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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 21, May 20, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream May 20, 2023

Saturday 20 May 2023


Letter to the readers, Mainstream, May 20, 2023

The two-term Narendra Modi Government at the center seems unstoppable in its zeal to use the central agencies under its command to turn the screws on its critics and make life tough for the opposition party-ruled states. Courts of law occasionally point out the dangers and try to set limits. The Police and the CBI continue to be at the beck and call of the Government, but one central agency that is frequently mentioned in this regard is the Enforcement Directorate (ED) which comes under the Ministry of Finance. These Government agencies have come under criticism for being biased, having lost autonomy, and that they are selectively used by the Government. There has been much concern over the excessive powers granted to the ED under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The ED has repeatedly used PMLA to investigate private firms, rights activists, journalists, and political leaders. The Government has also been putting pressure on the functioning of the opposition party governments – via the State Governors who hold up legislation and engage in political interference and bring a bad name to their Constitutional functions [1] [2]. The Supreme Court in a recent ruling in the Shiv Sena case from Maharashtra pointed out the misuse of powers by a former Governor and the Speaker of the Assembly in the state [3]; In another ruling on the Supreme Court directed recently the Delhi Lieutenant Governor should not be exercising sweeping executive powers and should allow the elected Government of Delhi to exercise powers [4], but less than two weeks after the court ruling the Government of India has brought in an Ordinance reversing the Supreme Court order [5]. Supreme Court of India has in another recent ruling told the Enforcement Directorate (ED) “not to create an atmosphere of fear” [6]. The Chhattisgarh government has accused the ED of trying to implicate the Chief Minister in a money laundering in the state. Prior to that, the ED has repeated summons against Ministers or Party officials of the TMC government in West Bengal, against the Jharkhand Chief Minister [7], and the Left Front in Kerala or the former minister and also Deputy Chief Minister of the AAP government in Delhi. There have been multiple cases of raids on NGOs [8] [9] or interrogations of respected civil society activists. Most recently an independent researcher and activist has been interrogated under PMLA. The CBI has recently filed a case against a noted environmental lawyer over a possible violation of the law governing foreign funding of NGOs [10] Of course real corruption cases need to be investigated not ’Politically Motivated’ ones that are meant to intimidate. What recourse do people have to point out breach of law, and wrongdoing by official institutions? Not long ago a number of court cases have been filed in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh by supposed or convicted criminals and citizens who took part in anti-Governmental public protests and whose properties have either been seized or bulldozed by state administration without following any due process. Will these people get reparations? Misuse of law enforcement bodies by the Government will have very damaging long-term consequences, with people losing trust that there is little space for justice. The recent electoral verdict in Karnataka shows that a large number of people want their bread-and-butter issues addressed and to repose their hopes in a system that cares. Those predicting the collapse of Hindutva and the end of authoritarianism in the wake of the Karnataka Election results may be getting carried away and India has miles to go to make governments more accountable and to develop a democratic culture in society.

May 20, 2023 —HK

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