On November 27, the Supreme Court gave its full and final judgment in the Arnab Goswami case, wherein he was accused and jailed for allegedly abetting the suicide of architecture firm-owner Anvay Naik. What I have seen unfold in full public view over the last 23 days makes me feel ashamed as a former police officer of this country. An institution and force meant to protect the citizens seems to have morphed itself into a machinery to ambush the people, and as a former DGP, nothing makes me feel more ashamed than watch it all unfold.
The scathing order of the top court is an indictment of the law and order machinery in Maharashtra that has trampled all over due process in a desperate bid to lock up an independent journalist who doesn’t toe their line. I have watched Arnab Goswami and Republic from close quarters and the pattern of malice shone through as Mumbai and Maharashtra Police started their exercise to target him right after his coverage of the horrific Palghar lynchings.
The entire case against Arnab has turned to dust after this judgment because the highest court of law has made prime facie observations on the merits of the abetment case with a clarity that is inescapable for the police force trying to corner the Republic Media Network’s editor-in-chief. In its judgment, the Supreme Court has minced no words and said, “a prima facie evaluation of the FIR does not establish the ingredients of the offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC”. In the 68-paragraph order, the Supreme Court has elaborated on how the main criteria for an offence to be made out haven’t even been established, thereby effectively leaving no room for the law and order machinery to continue on its malicious witch-hunt against the journalist. With a scathing judgment of this scale, prime facie the very basis of the case, the FIR itself, is now under a cloud.
The apex court has upheld personal liberties and put in place certain observations, which will make the state machinery and the officers going after Arnab Goswami certainly uncomfortable. The highest court of the country has said, “Prima facie, on the application of the test which has been laid down by this Court in a consistent line of authority which has been noted above, it cannot be said that the appellant was guilty of having abetted the suicide within the meaning of Section 306 of the IPC.” The time is ripe for the misdeeds of the police force to be held to account and the officers to present themselves for some amount of redemption. Quashing of the suicide case that was reopened transgressing all due process is the need of the hour, and in my opinion, the only right option that rests with the state administration and the law and order machinery of Maharashtra.
The entire rationale of the motivated Maharashtra government and the police machinery under it in affixing blame for the suicide on Goswami is downright atrocious. Because if today, Goswami is framed this way, the question emerges, will a senior police officer whose junior committed suicide because he did not get the transfer he wanted also be locked up? Will the DGP of a region be booked if the plumber who went to the police station were to later commit suicide? Will police brass be held responsible for abetment if an unconnected and unrelated suicide is committed but their name is maliciously dragged in? These are questions that police must ask themselves and their own conscience because their actions today are moulding their inevitable legacy.
The top court has made it clear, “deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many.” Goswami was deprived of liberty for eight whole days. He was put in a prison with hardened criminals and dreaded gangsters. He was put in a cell with those accused of the most sinful crimes. He was dragged from his home and assaulted in visuals that were present for the world to see. He was denied every basic right and stripped of every bit of dignity. But now, the judiciary, from its highest quarters, has ensured that truth and justice prevail.
The Supreme Court judgment is an alarm bell to law and order officers of this country, who must remember they took an oath on the Constitution to serve the people of this country and not transient political masters. This judgment of the Supreme Court should be a blaring wake-up call to the present police cadres that they cannot shrivel up, lose their spine and become handmaidens of a vested political interest.
As an IPS officer myself, witnessing the current state of affairs in Maharashtra at the hands and with the complicity of certain members of the Maharashtra Police, fills me with horror. The time to restore morality to the uniform of some, to assure the citizens that the humaneness of the police force remains, and to once again build public faith in the institution, is now. Those who don the khaki uniform must stand true to their constitutional pledge and ensure they remain the frontline defenders of our democracy and not the perpetrators ripping it apart.
The only option before Maharashtra Police is to attempt to redeem themselves before the people of India. The only choice they have today is to attempt to course-correct. The only dignified, legitimate and legal option before it is to dutifully quash the case, give up the idea of filing a chargesheet in this non-existing case and hope the taint of their transgressions wears off.
The writer is former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh