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The Rediff Special/George Fernandes
'Satya bahar nahin aayega'
November 25, 2004
George Fernandes may be 74, but the former defence minister -- a veteran of numerous street protests since the 1960s -- can still take to the streets he proved last fortnight when he protested against the arrest of the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, whom he has known for 35 years.
Fernandes, who met Jayendra Saraswati at the Vellore central jail last week, describes the encounter in a first person feature, exclusive to rediff.com
What has been done to the Shankaracharya is not acceptable. Because there is no fairness in the attitude of the police, the Supreme Court has laid out certain guidelines to treat accused in police cases. These guidelines were not followed in the seer's case.
Those who say we are brahminical because we are protesting against his arrest and against the treatment of the police do not know me. They should know that I had gone to Chennai when Jaylalithaa got Karunanidhi arrested. The CM is incidentally a Brahmin. Karunanidhi is not a Brahmin.
The police pulled Karunanidhi out of his house. On a hot summer day the DMK president was kept in a jail room without a fan and a proper bed.
At that time too, I went to see him in jail. So if anybody sees a Brahmin in me I would like to say I don't believe in caste. I believe we don't need an intermediary to communicate to some spirit, if at all it is up there. In our country, millions of human rights violations take place, and whenever possible I have fought against them.
On the charges of murder against the seer
After the arrest, I went to Vellore, Kanchi and Chennai. His worst enemies have told me that he has not done it. One of them said he is incapable of doing such things and he has not done it.
Yes, somebody has been killed. That is the truth. But if the police believe that a statement by the accused whom they consider to be the murderer is more important than the statement of the seer, then I think something is wrong in our country.
The Shankaracharya had nothing to do with it. I have seen him working with Muslim leaders. I know he aspires for peace with the Muslims. He is a man of peace. I have seen his work all over the country, and it does not smack of caste bias.
On his visit to the jailed Shankaracharya
When I went to Vellore jail, the jailor told me nothing pertaining to his case could be discussed. Inside the jail, there were two policemen and two jail officials with us. So my conversation with him was limited.
I asked him in Hindi, "How's your health?" He said, "Tabiyat to teek hain.(I am well)." At this point one of the jailors told me that a doctor was checking him every day.
Then, I asked him, "Do you have any other difficulties?" He said, "Pachas saal ka mera smaprit jeevan ek ghante main barbad kara diya (In just one hour, these people ruined fifty years of my dedicated life).."
So, I told him, "You should not worry. Outside the jail, all over the country and even outside India, people are concerned about your arrest. People are thinking of you. You should not worry at all."
He replied, "Hum to yahan hain (that's true, but I am here in jail)."
I said, "See, we have courts. And the truth will come out one day. Nobody can stop that."
The Shankaracharya said, "Nahin aayega. Satya bahar nahin aayega (the truth won't come out)because all my people were beaten up by the police. People are tortured to get signatures on (confessional) statements. That is why the truth will never emerge."
I had no reply to that. I kept silent. I was with him for 12 minutes and most of the time we were silent.
The people who are targeting him would like to remove him from his post. In a way he has been removed from his seat.
I found that his mind is still resilient. I believe he will go ahead. He didn't mention Jaylalithaa at all. He sat silent. His only emotion surfaced when he said that his life's work was destroyed in one hour.
On the after-effects of the arrest
This arrest only demonstrates that this country is not safe in the hands of people who are indulging in this kind of activities, whether they are in the south or the north.
These are test doses. They are testing the extent to which people are ready to fight back. Indira Gandhi did the same kind of things before she became a dictator.
After the war with Pakistan over Bangladesh, she won with a huge margin. After that Indira came out with a poster that showed her as an avatar of a supreme leader like Hitler.
I pulled it off from the wall of my office in New Delhi. S M Joshi, Nanasaheb Goray and other socialist leaders were there. In their presence I put on her (Indira Gandhi's) face a mustache and hair like Hitler had. I asked them to identify and they said, 'Hitler!'
Our democracy is in grave danger from people with dictatorial tendencies and people with ideas of setting up political dynasties in power.
I believe Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jaylalithaa has made a mistake. Sometime even intelligent people do make mistakes. In Chennai, I was told that she was misledů and not just by the police.
On the lack of public response to the arrest
Hindus rarely go out onto the streets to fight. I think most people are shell shocked that such a thing happened. Now people who are coming out against the arrest are coming out with anger.
The Statesman had a brilliant editorial on the lack of response of people against the arrest and on the so-called Dalit-Brahmin 'divide' among Hindus.
It said the Hindus are the most secular and it is because of them that India is secular.As told to Sheela Bhatt