Going on an arresting spree can be a reassuring display of the efficacy of law and order — only when the arrests are buttressed by evidence and procedure. The arrest of five individuals on charges of illegally helping those ‘waging war’ against the Indian State will also have to meet the same criteria. The Supreme Court has kept matters in limbo, ordering the accused be out of custody and under house arrest till September 6, by which time Maharashtra state and the Centre have to respond to the petition filed challenging the arrests. The checks and balances expected of a liberal democracy were reassuringly evident in the court’s statement that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy” without which the ‘cooker’ would burst.
It matters not one jot what people — the authorities or those outraged by the arrests — think regarding the culpability of those hauled up by the Maharashtra Police under the IPC and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. What matters is whether the charges stick — or not. Neither ‘left-wing activism’ nor “intolerance to the present system”, as cited by the police, are crimes by themselves. A law-abiding Maoist can’t be sent to jail. That the police were unable to cite any offence committed by one of the arrested on Tuesday hardly invites confidence. There are enough past cases — most infamously that of Binayak Sen, who after being arrested, convicted, sentenced and refused bail for ‘supporting’ Naxals, was granted bail in 2011— for us to insist the police have something better than ‘They have Maoist leanings’.
That the activists were allegedly planning to recruit members “from 35 colleges and launch attacks” is indeed a serious charge. But if the police do manage to table the necessary evidence, it still will be justice served, the pivot around which a nation — or individuals — whether under threat or not, work.