Watering down draconian steps

The dropping of Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act charges against three accused in the State’s High Court among 250 writs of habeas corpus challenging preventive detention and the Bihar police decision to close a sedition case against 49 leading personalities for a letter they wrote to the Prime Minister protesting over rising incidents of lynching and intolerance are welcome signs. However, that such charges against the accused in were filed at all reflects poor thinking on the part of the authorities. For the Central government to wash its hands off the ill-conceived moves of invoking such laws apparently without necessary rationale is however deeply regrettable.

The PSA is particularly significant because former chief minister Farooq Abdullah is under arrest under that Act. Does that imply that the ground is being prepared for releasing Farooq because the charge against him may not stand judicial scrutiny? Greater transparency in approach would be in order. Was there due application of mind both in pressing PSA and in the Bihar police booking 49 intellectuals under the sedition law? If so, the Centre must accept its role and some heads must roll if indeed crucial decisions were taken without taking the Centre’s advice.

The Muzaffarpur police in Bihar has, while closing the case against 49 celebrities “for tarnishing the image of the country and undermining the impressive performance of the Prime Minister” and for “supporting secessionist tendencies” booked the complainant for filing a ‘false’ report. The leading personalities that were earlier booked under sedition law included among others, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal and Ramachandra Guha. It would however be pertinent not to absolve them of any wrong-doing because lynchings by mobs have not been in evidence in recent days and the complainants had no immediate provocation for such a move. Yet, it was sad that a letter to the Prime Minister evoked such an extreme response. Ideological battles need to be fought with greater level of maturity on both sides. It would be prudent if the administrations in Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar review the relevant provisions so that the impression does not spread that the governments are out witch-hunting. While there is need for a healing process in Kashmir, the Modi government needs to show greater tolerance towards dissent. At the same time intellectuals should not blindly follow their isms and display clear bias against the established order colouring their thinking with prejudice.