Hanging Yakub Memon Makes Us Murderers Too


The news of the hanging of Yakub Memon has been greeted across the country with reactions ranging from dismay to scarcely-concealed bloodlust. I joined the public debate by expressing my sadness that our government has hanged a human being, whatever his crimes may have been. State-sponsored killing diminishes us all, I added, by reducing us to murderers too. I stressed that I was not commenting on the merits of this or any specific case: that’s for the Supreme Court to decide. My problem is with the principle and practice of the death penalty in our country.

The overwhelming evidence suggests that the death penalty cannot be justified as an effective instrument of the state. Look at the numbers: there’s no statistical correlation between applying the death penalty and preventing murder. About 10 people were executed from 1980 to 1990 for the offence of murder under section 302 of the India Penal Code, but the incidence of murder increased from 22,149 to 35,045 during the same period. Similarly, during 1990-2000, even though about 8 people were executed, the incidence of murder increased from 35,045 to…continue reading

Yakub Memon’s ghost



Third, the case has opened raw wounds, but in a way that is going to be politically explosive. Our state has an awful track record of prosecuting perpetrators of riots; and it has so far not shown credibility in its investigation of several terrorism cases. The silences over the Srikrishna Commission report, or 1984, or 2002, or Kashmiri Pandits, or whatever instance you want to pick, makes every legal case a case with subtext. Every case has to bear the weight of all our history with its omissions and commissions, prejudices and partisanship, unacknowledged crimes and un-redressed justice. It would be constructive if these failures were mobilised to think of how to create a better justice or investigative system. But our politics chokes off that discussion so thoroughly that it can now get articulated only in adversarial and pathological forms. It is all too easy to construct a narrative that there is political or communal partisanship in these investigations: Hindu outfits are given the benefit of the doubt; Muslim …continue reading

Surprised at Gurdaspur




JULY 30 2015

There is great excitement in the media over two aspects of the Dinanagar terrorist strike: One, that hard evidence in the form of GPS coordinates proves the terrorists came from Pakistan, and that they were in possession of night vision devices with US government markings; two, that the NSA-level talks are going to proceed as scheduled, but “terrorism” is going to be on top of the Indian agenda for discussions. These are far from the many and urgent issues that are raised by this attack. An investigation is ongoing, and it will certainly uncover significant evidence over time that will point overwhelmingly to Pakistan as the source of this attack. There should be little doubt that this doesn’t matter in the least. Pakistan has engaged in terrorist proxy war against India for more than 30 years; the cumulative evidence of this is overwhelming and has been shared with Pakistan and the world; none of this has had any impact. India will have to learn to effectively defend itself…continue reading

Rear View: Presidential tales




In the 1967 general election, the first without Nehru but with his daughter Indira Gandhi as prime minister, the Congress tally in the Lok Sabha plummeted by as many as 82 seats. By the time it had reached a compromise under which Morarji Desai became deputy prime minister in Gandhi’s cabinet, Radhakrishnan’s tenure as president was coming to an end. Desai and some “party bosses” suggested that he should be given a second term. But the prime minister refused and asked them: “What answer would you give when people ask why Vice President Zakir Husain was bypassed?” The eminent educationist and former governor of Bihar won comfortably. But tragically, he died in May 1968, and all hell broke loose. K. Kamaraj and Desai, using their majority in the Congress Parliamentary Board, nominated N. Sanjiva Reddy as the party’s presidential candidate, despite the prime minister’s strong objection. She reacted like a wounded tigress, “relieving” Desai of his finance portfolio but asking him to stay on as deputy PM without portfolio. Declaring that he had been treated as a “chaprasi (peon)”, he resigned.

Meanwhile, Vice President V.V. Giri, angry because he was bypassed, resigned and announced that he would contest the presidential election as an independent candidate. Indira Gandhi and her followers decided to vote for him, which more or less ensured his victory.

Regrettably, neither before nor after has pre-poll canvassing been so sordid as in 1969, incidentally the Mahatma’s birth centenary year.

The party, indeed, split into two. In 1971, Indira Gandhi reached her finest hour first by winning the general election with a huge majority, and then by her more spectacular victory in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh. Giri retired as…continue reading


Across The Aisle: Sushma Swaraj, RTI and a Parliament question


P Chidambaram


If the audacity of that answer took your breath away, look at the answer to the next four questions: After the High Court’s order, who took the decision not to file an appeal to the Supreme Court and to issue a fresh passport to Mr Lalit Modi? Has the government lodged a fresh protest with the UK government? What steps has the government taken to enforce the Enforcement Directorate’s summons to Mr Lalit Modi? Is government incapable of protecting the life of Mr Lalit Modi in case he returned to India? The answer given to these four questions will boggle your mind. The answer was: “As regards queries…continue reading

Silencing Teesta Setalvad

The courts must step in when governments persecute individuals like Setalvad.


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The “caged parrot” that sings to its master’s tune is at it again. Twelve “parrots” searched Teesta Setalvad’s home and office in Mumbai for proof that she had used foreign donations to her NGO for private purposes. I would think that the CBI has weightier matters to deal with but Setalvad has offended those in power with her single-minded devotion to the cause of justice for Gujarat’s Muslims. If not for this intrepid woman, the injustices of Delhi 1984 would have been repeated in Gujarat.

Setalvad has fought the case almost single-handedly. I, for one, would not have had the patience and perseverance to fight for so many years through the maze of our judicial system. She kept vigil over grovelling police investigators, partisan prosecutors and timid adjudicators to finally force the system to convict a few of…continue reading


Lawlessness at Sea


An estimated 99 percent of the crimes committed at sea — everything from murder to kidnapping, slavery to thievery — go unprosecuted and barely noted, according to maritime experts. Even when these crimes are noted, justice is rarely sought, as was the case recently with a grisly cellphone video of four men bobbing in the water next to a ship, pleading for mercy. They were soon shot to death by order of a shipboard authority, which stirred curiosity and laughter among crewmen but little else as the crime drifted away in the ship’s wake.

The video and the scale of the routine mayhem at sea are among the findings of a series of articles in The Times that detail the extremes of violence and danger at sea.

Impunity seems to be the law as nations choose to exercise minimal…continue reading

Telescope: Our daily outrage


JULY 23 2015



Nidhi Razdan surveyed all before her and then looked the viewer in the eye: “Tomorrow will bring more of the same,” she promised/ warned, and you wanted to thump the table the way they do in Parliament and shout the way they do in Parliament: D… right! (NDTV 24×7)

In Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, there’s a veritable “monsoon storm” (ET Now) of words from our honourable members of Parliament, reminiscent of the monsoon sessions of 2013 and 2012. Our distinguished representatives delight in kicking up a storm at the same time — just like panellists during TV studio discussions each night. When you listen to either you cannot distinguish one word from the other, just as you cannot tell one drop of rain from another.

Journalist Neerja Chowdhury observed that the BJP and Congress use the same language in their respective roles: when the BJP was in opposition it employed the…continue reading


An atonement gone too far?



JULY 23 2015

“ For an unelected and largely unaccountable institution such as the Supreme Court to be at the forefront of matters relating to governance is dangerous…”

On both counts, the judges were entirely mistaken. While it is an arguable proposition whether there is a right to life and personal liberty in natural law, outside the Constitution, there can be no debate on the proposition that the power of judicial review, i.e. the power of the Supreme Court to examine the legality of executive action does not depend on Article 21. Thus, whether a detention order under MISA was validly issued in terms of the statute itself is a question that the Court must remain competent to adjudicate on notwithstanding the emergency at hand. Otherwise, under the pretext of the Emergency, a government can — and in the case of Indira Gandhi’s government did — round up its opponents in the name of national security. In legal terms, the rule of ultra vires, that the act of government cannot go beyond the power vested in it by the legislature, is hardly a creature of Article 21; it is a principle of common law that predates the Constitution…continue reading

The Shameful Persecution of Teesta Setalvad




Did you say terrorist? Not many would disagree with you. Regardless of the name of the  religion under which terrorism masquerades to kill innocent people, a terrorist is just that, a terrorist. You must have been concerned therefore, when you read that a courageous woman public prosecutor was being pressured by an officer of the premier National Investigation Agency to go soft in her prosecution of terrorists in the case in Malegaon which had killed many innocents. Your concern would have mounted by the subsequent reports that 14 prosecution witnesses in the Ajmer Sharif case had turned hostile. Yet they have not been…continue reading