“Your Honour, we would like to file an intervention application to oppose bail in this case,” began advocate Shailesh Ahuja, marking the latest twist in the high-profile trial of celebrated paediatrician and rights activist Binayak Sen case.
On 24 December last year, a Sessions court in Raipur convicted Dr. Sen, businessman Pijush Guha, and alleged Maoist Narayan Sanyal of conspiring to commit sedition and sentenced all three men to life imprisonment.
This week, the Chhattisgarh High Court was hearing arguments for the suspension of Dr. Sen’s sentence and a grant of bail, when Mr. Ahuja opposed Dr. Sen’s bail, on behalf of Ranjana Chaubey and Lalita Yadav, widows of Superintendent of Police Vinod Chaubey and Head Constable Sanjay Yadav.
Vinod Chaubey and Sanjay Yadav were among 26 policemen killed in a Maoist ambush in Rajnandgaon district on July 12, 2009. Mr. Yadav was Mr. Chaubey’s bodyguard and, police say, was killed protecting his senior officer.
The Sen case has polarised the divisions between those in support of the Chhattisgarh government’s controversial counterinsurgency operations, and those seeking accountability from the State in its battle against the Maoists. Privately, local journalists have speculated that the Chaubey petition is the Chhattisgarh police’s attempt to defuse the tide of national condemnation directed at the verdict of the lower court.
“If we are fighting a war, we must support the government. We can ask questions when the war is over,” said Saumil Chaubey, Vinod Chaubey’s 22 year old son, who says that neither the government nor police played a role in drafting his petition. Saumil is currently Deputy Collector of Raipur, an administrative post offered to him after his father’s death.
“This petition is a symbolic act…a way of telling people that we would be very disappointed if bail is granted. Martyrs have to be given more importance.” said Saumil.
Saumil and his mother said they filed the intervention petition after reading reports that Dr. Sen was represented by Ram Jethmalani, the country’s foremost criminal lawyer, and that the trial was observed by a team from the European Union.
Petition, a protest
The petition, the Chaubeys say, is a protest against what they perceive to be an attempt by activists and sections of the national media to influence the judiciary. The local media has almost uniformly supported Dr. Sen’s conviction.
“Why get foreigners into our high court?” asked Saumil, echoing a sentiment voiced by sections of the Chhattisgarh political establishment. The student wing of the BJP, for instance, organised black flag protests when the EU observers arrived in Raipur.
The petition also cites news reports that the Maoists enforced a week-long lockdown in four districts after the lower court convicted Dr. Sen, Mr. Guha and Mr. Sanyal as proof that the three men were members of the banned CPI (Maoist).
Dr. Sen’s family maintains that he has no links to the Maoists and has consistently opposed the use of violence as a political tool. “Throughout the case, the police have created a dust cloud of conspiracy around us,” said Ilina Sen, Dr. Sen’s wife.
During the trial, the prosecution produced two policemen who claimed that Dr. Sen regularly attended Maoist meetings in the districts of Bijapur and Dantewada. On cross-questioning however, both conceded that they had no way of confirming their claims. “This is evidence based on informers and statements that were not recorded of people whose identity is not known,” said defence lawyer Surinder Singh, describing the police accounts as “hearsay”.
The prosecution has also accused Dr. Sen of helping two ‘hardcore’ naxals – Amita Srivastav and Shanker Singh — get bank accounts. “On what basis are the police calling them hardcore Maoists?” asked Mr. Singh, pointing out that the police had produced no evidence against them despite an investigation lasting two and a half years.
Mr. Singh also accused the police of fabricating key evidence and coaching the sole witness whose testimony links Dr. Sen, Pijush Guha and Narayan Sanyal.
The High Court’s exact stance on the Chaubey petition shall be clear when a copy of the order is made public in the coming days. In court, the Justices seem to limit advocate Ahuja’s role to assisting the prosecution in its opposition to Dr. Sen’s bail application.
The next hearing is scheduled for February 9.