The Sonbhadra massacre has once again exposed the dangerous slide towards the precipice, governments—Central and state—are unable to check. Uttar Pradesh seems particularly cursed with the blight of lawlessness. Jungle Raj seems much too mild a word to describe the horror. The rich and powerful are a law unto themselves. We have been desensitised to such an extent that the news of the bloodbath in which over 10 persons lost their lives and many were critically injured didn’t remain in headlines for more than a day.
Gun-wielding goons drove in the killing fields of Umbha and unleashed unprecedented slaughter. There is no point in parroting as usual after such incidents that the guilty will be brought to book etc. What is extremely agonising is that this tragedy has taken place when a no-nonsense, strong chief minister is at the helm whose declared priority has been to control predator mafia dons enjoying political patronage.
Without prejudging issues, a few points need to be flagged about this case. What has been reported is that the land belonged to a senior IAS officer who had been unable to evict illegal occupants from it. After failing in exertions, he settled for cutting down his losses and sold it to a local strongman—Gram Pradhan. This person obviously had a firm belief in might being right.
The high ranking bureaucrat may have been constrained by law but no such inhibitions cramped the style of the new ‘owner’. In the mode of Baddies of the Wild West, he sent in his men to secure possession. If the guns blazed brazenly on the tillers, those who pulled triggers knew that the law of the land could not touch them. Time and again we have watched the sordid drama of scores of eyewitnesses turning hostile, or investigators dragging their feet—worse still compromising vital evidence to weaken the case ensuring acquittal. In how many cases can the apex court order retrial, court-monitored investigations or reverse the judgments of lower courts?
The Congress lost no time in alleging that the UP CM was ‘shielding’ the accused in this case. Yogi Adityanath sharply retorted that the violence erupted only because a festering sore that the predecessor governments had deliberately overlooked. The blame game may continue but no one engaged in it can hope to emerge unscathed. Not long ago a notorious politician accused of conspiring to murder an MLA in broad daylight was acquitted because almost all material witnesses had turned hostile.
This muscle man with a powerful aura of Robin Hood-like protector of minority community was certainly not being protected by the present government either at the Centre or in the state. He can now smugly claim that he has emerged victorious defeating political vendetta.
Political vendetta is what Mamta Didi shrieks in Kolkata and Azam Khan is also shouting in Rampur to rally around his supporters. But when he was calling the shots in the SP government, who could dare to raise even a squeaky voice against him? The farmers, who have suddenly found their tongue about his land grabbing for his pet university project, had remained silent hoping to inherit if not the Kingdom of Heaven at least some crumbs falling from the high table.
The leader known for not mincing his words or dealing with bureaucrats politely had threatened the Collector with humiliating punishment that would be meted out to him for wiping clean Behenji’s shoes. Earlier cops were admonished publicly when they couldn’t trace the buffaloes owned by him that had gone missing from their sheds. Voters dashed his hopes and now the shoe has begun to pinch painfully.
Partisan politics has emasculated police and vitiated lower echelons of judiciary. The credibility of higher judiciary, alas, has not escaped steady erosion. The law of bail, and the system of paroles, furloughs, assorted reprieves and pardon need a serious relook. Humanitarian jurisprudence is very nice in theory but its practice in India, more often than not, results in gross miscarriage of justice.
In this depressing climate, one can’t even be grateful for small mercies. Killers convicted for the murder of Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo have been denied their requests for release by the concerned sentence review boards and assassins of Rajiv Gandhi too will have to languish for the present in jail despite the state government’s recommendation to the governor supporting their plea.
It took almost two decades before law caught up with the Dosa King from Tamil Nadu (founder of Saravana Bhavan). He had been on bail after his conviction and was made to surrender by a stern Supreme Court that refused to grant a reprieve on health grounds. But before the man could be sent to jail to serve his sentence, he passed away due to ‘cardiac arrest’.
Spare a thought for the victims especially when the accused are powerful predators.