Cheerleader of a Lynch Mob

April 13, 2013

by Sanjeev Mahajan

A common technique practised by many a writer to snow one’s readers is to begin one’s essay with a banal quote by a famous historical personality, in the hope that the reader would be so impressed by such faux erudition that they would readily suspend their critical faculties towards what the author wishes to subsequently unleash on them. Praveen Swami seems to have learned this technique well as evinced by his op-ed The vanity of 13/12 ‘truth telling’. He begins his essay with an uncontroversial quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan who is supposed to have said that although people are entitled to their opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts.

Since his op-ed is a critique of Arundhati Roy’s article A perfect day for democracy, one naturally expects that Swami would provide us with examples and unassailable evidence of how Roy has made up or bent facts to suit her ‘nefarious’ purposes. Unfortunately however, expectant but critical readers would be disappointed. Tedious although this exercise may be, one has no choice but to take every fact that Swami thinks Roy has either falsified or bent to serve her purposes, and critically look at his rebuttal. Before we embark on this dreary voyage, it is worth pointing out that although Swami accuses Roy of cherry-picking part of the evidence for polemical effect, it is in fact Swami who cherry-picks only those facts presented by Roy, which he finds easy to rebut (as we will shortly see, even this ‘rebuttal’ is hardly earthshaking). It is therefore Swami who has an agenda here, not Roy. We will come back to this important point shortly.

Swami cites Roy’s doubts over how police investigators chose to apprehend Guru in the first place. Quoting Roy “They said that that S.A.R. Geelani led them to him. But the court records show that the message to arrest Afzal went out before they picked up Geelani.”, Swami then notes that in Roy’s view, “this lends weight to the claim that Guru was framed.”

In his ‘rebuttal’, Swami cites the judgment of the Additional Sessions judge S.N. Dhingra who “arrived at the conclusion at the conclusion that Mr. Geelani and Afsan Guru were probably taken into custody by the police after 8 p.m. on December 14, 2001 — some 14 hours before their arrest was legally recorded. Put bluntly, Mr. Geelani and Ms Afsan were in illegal custody when the Delhi Police sent its message seeking Guru. “ Notice the operative phrase “probably taken into custody” which implies that even Dhingra does not know when Mr Geelani and Afsan Guru were taken into custody. Swami probably thinks his ‘rebuttal’ to be devastating, but he hardly realizes that he is not making a case against Roy’s thesis, but for it.

Swami then accuses Roy of eliding pertinent facts when she notes, for example, “that a laptop seized from Guru was not properly sealed .” Swami claims that Roy “omits to record that the Supreme Court discussed this issue at some length, concluding that a defence expert witness’ testimony did not ‘substantiate the point of criticism about the possible tampering of laptop nor does it make a dent on the findings of the experts examined by the prosecution’”. I am not sure how this addresses Roy’s reasonable doubt that since it was not properly sealed, the laptop was likely to be tampered. Does Swami take every argument that originates in the august court at face value, even the specious ones? One hesitates to teach logic to Swami, but how can defence or anyone ‘substantiate the point of criticism about the possible tampering of laptop’ other than to point out that the laptop was not sealed properly?

Swami finds Roy’s “censoring of facts that sit ill with her account” even more inexcusable. But what are the facts she allegedly censors? According to Swami, although Roy asserts that Guru lacked legal representation “at the most crucial stage of a criminal case”, “she omits mentioning that Supreme Court judges P. Venkatarama Reddi and P.P. Naolekar heard extensive arguments on the quality of Guru’s legal representation in the trial court — and concluded that they found ‘no substance in this contention’. The judges examined precisely what proceedings took place during every period when Guru was unrepresented, and concluded that they did not include substantive, adverse proceedings.”

So according to Swami, since the Supreme Court judges did not agree that Guru lacked legal representation, it therefore stands to reason that Guru did not lack legal representation. In Swami’s view, any claim, even if unsubstantiated, made by judges of the august body should be considered sacrosanct. And since Roy did not point this up, she is guilty, according to Swami, of censoring facts that sit ill with her account. I hate to point this out to Swami that it might be kosher to invoke argument by authority in a religious discourse, but not in a rational discussion.

Not content with his specious ‘rebuttal’ of Roy, or perhaps aware that his critique lacks substance, Swami then imputes conspiracy theories to Roy. But the irony is that it is the Supreme Court judgment that invokes conspiracies, not Roy. It also reflects bad faith on Swami’s part to omit the most infamous and embarrassing part of the judgment that sealed a possibly innocent man’s fate -“As in the case with most conspiracies, there is and could be no evidence amounting to criminal conspiracy … The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” Perhaps Swami does not wish to be reminded that he is a cheerleader of a lynch mob whose collective conscience could only be satisfied when an innocent man was murdered.

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