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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 13, March 25, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Mar 25, 2023

Saturday 25 March 2023


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, March 25, 2023

Modi Government’s daily dose of ‘kitch’ self-advertising has gotten louder and bigger over the past eight years. The North Korean leader may soon be tempted to send his publicists to Delhi for a south-south cooperation agreement. Billboards with a photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Govt advertising sit atop practically every gas station, bus stop, trains station, airport, metro network, outside public toilets, and on paid frontpage ads in Newspapers, even on Covid vaccination certificates, not to speak of non-stop TV coverage of the supreme leader launching highways, trains…, sometimes in the company of peacocks, even shown eating provincial snacks with foreign dignatories etc. These days new advertisements suggest our country has been — ‘mother of democracy’, with our Prime Minister Modi’s portrait in the backdrop. While the propaganda industry runs its show, the Modi Government is actively using the law and enforcement machinery to go after and shut all its critics. The hostility of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s MPs against their leading opponent the Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi was on full display when they did not let India’s Parliament function for nearly two weeks [1]. They were furiously demanding his resignation for remarks (critical of the Modi Government and about deteriorating democracy in India) made by him in England, but when he offered to explain he was not accorded permission. On March 24, 2023 came the official notification of the expulsion of MP Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of India’s Parliament, this came within 24 hours of a Gujarat court ruling sentencing Gandhi for a two-year prison term in a defamation case. This defamation case originated from remarks during a 2019 election campaign speech in which Rahul Gandhi, called out corruption of the Narendra Modi Government and also of the then-in-news tax offenders and wanted men with high connections Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and others who had taken tax payer’s money and fled India; he then made an off the cuff remark “all these thieves have Modi as common surname”. [2]. Even if ill framed these remarks were obviously pointing out wrongdoing under the Modi government and the people he named and not directed at all the people who have the surname Modi. No defamation case was filed against Rahul Gandhi by the persons he named, but by a BJP MLA and former Minister in Gujarat - whose surname is also Modi who was never named in the speech by Rahul Gandhi. [3] The Surat Court hearing apparently lasted in all about 20 minutes, and at the end of it Rahul Gandhi was handed the maximum possible sentence of a two-year jail term. The BJP has responded to the court sentence raising a hurt sentiment ‘caste card’ which should be challenged. The shocked Congress Party officials clearly said they would be challenging this ruling in the higher courts but the Parliament authorities did not wait and announced the immediate disqualification of Gandhi from the house. Without going into the legalities of all this, if you just look at the sequence of events, there is little doubt that democratic space is shrinking in India. On March 24, twelve opposition parties led by Congress held a big "democracy in danger" banner and marched towards the ‘Rashtrapati Bhavan’ [the President’s house] but were stopped by security men from proceeding to their destination [4]. Just two days ago there were seizures of thousands of posters ‘calling for an end to Modi rule’ as if it is illegal to demand that, multiple police cases were slapped against printshops and delivery staff for these posters in Delhi; apparently police men on duty were deployed to tear down these posters. Difficult to believe this happens in a democracy. A few days ago two students of Delhi University (a student of law and PhD scholar) were barred for a year from taking exams on the grounds of organising the screening of a BBC documentary that was blacklisted by the Modi Government. The former state official and rights activist Harsh Mander – (not in the good books of the govt) against whom CBI and the taxmen have already launched enquires was apparently told by an academic institution in Mumbai that he was not welcome to give his talk on March 23 marking the death anniversary of the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. On March 24 a small peaceful meeting held at Delhi university for explaining the cuts in funding and problems of delayed wage payments for the MGNREGA Rural employment programme workers was disrupted by the police and some participants and students were detained. Since when do citizens sitting right in the heart of the national capital not have the right to discuss a public issue in public? Anything even remotely critical of the government is not allowed it seems. But far-right outfits seem to enjoy some kind of protection in the country even when they seem to be inciting hate and violence against minorities — In various parts of the state of Maharashtra, public rallies organised by Far-Right ‘Sakal Hindu Samaj’ have been allowed for near four months. BJP workers are part of these mobilisations [5] How is all this OK and legit? And what are we to make of the law minister Kiren Rijiju pointing fingers at some retired judges as being part of anti-India gang [6] Isnt that threatening and defamatory? Where is the evidence? Pray tell, why does the government selectively talk about rule of law? Is the ‘Mother of Democracy’ playing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

March 25, 2023 — HK

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