Right move to include Binayak Sen on Plan panel

Right move to include Binayak Sen on Plan panel

If the newspapers are right, Chhattisgarh has officially communicated its disapproval to the Prime Minister on the nomination of Sen to the commission. As a protest, the political leadership of Chhattisgarh has decided to skip all future meetings of the Planning Commission as long as Sen continues as a member on the panel’s steering committee.

The BJP has been mounting pressure on Chief Minister Raman Singh to take a tough stand on the issue in “tune with the sentiments of the people of the state”. Of course, it would be difficult to specify those “sentiments” since the poor of the state who are in the majority have opposed those charges levied on Sen who was convicted by the trial court and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2010. The Chhatisgarh High Court had rejected his bail plea. The apex court granted him bail, suspending the sentence by the trial court. His appeal against conviction is now pending in the high court.

According to the chief minister, Sen is still a convict in spite of being a mere accused person since he is not yet let free by the court. How good is this argument? Though politically the state government may hope to gain some mileage from such an accusation, at the level of the civil society the party is likely to be mocked at with such an irrational argument. Sen is respected for his competence and expertise in the field of community health. Unlike many other medical practitioners, he is a credible doctor with many years of service with the poorest of the poor in the tribal areas.

When a state draws up a health policy for the country, it is essential that it has the best expertise to serve the neediest. There are unlikely to be many doctors who have provided such quality service in the remotest areas of the country as Sen. Why shouldn’t the country make use of his wealth of information and experience for the greater good of the poor if the state decides to draft an inclusive health policy? Secondly, does Sen become a criminal because the state has accused him to be one?  

Serious charges

If that is the argument then the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is accused of genocide, should not have been allowed to be the chief minister. So is BJP veteran L K Advani, who is accused in the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya. There are serious charges of corruption against Karnataka B S Yeddyurappa. Many other politicians have been accused for more serious crimes. Should they be allowed to continue in their offices?

If the BJP follows a uniform policy of opposing persons accused with criminal charges, then their opposition may carry some weight. The party cannot be selective. The bigger fallacy of the BJP is to conclude that Sen is a criminal because a state government run by the bJP state has accused him to be one. This is against the general rule of jurisprudence. No one is a criminal unless proved to be one.

The country does not believe in those charges. Across the country there were protests when Sen was charged. The support for his cause came from all sections, including the international community – students, doctors, academics, intellectuals, the media, Nobel Prize winners, the European Union and even the global community. An impression is gaining ground among the people that the imprisonment of Sen has vested interests.

Finally, all democratic states make a distinction between the person and his crime. While the law punishes no persons, it is the action that is punished by the courts. Respect to human life is a part of all rights.

While life has to be respected, persons involved in wrongful deeds are punished to bring them to the path of rectitude and to deter such deeds by others. Even if Sen is a criminal or alleged to be a criminal, what is wrong if the state makes use of his expertise for an inclusive health policy for the country?

By such continuing attacks on Sen, the state of Chhattisgarh is likely to become a laughing stock. No party in a democracy can attack a person beyond the tenets of law. One should appreciate the Central government for inducting Sen on the commission.

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