LEFT OFF THE CONSTITUTION - The CPI(M) is not always comfortable with democracy

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By Rudrangshu Mukherjee
  • Published 7.11.07

The excitement surrounding the ongoing CBI inquiry ntothe death of Rizwanur Rahman has diverted attention from certain very obvious aspects of the episode. This is the flagrant abuse of power by certain members of the police force and their open defiance of the Constitution.

Whatever might be the tragic circumstances that precipitated the untimely and violent death of the young man, there are certain undeniable facts. The facts are these. Certain police officers, two of them members of the Indian police service, openly interfered in the marriage of two adults who had a valid marriage certificate and had married each other through mutual consent. But this legal standing of the couple was of no concern to the police officers. It is not clear on what grounds they had summoned the couple to the police headquarters and then proceeded to interfere in their conjugal life. Even if for the moment one sets aside the accusation that the police officers had intimidated the young people, their very act of summoning and interference is tantamount to an illegal act and a blatant abuse of power. It also amounted to a violation of the basic rights that have been granted to individuals by the Constitution.

What is worse is that the commissioner of police for Calcutta, the superior of the officers concerned, in a valiant attempt to defend his men, said that it was the job of the police to interfere in such cases. (If the police didn’t do it who would? The PWD? he famously asked in a press conference.) The commissioner of police went a step further: he said Rizwanur Rahman had committed suicide even before any investigation into his death had been ordered.

The commissioner of police thus did two things. First, he upheld the right of the police to intervene in the conjugal life of adults. Second, he prejudiced any investigation of the case. By doing the first he blatantly defied one of the fundamental underlying tenets of the Indian Constitution, a document to which he, as a government servant, owes loyalty.

These points are important because at no stage has the chief minister or the home secretary or any other senior government official gone on record to say that very senior police officials of the state had violated the Constitution. They are yet to be charged, show-caused or punished for this particular violation. What needs to be underlined is that this violation stands irrespective of the resolution of the Rizwanur case. In fact, the violation would be valid even if the young man had been alive today.

By not charging the police officers, the West Bengal government, including the chief minister, is actually protecting government officers who have defied and transgressed the Constitution. What is the example that is being set?

Of course, it could be asked: where have the communists behaved any differently? Wherever communists have been in power — Soviet Russia and Communist China are well-known and well-documented examples — they have disregarded the rights of individuals with aplomb. They have harassed, arrested, imprisoned, deported and killed whoever they wanted without offering any grounds or evidence. For this purpose, they used the police, the secret police and the party machinery.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that the situation is quite that bad in West Bengal. After all, West Bengal is part of a democratic polity and there exists certain safeguards against police and party oppression. There are, thank god and Karl Marx, no CPI(M)-run gulags in West Bengal. Yet the record of the CPI(M) in West Bengal is impressive.

The distinction between party and government has been blurred. The police have been used systematically to promote the interests of the party. The party cadre have at periodic intervals unleashed terror on their opponents. In fact, the last has been the CPI(M)’s standard mode of managing any kind of dissent and opposition. The red bastion, its critics allege, has been preserved through red terror.

This kind of politics has the sanction of the party eadership. The latest example of this was the startling pronouncement of none other than Brinda Karat, a prominent member of the politburo of the CPI(M). At a public meeting attended mostly by party members and supporters in Calcutta, she announced that opportunist politicians in West Bengal [read politicians opposed to the CPI(M)] should be subjected to “Dum Dum dawai”. In other words, they should be made victims of public wrath or the anger of the CPI(M) cadre. Without even a veneer of decency, Ms Karat was directly inciting the cadre of her party to violence against political opponents.

Is this the language of democratic politics? This is the way fascists speak and operate. In India, this is the language of Praveen Togadia and Ashok Singhal. What will be Ms Karat’s answer when her political and ideological opponents incite violence?

Even if, for argument’s sake, one were to accept Ms Karat’s premise that in Nandigram (the immediate context of her pronouncement), her party’s supporters are the victims of violence, her stand is indefensible. Is West Bengal ruled by the barbarian code of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? It is certainly not the argument of this writer to support or justify the violence being used in Nandigram, but that the vicious cycle of killing and destruction cannot be broken by further incitement to violence. It can only be broken by creating an atmosphere in which dialogue and discussion can be possible.

Further, a person of Ms Karat’s education cannot be unaware that there is a law against uttering public statements “conducing to public mischief” and against statements creating or “promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes”. If she is unaware she should read sections 505(1)(c) and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code.

Ms Karat has violated the law of the land. She could do this in West Bengal where she has the protection and the blessings of the ruling party. It is significant that her incitement to violence was made in the presence of the chief minister of the state, who perhaps heard her in embarrassed silence.

Whether it be police officers or political leaders, if they have the support of the CPI(M), they can get away by doing or saying anything in West Bengal, including flouting the Constitution and the law of the land.

The point is not without broader implications. Despite its involvement in electoral politics, the CPI(M) is still not comfortable with democracy, its conventions and practices. There are influential members of the party who believe that the Constitution and the law can be disregarded, that the police can be used by the party, that the party cadre can be used to unleash terror and, most importantly, the rights of individuals are not sacred if they come into conflict with the party’s or the government’s interests.

The last point gives to the CPI(M)’s pet police officers the licence to intervene and break up the marriage of two adults. These officers could violate the Constitution because they assumed they had the support of a party that does not always uphold the Constitution.