Of late, a new interpretation of the words ‘sedition’, ‘anti-national’, ‘conspirators’ and ‘terrorists’ is found on the political scenario of India. These words have been made synonymous with any criticism of, dissent against or observation not in conformity with the measures or policies of the BJP government, the Sangh Parivar or any leader of the ruling RSS-BJP. With the police-administration, central investigating agencies as well as punitive machinery having been fast stripped of relative neutrality expected of them and made to virtually act as per dictates of the ruling dispensation and a host of black laws available to pick up anyone anywhere on presumed offences and put behind the bar, a caricature of democracy is being witnessed every day.
How the dissenting voice is stifled
What is being seen now is that if the critics, protesters or question-raisers happen to be active on social media, i.e. on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, they come under attack by a vast army of trolls, and viciously vilified by the BJP digital propaganda machinery. A storm of distorted and misleading digital propaganda attacks is unleashed, often accompanied by morphed videos. Truth, objectivity are the first and foremost victims. Social media then is swamped day and night with a deluge of fake news and used as a tool for character assassination, to tear the critic’s reputation to shreds, and to arouse hatred, as well as a fanatic reaction among the RSS-BJP-Sangh Parivar followers, and doubts and revulsion among the public. But that is not all. Side by side, sedition cases are slapped against those singled out as public enemies, or they are booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) — or other provisions as the case may be — including well-placed personalities, reputed journalists, students, social activists and lawyers, artists and comedians. The strategy used by the RSS-BJP is simple. First, they make their own party workers file a complaint against those persons who are then arrested on fabricated, trumped up charges, or planted documents etc.. Deliberately no charge sheets are filed in the courts so that people can be kept in the jails for an indefinitely long period. Despite there being no genuine grounds for the arrest, the provisions of these draconian laws are such, that bail is very difficult, if not practically impossible to obtain. As a matter of fact, “Bail is routinely denied in most cases under UAP. It became a watertight embargo since the Supreme Court in 2019 gave a ruling that made it nearly impossible for anyone arrested under UAPA to be released on bail, unless the accused could demonstrate that the charges against them were prima facie untrue.” (The Hindu, 25.2.2021)
Clearly, those exercising their fundamental right to freely express their views against the government or resenting any of its moves are at the receiving end of its wrath while the foot-soldiers, bootlickers or activists owing allegiance to the ruling camp could get away with any kind of misdeeds, crimes and spreading violence. Recently, a good section of the judiciary has also been found to be exasperated at such spate of incidents and through its rulings, restraining the government from playing foul with law. More disturbing is the fact that tampering of documents and planting of false uploads in social media through cyber-manipulation are being resorted to in order to frame the anti-government crusaders and critics. Even such critiques, protesters, dissenters or even investigating journalists are being charged of being ‘public enemy’ practising criminality. There are counter-allegations from the discerning people that the propaganda machinery of the ruling BJP and its IT cell, infamous for producing and circulating fake news and morphed videos, have been behind such criminal acts which, in all fairness, should be held as anti-national ploys and practices. In fact, fascist autocracy in power is seeking to create an atmosphere of terror and fear so that nobody dares to open their mouth against the ruling establishment. A brief reference to some such incidents would be revealing.
Some recent incidents
Just a few years back, the Pune police under the then BJP rule claimed to have recovered important documents from the pen drives, laptops, etc., of Rona Wilson, a human right activist, and other prominent individuals who had been arrested for instigating violence in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra and their alleged collusion with the banned self-proclaimed Maoist groups. They were slapped charges of hatching a conspiracy to destabilize India, to dislodge the elected government and even to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though the matter was sub-judice, the police furnished to the reporters what they called, extensive leaks from these recovered letters. But now, explosive revelations by the US based Arsenal Consulting Digital Forensics firm have blown this very conspiracy theory in the face of the ruling quarters. Digital analysis has brought to light that these files had been planted for a long period via secret infiltration of malware by some agency into the accused’s computer, and had remained hidden and unopened.
But before the issue could gather steam to turn into a national sensation, it was pushed into the background by the way the Delhi policed rushed to Bangalore and arrested 22 year old climate activist, Disha Ravi, giving the good-bye to norms and rules of proper procedure, while charging her with sedition for sharing and editing a toolkit on Twitter in support of farmers’ protest. Naturally, this outrageous event caught the limelight and created widespread protest, both within the country and abroad. Though in the end she was granted bail by the sessions Court, the Delhi police, however, under the central home ministry keep insisting on to the need for further investigation about the conspiracy of defaming India on Republic Day and Disha’s links with pro- Khalistani terrorist group.
In Hathras, UP, in September last, a 19-year poor dalit girl was brutally gang-raped, tortured and murdered allegedly by four men belonging to the powerful community, also high-ups in social rung in the caste-stratified society who are stated to provide support base to the ruling party. The victim was secretly and mysteriously “cremated” at night by the police at dead night keeping her family members locked in their house, despite their begging to take a last look at her. This surreptitious act obviously caused outrage among the villagers.
Siddique Kappan along with three other journalists based in Delhi were on the way to Hathras to report on the gangrape and murder. But he was arrested on 5 October last year while on his way to the destination. It was alleged that he was associated with some terrorist groups and was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and other penal provisions. The Press Association and the Indian Women Press Corps described the arrest of a Hathras bound journalist as an attempt by the BJP government of Uttar Pradesh to “silence” the media and demanded his immediate release. In its affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the Uttar Pradesh government has made a number of claims about Siddique Kappan in order to justify his arrest, but has failed to provide any evidence of any wrongdoing or illegal act by him, let alone any offence that would attract the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act that he has been charged with. (The Wire-21-11-20) But he is still in jail. Now, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a prosecution complaint under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against Kappan.
Under cover of corona pandemic the Delhi police has been systematically arresting the persons whom they call conspirators behind the North Delhi riots that erupted during US president Trump’s visit. And who are these conspirators? Victims of the riot and students, of course not just any students, but those in the crosshairs of ABVP and BJP, those accused of supporting anti-CAA-NRC protests, including students of Jamia Milia, where at an earlier time the Delhi police resorted to violent thrashing of peacefully studying students and smashed up equipments and furniture. A recent extensive report by Newslaundry exposed how Kapil Mishra, a Delhi BJP leader, marshalled a notorious communally fanatic gang of around 20,000 people to incite communal frenzy and organize attacks on minority community to break the historic Shaheenbagh movement against atrocious NRC-NPA-CAA. In fact, Mishra’s provocative speech in the presence of complicit police officials stoked the first incidents of communal violence in the Maujpur-Jaffrabad area of Delhi. Soon after the riots, former Delhi Police commissioner told that Mishra should have been arrested for what he had said and the senior police officer who stood next to him should have been suspended. Of course, nothing of the sort happens under the current dispensation and one year later, even very recently, Mishra is found to continue making similar communally provocative statements. Remarkable is the fact that when Justice Muralidhar of Delhi High Court demanded of the Delhi police to examine the video where Kapil Mishra is seen spewing communal hatred and providing incitement to actual violence just before the Delhi riots, he was served the transfer order at midnight, with instruction to move immediately! While an ‘innocuous’ toolkit shared by Disha Ravi on Twitter sent the Delhi police into a tizzy, the fact that Kapil Mishra has cultured an entire “Hindu Ecosystem” wherein toolkits are being used for creating and spreading communal hatred is benevolently overlooked.
These four examples constitute not merely four incidents but are part of a practice, a tendency to stifle the voice of dissent, which became manifest in February 2016 with the infamous arrest of JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar and nine others for sedition by the Delhi police for their alleged involvement in a procession where they had allegedly supported seditious slogans raised on the varsity’s campus – charges the accused denied. A video circulated on ZEE news also showed that some masked persons were raising those slogans. It is from then on that the terms, ‘anti-national’, ‘tukre tukre gang’, ‘urban Naxals’ etc. became a standard feature in the BJP’s lexicon.
Recent juridical views
As we mentioned above, some jurists are visibly outraged at this subversion of law. “For the past few years, there has been a growing trend of identifying people whose ideology or identity does not suit those in power,” says advocate Mehmood Pracha, one among several lawyers representing victims and accused in the Delhi riots cases. “The might of the State is then unleashed on them by misusing draconian laws such as the UAPA or Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code, which lay out non-bailable offences. Investigating agencies resort to dilatory tactics by way of supplementary chargesheets, which do not prove the offence in court, but present the possibility of unearthing incriminating evidence. The courts buy this line of argument pushed by the prosecution and condone further victimization of the so-called accused by keeping them in jail.” (Outlook, 15.2.2021)
While granting bail to Disha Ravi, Judge Dharmender Rana of Sessions Court said that considering ‘the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of “bail” against a 22-year-old lady, with absolutely blemish-free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society and send her to jail’. The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments,’ Judge Rana said. ‘Creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous toolkit is not an offence. Further, since the link with the said toolkit … has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat destroys the evidence linking her with the toolkit … also becomes meaningless.’ “In my considered opinion,’ he continued, ‘citizens are the conscience keepers of the government in any democratic nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with state policies. … Difference of opinion, disagreement, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies. An aware and active citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy. … Even our founding fathers accorded due respect to the divergence of opinion by recognising the freedom of speech and expression as an inviolable fundamental right. The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of The Constitution of India. In my considered opinion, the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication. A Citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audience abroad.” (First Post 24-02-21) Dealing with the interpretation of the world ‘sedition’, a charge slapped by the Delhi Police on the activist, the judge said, “Law proscribes only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence…There is not even an iota of evidence brought to my notice connecting the perpetrators of the violence on January 26, 2021, with the said PJF (Poetic Justice Foundation) or the applicant/accused [Ravi]” the court said. (The Hindu24 -02-2021)
Truth that needs to be imbibed
There is a prevailing impression that perhaps the root cause of such misdeeds and flouting of rudimentary democratic principles lies in the ruling BJP. No doubt, the BJP as the most trusted political manager of the ruling Indian monopolists are now unbriddled in firming up a fascist autocratic rule and hence ought to be directed the main blow at. But, more important is the fact that bourgeois democracy or parliamentary democracy which emerged as political superstructure of capitalist economic base during the advent of capitalism by overthrowing feudal autocracy is now at its decadent moribund stage following inexorable course of history. It can even perceive death knell ringing for itself. Hence, it is breeding all kinds of evils, aberrations, distortions and criminalities to anyhow extend its exploitative rule. So its defenders and servitors have also become reactionary, out and out corrupt and despotic undertaking all kinds of heinous acts. Particularly, when saddled in governmental power through a farce of election, they become more reckless and tyrannical in their repression and suppression of the people. As they are afraid of truth being unfolded, they are making every possible effort to gag voice of dissent, smother opposition and crush protest movements. The RSS-BJP are now doing that only. obediently serving the ruling degenerate capitalist order.
But democratic conscience cannot allow the oppressors to run amuck. So, let the voice of questioning, of criticism, of protest, far from being cowed down, unite into an irresistible chorus holding aloft the demand for restoration, protection and extension of democratic norms, rights and values.