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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 12, March 23, 2024

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, March 23, 2024

Saturday 23 March 2024


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, March 23, 2024

For months now, opposition politicians or civil society leaders have been harassed & targeted by agencies under the control of the Modi government, be it the Income Tax Dept, the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate (ED); The clear intent has been to demobilise and disrupt the abilities of opposition political parties in the run-up to the 2024 elections. [1] Now that the elections have been announced and Model Code of Conduct (MCC) restrictions have been put in place, the Modi Government is openly flouting electoral rules with impunity. The opposition Congress party recently complained to the Election Commission that messages of the Modi Government sent to WhatsApp users from “Viksit Bharat Sampark” accounts, were a breach of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). The Election Commission has heeded some of the complaints by the opposition to check all ongoing abuse. The Election Commission on March 21 directed the Central Government to immediately stop delivering bulk WhatsApp messages to people under the "Viksit Bharat Sampark" initiative to highlight the government’s achievements. [2] Use of Indian Air Force Choppers for electioneering by the Prime Minister is considered a corrupt practice for which India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been disqualified from her election as a Member of Parliament in a historic verdict of 1975 by the Allahabad High Court. But those were different times. Today, Prime Minister Modi uses public money and government machinery for election campaign purposes but he has not been hauled up so far. Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale has filed a complaint against PM Modi with the Election Commission of India (ECI) for violating the Model Code of Conduct for using an Indian Air Force helicopter to attend an election rally in AC 96-Chilakaluripet in Palnadu. In full disregard of orders from the Election Commission prohibiting schools from using students in election campaigns, we recently saw school kids and teachers from 50 Government schools attend Prime Minister Modi’s election roadshow in Coimbatore. The Students had been instructed by schools to attend the event [3]. Will the Election Commission take action? The dirty tricks department of the ruling BJP is at work to create a sense of disarray in the opposition is working at many levels. One is to attract by hook or by crook opposition leaders to join the BJP. There have been many instances of these from Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, and Uttrakhand in the past 15 days. [4]; [5]; [6]; [7]; [8]; [9] The bank accounts of the Congress party, India’s main opposition political party have been frozen by the Income Tax department, undermining the abilities of the party to campaign for the coming elections [10] “A systematic effort is underway by the Prime Minister to cripple the Indian National Congress financially. Funds collected from the public are being frozen, and money from our accounts is being taken away forcibly. . . .“ [11] State institutions that have been captured by the ruling party are doing all to crack down on the opposition and civil society. On the night of 21 March 2024 the sitting Chief Minister of Delhi was arrested by ED [12]. Prior to this the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand state Mr Hemant Soren was arrested [13], but before that it had been Manish Sisodia, the former Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi on February, 26th 2023, Sanjay Singh, the former Rajya Sabha member was arrested without any summons on 4th October 2023. Singh is among the many Aam Admi party leaders to be arrested by the ED, under PMLA, for allegedly getting cuts in the Delhi excise policy case. Here’s what advocate Prashant Bhushan said on Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest by ED. “It’s astounding that ED has arrested the Chief Minister of a state just before the elections after the model code of conduct that has kicked into place and in a case where they don’t have any documentary evidence to show that he was involved in the corruption; where they are relying on a statement of some approver who was the officer of a company. The company that had given electoral bonds to the BJP party which controls the ED.” [14] A delegation of several parties from the opposition INDIA alliance has met the Election Commission to register a strong protest at how Delhi CM has been arrested by the ED, after the election process has begun and the Model Code of Conduct had been put in place [15] Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was convicted of criminal defamation in 2023 after a complaint by a member of the BJP and was disqualified by from the Parliament till that was overturned [16] by an order of the Supreme Court of India Since 2014 the 95 per cent of the criminal complaints or trumped up cases of financial crimes have been filed against the opposition leaders. The arrests of opposition leaders are sending a signal that the 2024 elections won’t be fair and will be fought on very uneven grounds.

March 23, 2024 —HK

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