Dr Saibaba has been in and out of jail in the past two years for speaking the language of the Naxalites, for associating with them.
On the face of it, the sentence of life imprisonment, handed down to a wheelchair-bound teacher of English at a Delhi University college by the principal district and sessions judge at Gadchiroli in Maharashtra raises some uncomfortable questions. It is to be seen what the high court thinks of the verdict if Prof. G.N. Saibaba, who was convicted essentially because he espouses the cause of “Marxism-Leninism”, or Naxalism as it’s more commonly called, challenges the sentence.
Provided that an Indian citizen is not engaged in violence, and is not proved to be guilty of incitement, as legally defined, our Constitution guarantees him freedom of expression. The preaching of any ideology — from far-left to far-right — is not a crime. This is the classic liberal position to which we are fully entitled in free India.
Nathuram Godse was sentenced to death as it could be established through normal legal procedures that he had shot Mahatma Gandhi dead, not because he had links to some Hindu Right outfits such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. The RSS was a proscribed organisation for a while after the Mahatma’s assassination. This did not lead to every RSS member being handed a life sentence, as has happened with Prof. Saibaba for being allegedly associated with the CPI (Maoist), a banned organisation.
The case of Dr Binayak Sen, whose committed public health work in the Maoist-infested areas of Chhattisgarh invited the wrath of the lower judiciary and rapacious elements of the junior executive, who routinely oppress the poor, is pertinent. Dr Sen was charged with sedition for associating with Naxalites. Maoist literature was allegedly found at his premises. An international hue and cry erupted, challenging a dubious lower judiciary order to punish him. The Supreme Court threw out the case.
Dr Saibaba has been in and out of jail in the past two years for speaking the language of the Naxalites, for associating with them, and addressing international conferences in their support. One may take it that he is a staunch critic of the Indian State (as many are, for its manifest failings in protecting the interests of the downtrodden). None of this can attract the charge of “waging war against the State”.
In any case, it seems hardly probable that a man who is physically disabled to the extent of 90 per cent, and is routinely taking his college classes and fulfilling other duties as an academic, will be hurling bombs and firing guns. Confirmed killers and terrorists have had their death sentences commuted to life on the strength of mitigating circumstances, and here a badly handicapped academic is convicted to a life term. Something truly does not appear to be in order.