The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The paths to glory are various. Literacy is one. According to the Union minister for human resources development, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, “only education helps society get over communal strife”. Therefore, Mr Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, was one of the two most honoured chief ministers on International Literacy Day, sharing the dais with the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu. In the anxiety to display the two bright examples of “progressive governance”, the government of the National Democratic Alliance overlooked the fact that Ms Rabri Devi, the chief minister of Bihar, had achieved rather remarkable things in the sphere of literacy for women. It seems to be particularly urgent for the Bharatiya Janata Party high command to show off Gujarat as the ideal of a progressive, enlightened and business-friendly state ever since the carnage there. Progressiveness — of a saffron variety — being the priority, the specific strategies being implemented to retain the quality of its governance can therefore pass unquestioned. For quite a while, members of the minority community in the state have been complaining of continuing arrests of their young men, allegedly picked up for “questioning”. The complaint is that they are not being formally charged, or produced in court. Now the government has stated officially that “youths” in the state had been training to carry out violent attacks on “prominent political leaders”. This is the valuable information that has been picked up from those already arrested.

There is nothing more to the statement. But vagueness is not a flaw when backed by the authority of one of the best-governed states. Almost simultaneously, the state government has introduced an amendment to the criminal procedure code, which takes away at one stroke a basic right of a person detained. According to the amendment, the Gujarat police no longer have to produce an arrested person before the magistrate in court within 24 hours, as is mandatory under the CrPC. Video footage would be enough. The scope for abuse, as the opposition and human rights activists have pointed out, is enormous. Video conferencing arranged by the police cannot be equivalent to producing a person in court. There would be no way of ensuring whether a person is under duress while giving his statement. The amendment also violates the right to safeguards for detainees given in Article 22 of the Constitution. Such a move is hardly likely to stem communal strife, however high the literacy rate. Obviously, literacy is not necessarily a safeguard against vendetta.

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