wrong end of the law. You will also be at the wrong end of the law in case you happen to have a conscience or an ideology that abhors inequality between men and men and classes and classes.
Want to lay a wager' Give or take six months or a year, a special investiture will be arranged in the Asoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan to confer a Bharat Ratna on Shri Balasaheb Thackeray. And then, Shri Veerappan will send a compact disc demanding equal treatment. Article 14 is no joke.