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Double-faced Secularism

Author: Balbir Punj
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 20, 2015
URL: http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Double-faced-Secularism/2015/02/21/article2678581.ece

Double standards, hypocrisy and deceit, the hallmarks of Indian “secularists” of various hues, have come to fore once again in a case of alleged embezzlement against Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand launched by the Gujarat police. The “secular” pack is appalled that the “secular” couple is being dealt with like any other accused by the courts and the investigating agency.

A media campaign has been launched, both against the judiciary and Gujarat Police, apart from the BJP and prime minister Narendra Modi. As a part of a well-crafted strategy, the “secular” pack does not talk about the specific allegations against the accused couple which the Gujarat High Court had termed “grave” and had said the money in question appears to have been prima facie misused for personal pleasure and comfort. A simple matter involving allegation of fraud by two individuals is conveniently turned into a case affecting human rights and civil liberties. Obviously, in the “secular” parlance, cheating and embezzlement are part of human rights and civil liberties, when the accused persons happen to belong to their pack.

The case against the two was not started by Gujarat Police on its own. Twelve people claiming to be members of Gulberg Co-operative Housing Society alleged misappropriation of funds received as donations by Setalvad and her husband. What should the police do in such a situation? Ignore the complaint because the allegations are against known “secularists” with global connections or deal with it like any other case. The police refused to get overawed by the stature of the accused and their political leanings. Subsequent police investigations revealed that out of donations worth Rs 9.7 crore received by the two trusts, 39.5 per cent was misappropriated.

Further scrutiny brought out shocking details. Huge amounts were collected as salaries by Setalvad, her husband, daughter and payments were made through credit cards for purchase of liquor, shopping abroad and for various personal services including beauty treatments!

The question as to whether the activist couple were guilty or not of the charge of embezzlement is for the courts to decide. But no law prevents the police from taking its own decision on whether the accused should be arrested or not as they are responsible for the final decision to either go ahead with the prosecuting the accused or dropping the case.

What the public witnessed in the Teesta Setalvad case, however ,was not a submission to the authority of the law but a demand that she and her husband be treated as a special category as they were fighting a battle for secularism against a “communal” dispensation in Gujarat.

Even as the case was being heard in the Supreme Court, the media was inundated by pleas from several intellectuals appealing to the court to deny the Gujarat Police plea for arresting the accused claiming that they have been fighting for the upholding of “secularism”.

Some leading intellectuals from abroad joined in this appeal with signed statement. Clearly, the aim was to raise an international cry on human rights in Gujarat being violated, thereby vicariously trying to defame the Modi who was the chief minister when the riots occurred.

As pointed out earlier, none of these statements had a word about the charge that there was embezzlement of funds raised for helping the riot victims or that the police was only acting as per the law in such a case of embezzlement.

It is to be hoped that the apex court, which has reserved the actual judgment in the case and has only given a direction about not needing custodial interrogation of the accused, would deal with this issue also in its final word.  Such a guidance from the court would help the public to understand where these and other NGOs stand in the eye of the law in their advocacy enthusiasm.

It is also needed because we find among the crowd of “intellectuals” who have rushed to Setalvad’s defence are newcomers like Aligarh University Teachers’ Association. We characterise them as “newcomers” even though their outfit might have existed for decades by now, because when human rights were brutally assaulted in Kashmir valley against the Pandit community of the entire state and they were thrown out the state, they did not move a finger to protect these residents of the place and the Aligarh teachers never bothered to issue even a statement condemning this denial of human rights.

The insertion of international activists in the case tallies with the interest many Indian NGOs take in organising their activities with funds from international sources. Several NGOs claiming to work in fields like environment protection, anti-nuclear protesters, human rights sermonisers all have patrons abroad. Even as the apex court was hearing the petition of Setalvad, the Delhi High Court was seized of yet another case of the state denying the fundamental right to liberty in offloading an environmental activist, Greenpeace member Priya Pillai from proceeding to London. She was, according to her, to talk to a British parliamentary group on the alleged damage to tribal interests here by coal mining in their areas. The government’s case is that such activities abroad by Indian citizens seriously impact the national interest.

Indian enterprise in nuclear power generation and other nuclear technology activities have been NGOs’ favourite target ever since India launched its nuclear technology programme. They has been behind the ongoing agitation by fishermen at Koodankulam against the setting up and working of the nuclear power plants with Russian support.

The activities of these NGOs raise the fundamental question whether a government mandated to fulfill the promises it made to the electorate before assuming office has the right to fulfill those promises and whether such a government should allow itself to be dictated to by any odd group. Each NGO may claim it has a cause to follow and an obligation to the people who elected it. The NGO as an organisation may believe it is advocating a genuine demand. But who should set the elected government’s agenda?

If the economic agenda of any government is to be set by a thousand NGOs—and not by economic wisdom and political necessity—why have the elections and political parties at all? It is time the apex court should specified who is to set the agenda of the nation, elected governments or a babble of NGOs, many of whom receive their agenda as well as funds from abroad?

- The author is national vice president, BJP.E-mail: punjbalbir@gmail.com
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