People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 21

June 08 , 2008


Gujarat Police Show Their  True Colours Once Again

Babulal Likhure

THE Gujarat police has shown its true colours once again, this time by slapping sedition charges against a newspaper which reminded its readers about a top cop's past record of being very close to a known mafia leader who was gunned down ten years back.

The newly appointed Ahmedabad city police commissioner O P Mathur, who is considered very close to chief minister Narendra Modi, has recently charged the resident editor of the local Times of India and its reporter with sedition and treason.  

O P Mathur is the Gujarat cadre IPS officer who had last year allegedly tried to put hurdles in the way of Supreme Court ordered investigation into the fake encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh for which three IPS officers were arrested.

Upon Mathur's recent posting to the lucrative post as police commissioner of Ahmedabad city, the local edition of the Times of India ran a five-part series about the IPS officer's alleged underhand link with underworld don Abdul Lateef in the early 1990s even though he was part of a team specially constituted to nab the dreaded criminal.

Though the newspaper reports were based on the confessions of a Lateef aide as made to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the series has annoyed Mathur so much that he has filed FIRs charging the resident editor and reporter with sedition.  

Irrespective of the merits of the top cop's complaint, the sedition charge makes the journalists liable to arrest --- at least for some time.

Journalists and civil rights activists have naturally united in protest against the police commissioner's attempt to frighten the media by slapping charges as serious as sedition. Hundreds of journalists gathered outside the police commissioner's office at a short notice on June 2, 2008 and held a peaceful but angry demonstration in an effort to urge him to see reason.

Senior journalists who spoke at the demonstration venue pointed out that it is not the first time the Gujarat police has tried to invoke such serious charges against the press in particular and activists in general.

Though this time it is the police commissioner himself who has decided to settle scores with the press, on earlier occasions the police have happily allowed some Hindu militant groups to disrupt the normal functioning of the media.

Only few months back, the local office of an English news channel was attacked by hitherto unknown Hindu Samrajya Sena activists. The “crime” of the television channel, as perceived by the Hindu militants, was that it had included the name of nonagenarian painter M F Hussain in their list of eminent Indians to be voted through an SMS poll. Needless to mention, the 'saffronised' police of Gujarat did not act against the Hindu zealots except giving oral assurances of nabbing the culprits.

The demonstration and slogans like “down with fascism” could not move an adamant Mathur, forcing the journalists to take a delegation to meet the state governor Nawal Kishore Sharma and director general of police.

“The action of police is highly deplorable and a direct assault on the freedom of press which is considered as the fourth estate in a democratic country”, noted the memorandum to the governor. The memorandum also observed that registering the case against Times of India is a deliberate action of the police to suppress the voice of dissent of the press and create an atmosphere of panic in the state, where violation of human and democratic rights have become a regular practice of the police in Gujarat.  

The news series by the Times of India has exposed the nexus between. O P Mathur and underworld don Lateef and questions the credibility of the IPS officer who is supposed to maintain law and order, the memo to the governor said.  

Stating that the role of media as the watchdog of democracy and its role to disseminate right information to the citizen is always indispensable, the memorandum to the governor demanded that the charges of sedition against the newspaper and the journalists should be withdrawn. It also demanded that the charges of Mathur's nexus with underworld don should also be investigated by a judicial inquiry.  

Meanwhile, the Times of India and its journalists have moved the Gujarat High Court for quashing the charges of sedition leveled against them by police commissioner O P Mathur.