Former Supreme Court Justice Hans Raj Khanna died on February 25. That most newspapers buried the news in inside pages speaks volumes about their insouciance towards a great champion of freedom and democracy. Newspapers and news channels, which tell us in detail about the trivia related to the lives of film actors and cricket stars, did not find it essential to cover elaborately a great man of Independent India.
The media did not realise that it was because of the heroic war waged by the people like Khanna against Indira Gandhi'sdictatorship that they, and others, still enjoy the freedoms that our Constitution bestows on us. He stood like a rock when Mrs Gandhi'sminions and lackeys went all-out to trounce civil liberties and democratic rights. In an age when many honorable men and women fell to the meretricious charms of socialism or were subjugated by the brute force of a political gang, Justice Khanna'sprinciples and valor refused to be seduced by charlatanry or subdued by coercion.
His finest hour came on April 28, 1976. This was the day when Khanna jeopardised his own career-and reserved his place in history as a defender of liberty and democracy. The same cannot be said about his four brother judges who went with the Government. On that day, four Supreme Court judges decided that even if a person is tortured or deprived of his life or property, or members of his family are detained or harassed without legal authority or mala fide, there was no remedy and the court'sdoors were closed.
Justice Khanna was the lone dissenter in that five-judge Bench. In his autobiography, Khanna wrote about the historic Habeas Corpus Case: ?In view of his (Attorney General?s) submissions, would there be any remedy if a police officer, because of personal enmity, killed another man? The answer of Mr De (Attorney General) was unequivocal: ?Consistently with my argument,? he said, ?there would be no judicial remedy in such a case as long as the Emergency lasts?.?
Khanna'sdissent cost him the top job: he was in line to become Chief Justice, but he was superseded. Promotion was denied to him but his courage and idealism brought him glory and applause from all over the world.
The New York Times wrote an editorial on April 30, 1976, which is often quoted in our country: ?If India ever finds its way back to the freedom and democracy that were proud hallmarks of its first eighteen years as an independent nation, someone will surely erect a monument to Justice HR Khanna of the Supreme Court. It was Justice Khanna who spoke out fearlessly and eloquently for freedom this week in dissenting from the Court'sdecision upholding the right of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi'sGovernment to imprison political opponents at will and without court hearings… The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society; and the Indian Supreme Court'sdecision appears close to utter surrender.?
India got back its freedom and democracy, but nobody erected a monument to the great hero. In Lutyen'sDelhi, one finds roads named after Congress leaders Rajesh Pilot and Madhavrao Scindia, but then their sons are Members of Parliament, and that too from the ruling party. There is, however, nothing in the national Capital to remind us of the lion-heart called HR Khanna.
But he is not the only great personality who is being forgotten. Who remembers the great Arya Samaj leaders, Swami Shraddhanand and Mahatma Hansraj? What are they other than colleges of the University of Delhi? What is Sardar Patel apart from a road in New Delhi? There is a galaxy of great builders of modern India, the real heroes who have become just names which school students cram up for their examinations.
We know only about the official pantheon-Mahatma Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. This is the conspiracy of exclusion, carried out by the Congress and its toadyish Left intellectuals. Generations have been brought up on the mythologies conjured up by obsequious scholars; pamphleteers and Marxist sympathisers like Arjun Dev, Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra and Satish Chandra have masqueraded as historians. The history the impressionable minds are exposed to is actually Left-Congress ideology. What has saved complete brainwash of our youth is the gross obtuseness and benumbing stolidity of these ideologues. The same obtuseness and stolidity has, however, made us forget what was heroic in our past.
The Indian media, in a way, is a reflection of the Indian people. It is more interested in the philandering of movie stars than in the gallant deeds of our great men and women. Isn'ta nation doomed if it forgets its real heroes?
(The author works with The Political and Business Daily)