TR Zeliang

Lying — It’s only a Matter of Degree

As much as I hate being embarrassed or seeing somebody embarrassed, I had silently been hoping for some dhamaka out of our Hon’ble Chief Minister’s (hereafter HCM) qualification row. Sadly, after all the twists and turns and bumps and delays that constitute the legal process — much like travelling on our roads — the issue, or “non-issue” according to a party which shall not be named, ended in a whimper. Here’s the story.

Yes, the story…

The HCM had, in his affidavit submitted as part of his candidature to the general elections of 2013, declared himself as a graduate from Kohima College under NEHU passed in 1980.

Qualification of TR Zeliang

Relevant document!

#1 Except…

IPC 417 & 468, ROPA 125A
Relevant sections of the law!

He didn’t. Two RTIs filed in July and August 2015 (the replies of which haven’t been made public as far as I know) had revealed that he had appeared in 1979 from Kohima College and failed in all subjects and did not appear again. Naturally, somebody filed a complaint against the HCM  for “cheating and forgery” and misleading the public with “false information”. Strangely the complainant withdrew (‘gentleman had the decency to withdraw’, according to the party which shall not be named) the complaint and issued an unbelievable public apology stating that he was “misled into appending his signature on a prepared document“. Seriously?

Anyway, with the skeleton out of the closet, somebody else took up the mantle. But the FIR that was filed stalled, thanks to sluggish police action (‘investigations were in the process‘, maintains the party which shall not be named).  A writ petition with the Kohima Bench of the Gauhati High Court (hereafter High Court) followed, requesting its direction to the police for registering the FIR. However, the petition did not, in the view of the court, “disclose commission of a cognizable offence” [read: specifically mention a serious crime which could be pursued by the police without a thumbs up from the court] and the court determined, drawing upon the judgment of Lalita Kumari vs Govt.Of U.P.& Ors [read: knowing that the police has the power to take its own sweet time to investigate crimes which can be pursued only with a thumbs up from the court before taking them up], that it, the petition, was “devoid of merit”. It was thrown out. The story ended there.

#2 Except…

It didn’t. Unfazed, a complaint was filed in the court of the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Kohima followed by another complaint, this time by a certain committee. The court summoned the appropriate people (registrar and principal) from the appropriate institutions (NEHU and Kohima College) and the resulting examination proved that the allegations were right. The Magistrate therefore “issued process” [read: ordered the respondent to appear before it] and set the date of hearing on 7 January 2016. The case was getting somewhere.

#3 Except…

It wasn’t. The order was “stayed” [read: intercepted] by the High Court at the instance of the HCM’s counsel. At the same time, the case was listed for hearing on 20 January which ended with the Judge “reserving” [read: delaying] his order. Meanwhile, another person filed a complaint with the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Peren regarding the same issue.

Copy of Legal Paper Zeliang
Relevant document! Credit: easternmirrornagaland.com

Then there were judgments, revision petitions, deferments, adjournments and reservations [read: weird things which we cannot begin to contemplate, let alone understand]. Finally, in April, the High Court gave a decision we could understand.

#4 Except…

Really? It transferred the first complaint — the one that was filed after the writ petition was thrown out because it was “devoid of merit”, I love that phrase — to the learned JMFC, Peren to be considered along with the last complaint — the one filed in 2016. The JMFC, Peren was directed to conduct a hearing on “limitation” [read: whether the complaints were filed after they ceased to matter]. The other one filed by that committee was “quashed” [read: violated and laid waste]. Then finally, on June 14, the case was heard.

#5 Except…

Not exactly. For some reason, the respondent failed to turn up and his counsel allegedly turned up 30 minutes late. After much, I imagine, courtroom drama, the JMFC, Peren granted a 2-week extension to the respondent making it clear that no further adjournments will be given.

In the meantime, the HCM appealed for a “Special Leave Petition (SLP)” [read: special order from the principal — Supreme Court — to stop the punishment being given by the teacher — High Court] at the Supreme Court. The SC found it unnecessary to entertain the petition. The complainants saw the move as desperation and must have smiled in glee at the SC’s order. However, the party which shall not be named, unsurprisingly, chose to differ stating that the order “strengthened” the HCM’s position!

All the same, there was now no stopping the winds of justice from uprooting all that is unfair and untrue and unkind and…

#6 Except…

CrPC 468
Relevant section of CrPC!

CrPC. There’s nobody, I hope, who hasn’t heard of Section 144. That dreaded curfew imposing section! This time though, it was Section 468. But before that, the JMFC, Peren heard the counsels on the appointed date and chose to reserve the judgment. Suspense! Only that it was broken the next day. Damn.

Verdict:  dismissed
Reason: barred by limitation
Observation: case in the shape of a political vendetta

The case dismissed and political vendetta (that’s curious though!) part is pretty straightforward. Barred by limitation, translated into English, means the cases were filed too late by the complainants. Section 468 gives the plaintiffs [read: complainants (the word became boring)] one year (since Section 125A of RoPA 1951 provides for a term of imprisonment upto 6 months) during which to file their complaints. Now, the affidavit was submitted and subsequently uploaded to the website of the Chief Electoral Officer, Nagaland in February 2013. So, the period of limitation lapsed by February 2014. And since the information was in public domain from February 2013, there wasn’t a satisfactory reason, in the eyes of the learned JMFC, Peren to excuse the delay in filing the complaints. So that’s that. An anticlimactic end to the saga.

#7 Except…

It might not be. The petitioners always have recourse to a higher court but, lets face it, it’s a thankless, expensive and futile exercise. No one has won here because all of us have lost. Remember, neither the party nor the HCM, denies the allegations. Of course, as has been expressed many times by various people, qualification is not a criteria for elected office. However, lying about it on a sworn document is hardly something I expected the state’s foremost executive to do. That’s why all of us have lost.

Thoughts…

The making of this post gave me the chance to go through a number of press releases and statements by various parties and organisations. Oh! the petty childish games being played. The culture of misusing and abusing select English phrases over and over in press releases and rejoinders and rejoinders to those rejoinders with nothing novel, insightful or informative in them is deeply saddening. In front of an informed and educated citizenry, they would be a perennial  source of amusement. But in front of a fickle and ill-informed people like us, they continue to misinform and disinform making our society and polity even weaker. They can and should, nay they must, do better.

And the qualification case?Oh! I don’t know. I guess, que sera sera. Except…

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