On October 14, 2011, the Lok Raj Sangathan organized an extremely significant political meeting to condemn the attack on senior Supreme Court advocate and activist, Shri Prashant Bhushan, and in defence of the right to conscience. Representatives of many political parties and organisations, as well as women and men of conscience, came to participate in this meeting organized at extremely short notice. One and all condemned the attack, and supported the consistent political stand taken by Shri Prashant Bhushan on the Kashmir question. They denounced the state for being the organizer of the attack, and underlined the importance of defending the right to conscience. Below is a report by a correspondent of MEL on the discussion in the meeting..
Shri Shanti Bhushan, renowned lawyer and former Law Minister was on the presidium, together with the President of the Lok Raj Sangathan, S Raghavan, and Sucharita.
Welcoming the participants, the President of Lok Raj Sangathan, S. Raghavan gave facts to conclusively show that the attack was planned and organized, with the attackers enjoying the full protection of the state. Prashant Bhushan was attacked, Raghavan explained, because in his statement, he had defended the right of Kashmiri people to self-determination, and argued for a referendum in Kashmir. He had called for the repeal of the fascist Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, and the withdrawal of the armed forces into the barracks. He was attacked for his principled stand that the right to determine the future of Kashmir belongs to the Kashmiri people, and not to the governments of India or Pakistan or anyone else.
Elaborating further on the issue, Raghavan said that anyone who speaks up for the right of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future is branded a "terrorist" and "anti national". The big capitalists and their political representatives in parliament do not want people to question the existing system in any way. They want to silence the debate about such crucial issues by using threats, violence, intimidation or any other means. The attack on Prashant Bhushan represents an attack on the right to conscience, he said, and called for a mass united movement to condemn this attack. He invited all the participants to come up and present their views freely and frankly.
Shri Shanti Bhushan cited many facts to show that the attack on Prashant Bhushan was the work of goondas in the pay of various political parties. He said that the right to conscience, the freedom of speech and expression are very important rights, as debate of views is crucial to the progress of any society. A view which may not have wide acceptance today, may be proved to be correct in the future, he pointed out. Endorsing Prashant Bhushan's view on the Kashmir question, he argued that the Indian state had not fulfilled its promises to the Kashmiri people. The right to self determination up to and including secession, is the sovereign right of all nations and peoples, he said, and once the Kashmiri people are given this right, they may very well decide not to secede, but until they are given this right, the movement for azadi cannot be quelled by brute force, as the Indian state has been trying to do. The demand for a referendum on the issue of Kashmir is a demand to assert the sovereign right of the Kashmiri people. He called for a broad democratic movement to oppose such attacks and stringent punishment for the guilty.
Shri Shanit Bhushan pointed out that the struggle to defend the right to conscience was as important as the struggle for the Jan Lok Pal Bill. He related past personal experiences stretching over decades, where he had to convince his comrades including eminent personalities like late Justice VM Tarakhunde, that right to conscience must be necessarily exercised and defended. Furthermore, referring to the groups that claimed credit for the attack, who came in buses to the Patiala House courts on October 13 to attack supporters of Prashant Bhushan in full view of the police, he said that sting operations carried out some time back had revealed that these groups were paid to carry out these type of actions by definite state agencies and political forces. Shri Shanti Bhushan proposed that there must be a strong law to defend the right to conscience and punish severely those who violate it. He pointed out that these criminals who perpetrated the attacks would be out on bail within a day or two under the present dispensation.
Socialist leader and social activist Dr. Sunilam, who has been two times MLA in Madhya Pradesh, said that the attack on Prashant Bhushan was an effort by the political establishment to teach a lesson to all those who are fighting to defend the interests of the people. Prashant Bhushan, he pointed out, was a prominent face of the Anna Hazare movement which had galvanized the youth and people all over the country. People have lost faith in the system. Relating his own experiences in fighting for the interests of the downtrodden, he accused the ruling class of trying to communalise the situation in order to divide the people and weaken their resistance. The connivance of the police with the attackers, in the present incident, clearly shows that this was an organized conspiracy to threaten into silence all those who speak out the truth, he asserted.
Pratap Samal, Delhi Secretary, Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist), spoke of the fascist forces at work, to negate the right of people to express their dissent and declared that it was a challenge before all of us to defeat these fascist forces. This was not the handiwork of some ordinary people, but of organized forces. The name of Bhagat Singh was being misused to exploit the sentiments of our people, who have great regard for the revolutionary traditions of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, who faced the gallows to expose the tyranny of British rule in India. He drew attention to the untold crimes of the Indian state and its army against the Kashmiri people, and pointed out that every time anyone questions this, he or she is branded anti-national and treated like a criminal. He called upon all democratic minded people to come together and give a fitting reply to these fascist forces.
Prakash Rao, raised the important question -- what is the trouble and who is the trouble maker? The state and various forces are saying Prashant Bhushan is the trouble maker because he expressed his view on Kashmir. In fact, it is the state and the main ruling class parties which are trouble makers. They use brute force and state repression to prevent political solutions to political problems, as in the case of Kashmir, Manipur and other areas. They use force to crush the voice of dissent. Sometimes they use their police forces, at other times they use their secret agencies as in the present case. Prashant Bhushan's views on the right of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future is being used as a justification for the attack. This is the typical method of the Indian state, which resorts to the use of violence whenever it cannot defend its own position. Despite the mass opposition to the AFSPA in Kashmir, Manipur and other northeastern states, the centre is unwilling to end the brutal army rule in these places and grant the people the right to decide their own future, he said. The Indian state and its main political parties have unleashed communal massacres time and again, as in 1984, 1993 and 2002, to drown the struggle of people for their rights in blood.
Prakash Rao said that the mass upsurge that we witnessed in recent days has thrown up the central question of where sovereignty should be vested -- in the Parliament dominated by the interests of the big monopoly capitalist houses, or in the masses of people. The state is resorting to the use of force, to intimidate people and divert their attention from this crucial issue. Our rulers want to limit the right to conscience to only what suits their interests, i.e. if someone wants to insult or slander people of another caste or community, such views are encouraged and given full publicity, but if someone speaks up for the rights of the people, for democracy and progress, such views are sought to be silenced. Citing the example of the Bhakti Movement, he emphasized that the struggle for the right to conscience has deep roots in our society. The presence of so many people at this meeting from different political parties and organisations, clearly shows that progressive and democratic opinion is very strong in our society. The clash between the old outlook and the new is what opens the path to progress of society, he pointed out, emphasizing the need to mobilize widely to take forward the struggle for the right to conscience. We demand severe punishment for the guilty, he said, but who will punish the guilty? Only when people have political power in their own hands, will they be able to ensure that the guilty are punished, he explained.
Poet Imtezar Nayeem, a leader of the Jamaat e Islami Hind, condemned the attack on Prashant Bhushan and the attempt of the ruling class to whip up communal frenzy on the issue of rights of the people of Kashmir. Highlighting the barbaric reign of terror that has been unleashed in Kashmir by the Indian state and its armed forces, he made a passionate appeal to keep alive the struggle for the right to conscience.
Leader of Peoples Democratic Front of India (PDFI), Comrade Arjun expressed his support for Prashant Bhushan and his stand on Kashmir, which he said, echoed the sentiments of thousands of people all over India and especially in Kashmir. The people of Kashmir have been groaning under the jackboots of the Indian army, he pointed out, and have been bravely resisting this. The attack on Prashant Bhushan was an organized act, enjoying the support of the state, he declared. Referring to the many problems plaguing Indian society today, he condemned the systematic use of force by the state to crush the struggles of the poor, the dalits and other oppressed communities, and called for a united and strong people's movement to counter this.
Comrade Mathew, CPI(ML)-Ambedkarvadi, described Prashant Bhushan as a leading activist on many issues of human rights and denounced the attack on him as a cowardly attempt by the state to intimidate those who are defending the rights of the oppressed. Speaking in defence of the right to self determination of the Kashmiri people, he condemned the use of violence by the state and called on all democratic forces to unite and raise their voices against it.
Dr. Venkatesh, member of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform (CJAR) said that the attack on Prashant Bhushan is an attack on all those who want a positive change in the society. Those who speak in favour of the big monopoly corporate houses and their state, those who espouse the most backward communal and casteist views are never attacked, but those who oppose the existing system and want to bring about a change in favour of the masses of people are attacked and crushed. He related his experience of how the state has tried to suppress those who wish to expose corruption in the judiciary. Demanding exposure of and punishment for all those guilty of this attack, he called on people to unite and come forward to challenge this cruel and unjust system.
The brutal reign of terror by the Indian army and the gross violation of human rights in Kashmir exposes the true face of the Indian state, asserted Comrade Jagdish from CPI(ML)-(Kanu Sanyal). We must defend the sovereign right of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future. He denounced the attack on Prashant Bhushan as an attempt by the state to paint the mass popular movement against corruption in anti-national colours, to divide and weaken the movement. This should be firmly opposed, he asserted.
Voicing the aspirations of the Manipuri youth, Rojesh of the Manipuri Students Association of Delhi (MSAD), passionately called for repeal of the fascist, colonial AFSPA. Drawing the attention of the audience to the untold crimes against the people of Kashmir, Manipur, etc., by the Indian army, under the AFSPA, he condemned the practice of the state and the media, of branding all those who speak up against these atrocities, as "anti-national". He invited all the participants to the mass demonstration that was being organized on November 5 in front of parliament in New Delhi, to demand repeal of AFSPA and to assert the right of self-determination of the Manipuri people.
On behalf of the Delhi Shramik Sangathan, Anil said that the attack on Prashant Bhushan is an attack on all of us. Recalling the contribution of Prashant Bhushan to the struggle for the rights of the homeless and displaced people of the city, he said that the attack was definitely state-organised, whatever name the goondas who carried out the attack may call themselves by. He gave a call for a united struggle to see that the guilty are punished.
Prof. Bharat Seth, renowned engineer and leader of the faculty association of the Indian Institutes of Technology, elaborated on the struggle for the right to conscience, as an integral tradition of Indian society. The Indian state does not even recognize the existence of nations and nationalities within the Indian Union and uses brute armed force to crush the national aspirations of the people, he declared. Through numerous examples, he showed how over the years, the wealth of the big monopoly corporate houses has increased manifold, while the condition of the working masses has only deteriorated. The state uses fascist terror to crush the people's struggle for their rights and we need to build a strong united movement against this, he asserted.
C.L.Nagar of the Social Justice Alliance criticized the state and its media for working in the interests of the corporate sector. All those who espouse revolutionary and progressive views have been attacked by the forces of the state, in the same manner as Prashant Bhushan has been attacked, and we need to get organized to resist such attacks, he said.
Summing up the discussion, Sucharita of Lok Raj Sangathan highlighted that the attack on Prashant Bhushan is an attack on the right to conscience and must be firmly opposed. The Indian state defends the interests of the big monopoly capitalist houses and attacks all those who stand up in defence of the rights of the working and oppressed people. It uses its favourite methods of organizing communal violence and unleashing state terror to crush the resistance of the people. The Indian state negates the aspirations of the various nations, nationalities and peoples within the Indian Union and deploys its armed forces, backed by fascist laws such as the AFSPA, to crush their aspirations. All those who dare to raise their voice against this are branded as "anti national" and against "the unity and integrity of the country", to justify the attacks of the state on them. The attack on Prashant Bhushan is an attempt by the state to divide and weaken the huge mass upsurge that we witnessed in recent days. This movement raised the crucial question of who should be sovereign -- the Parliament dominated by the interests of the big monopoly corporate houses, or the people. The state is trying to intimidate people and divert their attention from this crucial issue. All forces that stand for progress, democracy and justice have to come together to build a powerful mass movement in defence of the rights of the people, the rights of the nations and nationalities to determine their own future, to oppose the attempts of the state to crush the aspirations of the people and for punishment of all those guilty of crimes against the people, she concluded.