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Lack of strong civil liberties movement 'paved way' for framing of GN Saibaba, others

By Harsh Thakor* 
A major victory against the menace of neo-fascism or proto fascism and for civil liberties has been won with the release of Professor GN Saibaba and 4 other persons fabricated by the Bombay High Court. History of a kind has been made in democratic constitutional struggle.
It is the result of a concerted pitched battle waged by democratic forces displaying relentlessness to it’s very limit. It is classic example of how liberty can be won from the deepest depths of adversity, and how even neo-fascist machinery can be shaken by the democratic spirit of the people. 
Professor Saibaba’s and his colleagues’ struggle for emancipation will permanently be inscribed in the archives of democratic resistance in history. His willpower or determination resembled iron being smoldered in a furnace. It is unforgettable the manner in the last decade how the democratic forces thronged behind him with death defying courage. 
It will never erase my mind how democratic forces in Punjab or in other regions escalated democratic spirit to its optimum pitch to defend Saibaba as a genuine democrat and expose the proto-fascist nature of his arrest. A tribute to the democratic consciousness and spirit of India, which has still not been extinguished, in the dark hour of Hindutva proto fascism.
Memories are embedded in my mind of the never say die spirit of people in programmes staged by to release Saibaba in all parts of India, for a considerable tenure. Also, a creditable role played by civil liberties groups like the Civil Liberties Committee of Telengana, the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights  and the Association for Democratic Rights, Punjab. Communist revolutionary groups like CPI(ML) Liberation and CPI(ML) New Democracy boldly raised their voices.
It is worth recalling the valiant battle Professor Saibaba waged against neo-fascism within prison walls. It manifested revolutionary resilience at its supreme height, virtually writing a saga.  In the summer of 2022, Saibaba had heroically staged a three-week protest, including a four-day hunger strike, to get a plastic water bottle in his cell. He had also protested against a wide-angle CCTV camera monitoring the toilet and bathing area of his prison. 
Following the protest, the jail authorities allowed him to keep a water bottle and the camera angle was tilted. During his decade-long imprisonment, he was twice infected with COVID-19, once with swine flu, and diagnosed with severe health conditions, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with left ventricular dysfunction, a brain cyst, kidney stones and acute cervical spondylitis.
Saibaba, who taught at Delhi University, came into the limelight nearly 15 years ago when he protested against Operation Green Hunt, a paramilitary offensive launched by the Congress-led government in power at the time to crush an armed Maoist rebellion in several parts of central and western India. At the very core Saibaba exposed the conspiracy of the state to patronise corporate plunder of tribals and the offensive of Hindutva  fascism, stripping minorities and people of Kashmir of fundamental rights. He posed a great threat to the state and the corporate and waged a spectacular battle in diverse spheres to shake neo-fascism which is why they wanted to silence him. Without doubt Saibaba proved he was one of the best sons of our land.
All democrats must heartily congratulate the team of lawyers for fighting to the last inch, for this most commendable achievement.
The cooperative effort of several constituents of the Indian Communist revolutionary and democratic camp, including Gandhians and Ambedkarites, played an instrumental role in pressurizing the state machinery to the limit. A well organized movement was undertaken by the Democratic Front against Operation Green Hunt in Punjab, mobilizing all oppressed sections, particularly the peasantry.
The manner the accused were fabricated and debarred of any trail of sanctity illustrates how Indian constitutional democracy has been torn apart. and the penetration of neo or proto fascism at it’s helm.
 It is worth tracing back the case at various junctures where the state machinery continued to distort facts and negate all legal procedures. The state machinery banged every nail in the wall to sabotage evidence and camouflage the truth. The case classically illustrates how the state has sharpened the wings of proto-fascism. 
Vasantha, Saibaba’s wife, issued a statement, saying: “I am extremely happy to hear the news of full acquittal for Dr. G N Saibaba and others. After 10 long years of struggle, justice is finally delivered. I only hope there are no future obstacles to his very well-deserved freedom.” She further thanked the lawyers “who have been working on this tirelessly for justice”.
Cooperative effort of Communist and democratic camp, Gandhians and Ambedkarites was instrumental in release of Saibaba
For these lawyers who for a span of a decade it was a relentless battle for right to freedom. They didn’t monetarily profit  but came under the state’s scanner themselves. One lawyer (advocate Surendra Gadling, who was arrested in the Elgar Parishad case in 2018) got arrested for defending them, others have been targets of continuous surveillance  upon by the state.
The defence team include senior advocates Subodh Dharmadjikari and Trideep Pais along with lawyers Nihalsing Rathod, Pradip Mandhyan, Barun Kumar, Harshal Lingayat, Rahul waghmare, Ashwini S Uikey, Kajal Bhagat, Nitesh Gwalwansh, Shubhangi Shiwrekar, Akash Sorde, Pankaj khapekar, Ashwath Sitaraman, Sumit Gadling, Burhan Sheikh, Akshay Dhongde, Swapnil Bondade and Gaurav Dhaye.

Proceedings of judiciary

The accused were all charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an anti-terror law declared “draconian” by several rights groups.
Stationed in Nagpur Central Jail, Saibaba was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017. On appeal, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court discharged him on October 14, 2022, stating there was no valid basis for prosecution as required under the anti-terror law UAPA. It also acquitted four others in the case. Narote, the sixth accused, died in August 2022. In April 2023, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court order discharging the accused, and remanded the matter back to the High Court to be settled afresh by a different bench
A division bench of Justices Vinay G Joshi and Valmiki SA Menezes of the Bombay High Court upheld that the prosecution failed to prove the case against the charged and  that the sanction under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was baseless.
It declared the entire prosecution was poisoned on account of an invalid sanction to prosecute the accused. The court also noted that the trial that was held amidst the violation of statutory provisions of law which amounted to a “failure of justice”.
It further expressed that the prosecution failed to establish legal seizure of material and could not prove any evidence of the  prosecuted committing crimes.. Therefore, the bench described the trial court judgment convicting the accused persons as “being unsustainable in the hands of law”, permitted the appeals against the same and acquitted the accused.
The court declared that mere possession of Maoist literature could never be labelled as  an offence under the UAPA – an overturning of the same ground on which another court had ordered his life imprisonment in 2017.
This is Saibaba’s second acquittal. In October 2022, the Bombay High Court ordered his release, marking that legal procedures were not properly conducted during the trial. But within 24 hours, the Supreme Court scrapped the order, stating the charges against Saibaba and the other accused were “very serious” and it was imperative to conduct a new hearing.
Within hours of the court order, the Government in Maharashtra state, which had prosecuted Saibaba and others in the case, again placed a demand before the Supreme Court to revert the acquittal.
The court declared that mere possession of Maoist literature could never be labelled as  an offence under the UAPA – an overturning of the same ground on which another court had ordered his life imprisonment in 2017.

Post-mortem and diagnosis

The fact that the state confined him to the four walls of jail testifies that he posed a threat to the neo-fascist state or the ideology of Brahamanical Hindutva fascism. It also illustrated the consolidation of proto-fascism at helm, virtually tearing apart the constitutional fabric.
Today, the Revolutionary Democratic Front, of which Professor Saibaba was leader, remains banned. The very front that Saibaba led was smashed by the state. A well organised or strong civil liberties and democratic rights movement was lacking, which paved the way for the framing of democrats like Saibaba. A defective tendency was  not giving a mass character to people’s movements giving sole emphasis on backing the revolutionary armed struggle in areas like Chhattisgarh and converting mass fronts into frontal organisations. of the CPI(Maoist).
Democratic forces must guard against any form of complacency and diagnose the very pit that bred the mosquitos. Thousands of innocent activists are still languishing within jail walls and democratic forces. 
One must not solely fight the battle in the courts but knit together all possible forces to build a genuine resistance for democratic Rights. A concerted and cohesive anti-fascist movement has to be constructed at the grassroots, sharpening democratic struggles of people.
---
*Feelance journalist 

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