‘The BJP seems to be a national calamity’

Print edition : September 28, 2018

Justice P.B. Sawant (Retd). Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Interview with Justice P.B. Sawant. By T.K. Rajalakshmi

Justice P.B. Sawant, a former judge of the Supreme Court, was one of the organisers of the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017, in Pune. Insinuations have been made that the Parishad has connections with underground Maoist organisations. In a telephonic interview, Justice Sawant told Frontline from Pune that there was an attempt to defame and frame the Elgar Parishad, whose only objective was to speak in favour of the Constitution and protect its provisions. He said the arrests were nothing but an attempt to divert people’s attention from real issues. Excerpts from the interview:

What do the recent arrests of the five activists and of five others in June convey to you in a broad sense?

They have been arrested on the grounds that they are naxalites or have connection with naxalites or are supporting the naxalite movement. As far as I know, none of them is either a naxalite or has any connection with naxalites. I know of only one person who was connected with organising the Elgar conference, an advocate who has been fighting the cases of the alleged naxalites in courts of law. and he has also been dubbed a naxalite. The Elgar Parishad takes up pro-people issues. We will hold more such conferences and educate people.

The Parishad has drawn a lot of attention both in terms of its purpose and in terms of its connection to the incidents of January 1, when the commemoration of the Bhima Koregaon battle took place. The Pune Police in their report to the Centre seem to suggest that the arrested activists have connections to banned organisations such as the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

It is not an offence or a criminal offence to organise a meeting. Elgar means “determined struggle” in Marathi. It is the democratic right of every citizen of our country to hold a meeting, advocate views, criticise the government. The meeting of December 31 had nothing to do with the rally the next day. It so happened that we held it on that day. We had a similar conference in October 2015. The rally on January 1 commemorating the martyrdom of a small force of Dalits who fought the Peshwa army was called by various Dalit organisations. Several organisations from all over Maharashtra gathered on the evening of December 31 to start the procession early next morning. It is done every year. We got the benefit of their presence in our conference. We were not associated in any manner with the procession, either in the beginning or later. There is a deliberate ploy to make a connection. We expect more such attacks on intellectuals and political opponents of the present regime.

The arrests, now and before, were part of a repressive move let loose by the government. I am apprehensive that there will be more arrests and that they will not stop here. They will have to prove the connections, if any, with concrete evidence. I do not know what evidence they have. I do not also rule out their manufacturing evidence in order to keep the activists in jail. The police under the present regime can go to any extent. We will have to wait and see. They produced a letter a few days ago, accusing Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar, of hatching a plot to kill the Prime Minister. See the extent to which they can go. The UAP [Unlawful Activities( Prevention)] Act is a draconian Act. Under this, people who try to criticise the government are harassed. In Chennai, a BJP leader had a student arrested for calling the BJP “fascist”. Can you imagine the kind of Nazism that is prevailing today?

Why do you think these people have been rounded up and branded as naxalites?

They [the BJP and the Sangh Parivaar] made no secret of what they think of the Constitution. They made changing the Constitution the first priority in their election manifesto. Instead of democracy, they want fascism; instead of secularism, they want a Hindutva-based Manu Rashtra; instead of socialism, they want to strengthen capitalism.

All that is happening is consistent with their ideology. It is rather surprising that they did not initiate such an action from day one. They have a brute majority in Parliament and they feel they have the backing of the majority of Indians. Hindus comprise almost 82 per cent of the population, so they feel they have the support of that majority. They have let loose a kind of terrorism and created a sense of insecurity and fear among people, the minorities and Dalits in particular. They have targeted everyone who they think is critical of the government. The critics of the present government are called “urban naxals”, a new term coined by this government.

The manner in which the government is dealing with them will create more naxalites. We don’t know whether they are doing this to encourage naxalism or bring naxalites into the mainstream. What naxalites are doing in their secure regions does not affect mainstream politics, particularly electoral politics. What hurts the BJP more is the criticism by the intellectual class, who live in cities, so they have coined the term “urban naxal”.

It is often said that the police tend to arrest people belonging to the poor and marginal sections. This time a certain class of society has been targeted. People are equally concerned about a new kind of a polarisation, on communal lines, in recent times. Is there reason to be concerned?

To the first part of your question, yes, people on the margins have always been treated harshly. The objectives of the Indian Constitution cannot be achieved under the present economic system. It is not only the party in power that is to blame but other political parties too. The economic system has to be changed first as it is totally against the provisions of the Constitution. Those who want to fulfil the promises made to the people must first change the present economic order—it has to be an egalitarian and equitable economic order. And yes, socialism is the answer. The Left parties have been doing their bit and were influential in three States, but now they are only ruling in Kerala. The change has to come at the Centre.

To the second part of the question, there was communalism in our country all along, fomented by communal forces like the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its institutions. Today, it is on the rise. The present regime wants to implement its agenda of a theocratic state to change it from democracy to fascism.

The identity of the nation is sought to be altered from a democratic to a fascist one. I am not even sure whether we can call the BJP a political party within the framework of the Constitution. More than a political party, it seems to be a national calamity. During the first tenure of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, when A.B. Vajpayee was Prime Minister, they had appointed a commission to review the Constitution.

Now they have realised that they cannot change the Constitution, protected as it is by the Kesavananda Bharti case where the Supreme Court ruled that the basic structure of the Constitution was inviolable and could not be changed even by Parliament. So, the best way is to bypass the Constitution. In the past four years, they have done all that was possible to sabotage the Constitution. People should understand the consequences of continuing with this regime.

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