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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

List of Innocents

Why governments hesitate to withdraw cases when the accused are Muslims

Written by Jyoti Punwani | Updated: April 2, 2018 12:04:39 am
List Of Innocents Yogi Adityanath BJP north east uttarakhand Public property is damaged and sometimes, policemen get injured. But such violence is regarded as “minor’’ when these parties come to power. (Representational image)

Now that new regimes have taken over in the Northeast, will there be a mass withdrawal of cases against the ruling party cadres? That has been the norm across the country. Most new governments withdraw cases involving agitations carried out by their party cadre as part of opposition tactics. All peaceful street protests must be regarded as legitimate democratic activity. However, when party cadre get involved, these protests often turn violent. Public property is damaged and sometimes, policemen get injured. But such violence is regarded as “minor’’ when these parties come to power.

The same benevolence, though, is not shown to non-party activists protesting peacefully. For example, some 20 activists in Mumbai are facing a case for trying to demonstrate against the impending execution of Bombay blasts convict Yakub Memon in July 2015. They were arrested even before the protest could begin. The prosecution’s lack of seriousness is evident in the court’s proceedings over the last two years. Yet, this case has not been withdrawn.

However, not all cases withdrawn when a government changes are related to protests. The most famous example being cases withdrawn against the late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray by the Sena-BJP government in 1996. Thackeray had been charged with promoting communal enmity. A more recent example is the proposed withdrawal of cases against BJP MLAs accused of rioting in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who defends his encounter policy on the grounds of upholding law and order.

Last year, among the Uttarakhand BJP government’s first acts was the withdrawal of the case against its party MLA Ganesh Joshi for beating police horse Shaktiman so badly that he died within a month. Sometimes, cases are withdrawn when elections are round the corner, as in Karnataka, where Muslim leaders could persuade the Congress government to withdraw cases against “innocent minorities’’. When the BJP, as expected, raised a hue and cry, the government circular was rightly amended to read “innocent persons’’. But the BJP is not one to stop shouting “appeasement’’, so a minister even requested the party to submit its own list of innocents.

Of course the BJP keeps quiet when its own governments withdraw cases, without even the rider of “innocence’’. Just before the Gujarat elections, the BJP government withdrew cases against Patidars and farmers who had carried out agitations that turned violent. In February, another emergency forced Haryana’s CM to withdraw cases. The state’s Jats had threatened to disrupt party president Amit Shah’s rally, unless all cases filed against them for their violent reservation agitation in 2016 were withdrawn. The state’s blanket amnesty even included cases filed by the CBI, over which the Manohar Lal Khattar government has no jurisdiction. However, when the then UP CM Akhilesh Yadav tried to withdraw cases against Muslims in 2012, the move was thwarted by a petition in court. Expectedly, the BJP had cried appeasement.

The BJP’s charge of appeasement can easily be countered. It is now established that innocent Muslims are frequently framed, not only on charges of rioting, but even on terror charges. One has to only look at the number of Muslim terror accused who have been acquitted after long years in prison. In fact, among those who might have benefited from Akhilesh Yadav’s move, were Muslims arrested for the 2007 serial blasts in court premises in Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi. The Justice R D Nimesh Commission set up by then CM Mayawati had expressed doubts about their arrests. Unfortunately, no “secular’’ government has yet shown the guts to assert this fact. The Justice B N Srikrishna Commission inquiring into the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, described the police version of many incidents wherein Muslims were accused of rioting and murder as “bogus’’. But the Congress-NCP government that came to power after the Commission’s report was tabled, didn’t withdraw a single such case.

Knowing that few parties have the political confidence to face up to the BJP’s blanket allegation of appeasement, Muslim leaders mostly hesitate to request withdrawal of cases against their community members. Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has announced the withdrawal of “non-serious’’ cases filed against Dalits after violence following a bandh in January in Bhima Koregaon. This agitation did not result in loss of life, only of property.

Obviously, only when cases against Muslims are withdrawn, the BJP sees “appeasement’’. That’s not surprising. It is troubling, though, given that the BJP holds office at the Centre.

The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist

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