Legal Eagle: Right To Know Is Integral Part Of Right To Life

Legal Eagle: Right To Know Is Integral Part Of Right To Life

The right to free speech is a segment of the right to life because you cannot enjoy one without the other. This is why governments control free speech circuitously, thereby regulating your right to life

Olav AlbuquerqueUpdated: Monday, January 15, 2024, 02:27 AM IST
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Representative Image | Pixabay

The right to free speech is a segment of the right to life because you cannot enjoy one without the other. This is why governments control free speech circuitously, thereby regulating your right to life. Articles 19 (1) (a) and Article 21 taken with judicial independence, the sovereignty of Parliament, secularism, and socialism, and the right to enforce your fundamental rights through Article 32 are woven into a matrix that comprises the basic structure of the Constitution. Added to the basic structure is the security of the state which is a charade used by successive governments to deny information to its citizens on Chinese occupation of Indian territory.

The latest example is the Indian Army’s attempt to censor the manuscript of its former chief, General M.M. Naravane, that discloses details of a conversation he had with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the night of August 31, 2020, when Chinese PLA tanks were amassed on the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. This book reportedly provides insights into the Galwan Valley clashes of June 15, 2020, when 25 Indian soldiers were brutally murdered by the Chinese. Now, we can surmise why India did not defend its borders by declaring war on a belligerent China.

After the 1962 debacle with China, the Nehru government and now the Modi government have thwarted the Opposition’s questions about China’s continued illegal occupation of
Indian territory. The government does not want us to know about the telephone talk Gen Naravane reportedly had with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

When told about the amassing of Chinese troops and tanks on the border, Rajnath Singh reportedly told the General on August 31, 2020, he would phone the Prime Minister and revert. “He did revert at 22.30 hrs. And when he did, Rajnath Singh reportedly told me he (Rajnath Singh) had spoken to Prime Minister Modi and that it (whether to fight back or not) was purely a military decision. ‘Jo uchit samjhe, woh karo’,” which meant “do whatever you deem is appropriate,” Rajnath Singh told the hapless General Naravane, who said he had “been handed a hot potato.”

We realise that when things get tough, the government makes its generals their scapegoats. Gen Naravane could not have declared war on China unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh did so. Prime Minister Modi famously said, “Nobody has intruded into our territory and we have not intruded into anybody else’s territory,” refusing to name our arch-enemy China.

So, Indian citizens will be denied their right to know what took place on the night of August 31, 2020, on the specious pretext of “national security” which is simply because the Modi government does not want to declare war on China. It has the largest army in the world, making it an evil superpower that India dare not attack.

Now, to change topics, though the Supreme Court has been branded as an ‘Executive Court’ it does stand up to the government. This emerged when the apex court quashed the Gujarat government’s dastardly remission of life sentence granted to the 11 men who were freed after being convicted of raping and murdering Bilkis Bano.

The apex court referred to its May 2022 decision, which permitted the Gujarat government to decide the application of one of the convicts, Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah, for pre-mature release in terms of the state’s remission policy of July 9, 1992. After this order from the apex court, the other 10 convicts joined in with their pleas for remission. The Gujarat government subsequently granted them early release on August 10, 2022.

But a bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan said the court was “defrauded” into delivering its earlier decision on May 13, 2022, because the rapists had not divulged a chain of facts that would have evoked an unfavourable verdict of the apex court. The judgment said Shah was told by the Gujarat High Court in 2019 to approach the Maharashtra government with his plea for remission.

Justices Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan said there were misleading statements made in the pleadings in order that the rule of law does not mean granting of liberty to a fortunate few because granting remission to these 11 persons would send wrong signals to the people. Quashing the orders of remission granted by the Gujarat government, the judges directed the 11 rapists to surrender immediately so they could serve their sentences. .

In a third unrelated example, the Supreme Court said it could not grant any of the prayers in the writ petition to free a jailed Indian citizen, Nikhil Gupta, who has been accused by the US authorities of plotting to kill the US-based Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a designated terrorist under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Unlike his vacillating predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been tough with terrorists and separatists.

Nikhil Gupta may arguably be a RAW operative and the Supreme Court has left it for the government to pursue the matter. The judges said this was a serious matter of the sovereignty and comity of other nations. Consular access was the only thing they could decide. When secret agents are caught on foreign soil, their governments disown them, refusing to acknowledge Mossad-style operations on foreign soil which will embarrass the nation.

This is why when terrorists murder innocent citizens, they automatically forfeit their right to life and liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. Unlike Morarji Desai, who allegedly gave a list of all RAW agents in Pakistan to his counterpart in that country, Narendra Modi does the converse despite being bullied by China.

We must accept that the judiciary has always been hemmed in by its restrictions, so that it cannot always deliver verdicts against the government which runs the country based on laws enacted for the majority and by the majority. Justice and power are not always aligned, so our RAW agents who work for the nation’s unity overseas may be left to fend for themselves when they are exposed.

Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in law and is a senior journalist and advocate at the Bombay High Court

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