Pegasus

Recent reports on Gautam Navlakha’s appeal to change his jail term when the case just drags on on health grounds once again revive nagging doubts on the fabulous Maoist conspiracy case against a miscellaneous group of lawyers,social activists and human rights workers on the basis of documents allegedly retrieved from the laptop of some of the accused.The case is hanging fire till now.All the accused have denied knowledge of the incriminating material allegedly located in their laptops,and it should not be difficult to find out if they had ever actually accessed them.If they had not,the charges which run into hundreds of pages will be open to serious doubt.

Since the case and the alleged crime have kept the accused behind bars for years together and since the alleged crime itself is of extraordinary dimensions and far-reaching consequences one hoped it would be pursued energetically and given an early hearing.But if found conjectural, the police/NIA would hopefully also be pulled up for delaying tactics that cost the accused years of freedom.One more urgent question to be settled is what to do with the findings of the Arsenal investigations into the authenticity of the alleged incriminating documents.The NIA has flatly refused to accept the findings and vouched before the courts that it only stoody by the reports of the National Forensics Laboratory of Pune which confirmed the guilt of the accused.

Though a private corporation, Arsenal has a reputation for unblemished integrity.It had traced electronic footprints of the notorious Boston Bomber,which helped crack the case that beat them best equipped American state criminal investigations agencies.One wonders if the NIA’s allegations, which according to Arsenal are based on planted and forged documents, can be called prima facie plausible.The courts could have a re-look at the chain of cases and consider grant of bail in view of this quite credible alternative explanation for the disputed electronic evidence.Of course it is up to the courts.But the existence of a credible alternative explanation may be ruled out of court only at the peril of true justice.One elderly person has lost his life already in pretty dubious circumstances during pendency of the case.

Regrettably another security-related matter,the Pegasus issue which raises the spectre of illegal state surveillance seems to have also plummeted into unsounded depths.Considering its significance for the very character of the Indian state and the fundamental rights of citizens it too should have been seen through with utmost urgency and promptitude. The delay might eat into the vitals of Indian democracy as unconscionable uncontrolled surveillance by the state might set in and wield an ominous influence on private and public life of citizens and the very character of politics in our country It is connected tangentially but pretty strongly to the questions provoked by the above matter.

Once Pegasus operation becomes routine all legitimate oppositional activity becomes useless and might even get twisted into anti-national conspiracy by the state agencies.In fact nothing prevents the state from forging and manufacturing evidence of umpteen anti-national conspiracies by stressing guilt by association and upholding fantastic conclusions from wispy flimsy evidence

It is arguable in the absence of clear evidence that the alleged conspiracy of those accused of plotting to bring down the state in a chaos of political and social disorder had itself been a product of another conspiracy by some malignant political agent.It may be recalled that these lawyers,human rights workers and social activists have been accused of the grave crime of facilitating the procuring of dangerous weaponry for such anti-national elements.Such a matter of grave security import must not be kept in a twilight region too long so that the safety of the nation and the state are ensured beyond any doubt and on a basis of priority.But the case hangs fire and we are kept in the dark about the case and it gets increasingly unclear if the alleged conspiracy has itself been a product of some other conspiracy.If that turns out to be the case the NIA itself might get tainted with the same infamy as the venal and time-serving police force in some states.That of course will ultimately make the state itself more vulnerable to truly anti-national plots.Like the proverbial shepherd who cried wolf too often.It is not an end any right-thinking citizen would wish.

According to the Aresenal report the infection of the laptops of the accused by malware started at about the same time as the Pegasus was suspected to have been purchased by some quarters in India.It is not unlikely that the project of snooping on real and putative critics and opponents of the present regime and manipulating their laptops commenced at the same time and had been the outcome of the same fateful security obsession.Only the courts can defuse this time-bomb,and unfortunately they are taking their time.

Lawyers say that the basic principle of the system of criminal justice in India is that those accused must be held innocent unless they are proven guilty.In recent times,going by the records,it has been reversed surreptitiously to mean that anybody can be held guilty until and unless he proved himself innocent beyond all doubts.The favour enjoyed by police in certain states like the UP and Assam in getting away with “encounter deaths” point in the same direction.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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