Misapplication of UAPA in Kozhikode arreststext_fields
When two CPM youths, Allah Shuhaib and Thaha Fasal were arrested on 1 November last year on charges of Maoist links and the same became a hotly debated issue, the chief minister answered queries on the arrests at a press conference on 1 Jan 2020, along these lines: "The scrutiny [of slapping UAPA] is over, and it has been made clear that they are Maoists. What is the issue in that? They are not CPM workers. Do you want me to say that slapping UAPA on them was a grave fault? I am not going to say that. There need not be any notion that they were saints and were arrested while going to have a tea". Now, after ten months of judicial custody, the NIA special court has granted bail to both of them. The bail order issued by judge Anil K. Bhaskar is a blow to the stand of the chief minister and his party, the CPM. The order also carries a fitting comment on any one who tries to suppress dissenting voices using draconian laws. But there is more than that in the lines of the judgment; raises hopes in an anti-democratic atmosphere being built on the planks of hper-nationalism and a new construction given to patriotism. The judge stated that the acts and movements of the defendants cannot be said to have been controlled by a banned organisation and that the prosecution could not establish that the arrested duo were part of the CPI (Maoist) cadre.
The judge's pronouncements constitute a major setback for the chief minister in charge of home portfolio - responsible for applying UAPA on the two students - and who had asserted that they were Maoists beyond doubt. Besides, the CPM leadership that rallied in support behind him, although after initial reservations at district level, also bears part of the blame of that stand. The prosecution charge was built up on the premise that the accused had Maoist leanings and that Thaha had in his possession the flag of the organisation and its magazine and leaflets. However, the prosecution was not able to accuse the defendants of any terrorist acts. According to witness statements, it was not clear that they were members of the banned organisation or that they had abetted the organisation. The oppression suffered by the weaker sections of the society do attract many people to Maoist ideology. But all of them cannot be described as belonging to an extremist organisation, the court observed. Even earlier, several courts of the cuntry had decreed that just because one had sympathy with a Maoist organisation, legal action cannot be taken on that basis. But what happens in the country under the police machinery and the governments that oversee them, is in total disregard of such legal dicta.
Regardless of who leads the government at the centre, be it BJP or the Congress, governments have invoked UAPA to serve their own ends. But as for the CPM, which is given to bragging that it has a principled stand against UAPA, it is when that party is in power that two students belonging to its own cadre were charged under UAPA and the party keeps justifying it. Although the latest court verdict is only to grant bail to the accused, before the trial stage, the content of the judgement amounts to rejecting the charges against them that will come up during trial. In other words, the fate of the case in its substance itself is hanging in the balance. Though the eventual outcome remains unknown as of now, one may wonder why the CPM ventured to justify its stand. One possible answer to this is that while in power even they can talk only in the idiom of a ruling establishment. But in the Pantheerankavu UAPA case, it went beyond that. The CPM, it is overdrive to justify the action against Alan and Thaha, has also been trying to mix up this issue with Islamists, a total outsider in the merits of the case. In a speech, CPM's Kozhikode district secretary said that it was the Islamists who were giving all support to Maoists – a stand that was endorsed by its state leaders subsequently. What the CPM did in the process was a combination of stances far from convincing for any one: a ruling establishment sophistry of facing oppositions by stigmatising them as Maoists, and a right-wing tactic of overcoming hurdles by spreading Islamophobia. One can recall the way the left front had encountered the opposition UDF by calling it a trio of Kunjumani, Kunjoonju and Kunhalikutty (meaning Kerala Congress leader KM Mani, Congress leader Oommen Chandu and Muslim League leader Kunhalikutty), thereby attempting a mobilisation of Hindu votes. The CPM has already given indications of playing a similar card in the upcoming elections too. CPM sees any camp at odds with its line, be it Maoism, Islamism or extremism, as tools and labels to use for its own political ends. Now the special court's order comes as a big setback for that strategy.