The murder of values

I thought the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) must have learnt a lesson after its defeat in the Lok Sabha election. But it seems determined to have no importance in the country. Otherwise, I cannot make out why the party's Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has welcomed the acquittal of six accused in the murder case of Professor H S Sabharwal at Ujjain nearly three years ago? All the accused are Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists. This is the students' wing of the BJP, known for its unruly behaviour. The party is going downhill because the people are increasingly feeling that it cannot protect the rule of law. Whether it is the murder of Sabharwal, the carnage in Gujarat or the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP is seen as defending the crime. India, however backward economically, is in the forefront of nations which jealously defend democracy and the rule of law. The constitution guarantees equality for all and forbids dictatorial and oppressive ways. The RSS, which claims to be the custodian of the society's moral standards, looks the other way when its BJP's followers commit murders in broad daylight. It happened in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh seems to be following its footprints. Is this Hindutva? The Sang Parivar has given such a bad name to the Hindus that it will take the community many generations to efface the stigma. The country saw on television how the ABVP activists killed Sabharwal when he did not toe the line on students' union elections. His ribs were broken and his chest had many wounds. The judge has said in his verdict that the accused might be guilty but he could not convict them because of lack of evidence. He accused the police of "hiding something." There was a sustained effort to destroy proof, the judge remarked. This is exactly on the lines of the Gujarat killings on a small scale. In Gujarat the skeletons are coming out of the cupboard after the Supreme Court has appointed a special investigation team. Something like that will have to be done in Madhya Pradesh to have a retrial of the Sabharwal case. In fact, the liberals within the BJP like Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Rajeev Pratap Rudi should themselves take up the case with the Madhya Pradesh chief minister to rehabilitate the image of the BJP. But this cannot be done until they are prepared to join issue with the RSS, which appears to be at the back of ABVP activists. The judge in the Sabharwal murder case could have ordered a fresh investigation after finding all the key witnesses turning hostile. Pointing fingers at the Madhya Pradesh government, public prosecutor Praful Shandilya said: "The investigating agency is under the state government. So the probe was executed in the manner the government wanted." This is a serious allegation which only an outside agency like the CBI can probe into. Obviously, the transfer of the trial from Ujjain to Nagpur did not help. There was political pressure on the key witnesses. It is alleged that the Madhya Pradesh government was hand in glove with the accused. If the case was not prepared in the manner it should have been, naturally the judge could not concoct evidence. He had to go by what the police produced before him. Once again you see the murder of values. Very few people follow the dictates of conscience. I am sad but not surprised that the witnesses changed their testimony and the official machinery followed the government's fiats. This also raises doubts over our criminal jurisprudence. Maybe the witnesses turn hostile because there is no protection given to them by the law-enforcing authorities. Procedures and acts need to be changed to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice. What has happened in the case of Sabharwal's murder gives us a warning that culprits can get away after committing heinous crimes. Sabharwal's is not a solitary case. But then society has taken up such instances where it sees that justice has not been done. The case in point is the Jessica Lal murder. If the nation is to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society, every person - whether politician, a public functionary or a private citizen - must display a degree of vigilance and willingness to sacrifice. The Sabharwal case should have had protesters on the streets all over Madhya Pradesh. How could the accused have courage to distribute sweets and hold celebrations if the Madhya Pradesh society had been seen sensitive enough to the crime committed by a political party's activists? Criminals have thrown down the gauntlet at the major political parties. The latter should pick it up because that is the only way to defend law-abiding citizens and their rights to protect their point of view. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and senior journalist

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