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Across the Aisle by P Chidambaram: Whose law, whose order?


Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi at the Maharishi Valmiki temple in Lucknow (PTI Image)

The words ring loud and clear, lofty, almost dramatic: We, The People of India……. Give to Ourselves This Constitution. And we gave to ourselves the Constitution in order to secure to all, among other objectives, Liberty and Fraternity.

The Preamble to the Constitution of India must be made compulsory reading for every Officer, Minister, Chief Minister and Prime Minister. Each one took an oath under the Constitution. His/her first obligation must be to secure Liberty and promote Fraternity. To enable them to do so, we created a Parliament (for India) and a Legislature (for each state). We tasked the state Legislature to make laws on ‘public order’ and ‘police’ and tasked both Parliament and the Legislature to make laws on ‘criminal law’, criminal procedure’ and ‘preventive detention’.

The People’s Commands

We created an Executive to implement the laws. We put a check on the Executive’s powers by incorporating the ‘fundamental rights’ of citizens and cautioned them that

“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

We commanded the Executive to observe that

“No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.”

We further commanded the Executive to observe that

“Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest……and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate.”

The exhortations were like Robert Burns’s “the best laid schemes of mice and men”. Our fault was we did not take into account the state of Uttar Pradesh!

First Tragedy, then Comedy

The tragic incident in Lakhimpur Kheri left eight people dead — four farmers run over by an SUV and four others in the violence that followed the death of the farmers. It is natural that political leaders will attempt to go to the village and meet the families of the victims. They have every right to do so because that is what we understand by Liberty. Fraternity is empathising with the grieving families.

Ms Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a general secretary of the Congress, was traveling to Lakhimpur Kheri when she was stopped near Sitapur. Some facts concerning the interdiction are not disputed: It was at 4.30 am on Monday, October 4. She was told that she was being arrested under Sec 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). She was hustled into a police vehicle by male police officers. She was detained at the PAC guest house until the evening of Wednesday, October 6. In the intervening 60 hours,

  • Ms Vadra was not informed of the grounds of arrest;
  • she was not served with a memorandum of arrest and her signature was not taken on it;
  • she was not produced before a judicial magistrate;
  • she was not given a copy of the FIR, if any;
  • she was not allowed to meet her legal counsel who was at the gate for hours; and
    she was told on Tuesday, October 5, that she had been charged under Section 151 of the CrPC and Sections 107 and 116 of the Indian Penal Code.

I have lost count of the number of provisions of law that were violated. If you have the intellectual curiosity, please get hold of copies of the Constitution, the CrPC and the IPC and look at Articles 19, 21 and 22; Sections 41B, 41D, 46, 50, 50A, 56, 57, 60A, 151, particularly sub-section (2), and 167 of the CrPC; and Sections 107, 116 of the IPC.

Ignorance or Impunity?

It seems to me the concept of law and order has a different meaning in Uttar Pradesh whose chief minister is Mr Adityanath. There is a law — it is Mr Adityanath’s law, not Indian law. There is order, in fact, multiple orders — they are Mr Adityanath’s orders, not lawful orders. The police maintain law and order — Mr Adityanath’s law and Mr Adityanath’s orders.

Let’s take the last pearl of police wisdom — the charges. There is no offence contained in Section 151 of the CrPC and hence no one can be ‘charged’ under that section.

Sections 107 and 116 of the IPC relate to abetment. They cannot be stand-alone charges. The charge of abetment has meaning only if the police name the person who was abetted or the crime that was abetted. No one in the police seems to have noticed this crucial lapse. The charge, as it stands, is ludicrous.

The only explanation can be that either the UP Police does not know the Constitution or the laws (meaning, ignorance) or the UP Police does not care a damn about the Constitution and the laws (meaning, impunity). Either explanation casts a dark shadow on the UP Police that has several officers of DGP rank. From high-ranking police officers to humble constables, they deserve a better reputation. More than anything, the 23.5 crore population of UP deserves a better police force.

Freedom is not swept away by a tsunami. It is eroded by the waves that relentlessly pound on its edges. Umbha (Sonbhadra), Unnao-1, Shahjahanpur, Unnao-2, NRC/CAA, Hathras and now Lakhimpur Kheri, can you see the waves?

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