All those committed to protecting democracy, and more specifically to stopping the recent trend of highly undemocratic assaults on political opponents, will feel greatly relieved by the happy ending of the 10 day ordeal of Jignesh Mewani on April 29 by the acceptance of his bail by the Barpeta district and sessions court. As a bonus gain for the democracy movement, the courageous judge Justice Aparesh Chakraborty, the real hero of this significant chapter of the march for democratic rights, has initiated an additional effort for stopping similar efforts of police harassment and high-handedness.
Jignesh Mewani is one of the most promising of our young political leaders who would do credit to any democracy. At the age of 41, he has already served the nation well as a lawyer, journalist, social justice activist and elected MLA. He has been particularly active in articulating the problems and causes of the dalits, the minorities and other weaker sections. He has shown high capabilities of mobilizing people for justice based causes. Our democracy has high hopes from him.
However there are certain very powerful forces who consider him to be a big obstacle in their efforts of ruling people by dividing them and giving false hopes to the poor. This year their fear of Mewani has increased as elections are due in Gujarat, the state where Mewani is most active. These forces have never been known for any reluctance in using undemocratic methods of harassing and intimidating political opponents. Thus it was that the drama of the arrest and intimidation of Mewani started, probably as a tactic of removing him from Gujarat till election time.
While he lives in western India, on April 19 a complaint was lodged against him in a distant eastern part of the country, for quite a harmless looking tweet. He was arrested the next day and taken all the way from Gujarat to Assam. Then on April 25 when his bail was accepted, he was immediately implicated in another case which has since then been exposed for all its absurdity in the April 29 court judgment granting him bail. From beginning to ending the 10 day ordeal appears to be a case of victimization and harassment of a political opponent which in turn is clearly part of a larger scheme to remove him from Gujarat for a considerable time. However he has returned, stronger than before. In his absence there were several mobilizations in his support, which have strengthened him further.
However the real hero of this episode, who converted what was planned as a high-power conspiracy of injustice and victimization, into a victory of justice and democracy, is the sessions court judge Aparesh Chakraborty. If we have many more more courageous and upright judges like him we can be much more sure that our precious democracy will be protected against the worst conspiracies to harm it. He has not only exposed the victimization tactics for what they are, but he has also used the excessive and more obvious presence of these tactics in the present case to ask for a police reforms as well as wider efforts to prevent such cases of victimization and worse.
This judgment on April 29 stated that the instant case is manufactured for the purpose of keeping the accused Jignesh Mewani in detention for a longer period, abusing the process of the court and the law. Then the judgment gives a much wider warning that such intimidation and victimization should not lead to turning our democracy into a police state. Finally the judgment mentioned cases of the police personnel firing for killing or injuring such accused, which it stated has become a routine phenomenon in the state. Keeping in view such wider factors, this judgment has been referred to the honorable High Court at Gauhati for consideration of initiating any efforts to check such tactics of victimization and worse.
On his release when journalists asked him about his harassment, Jignesh replied quite coolly that while attempts to harass him were certainly made but he is feeling not harassed at all! Perhaps this is the best way to face such harassment and demoralize the tormentors instead!
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man over Machine—A Path to Peace.