In a war, leaders often lose their sense of proportion as a result of which enemies appear to be much bigger than they actually are. This seems to have been the case for Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh and his aides who spearheaded a campaign against doctor-activist Binayak Sen. The Supreme Court’s decision to grant bail to Dr Sen will, hopefully, give Mr Singh a chance to recalibrate this threat perception. However, Mr Singh is not the only one with such problems. Though Congress ministers at the Centre made appropriate and comforting noises after the apex court gave its verdict, many among them also suffer from similar perception problems.
No matter what the Chhattisgarh CM says now (“It’s just a bail, case still pending in high court”), the verdict is a loss of face and credibility for both the state and central governments and will hopefully deter them in future from slapping serious charges like sedition without bothering to take a unbiased look the quality of material evidence they have at hand. In a country, where the right to speech is enshrined in the Constitution, going against the government’s views cannot be automatically seen as subversion. In any case, even the government admits that long years of ineffective governance have led to Maoism. So they must expect people to relentlessly focus on the shortcomings and the solutions that are being offered. As for helping the Maoists, the Supreme Court said what had to be said: keeping Red literature does not make anyone a Maoist. The law on sedition, as the law minister rightly said, is outdated and needs a thorough evaluation. Otherwise, such misuse will continue and so will people’s protest.
However, Dr Sen’s case is also a reminder that there are thousands of others languishing in jails on charges of working against the State. Many among them probably do not have access to top lawyers or the support Dr Sen enjoys. For them, the verdict is good news but probably that’s all there is to it. It’s time that the senior judiciary looked at the quality of the lower judiciary and its ability to interpret material evidence. For many, a mistake there could mean a lifetime behind bars.