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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 12 New Delhi March 9, 2019

Democracy in Danger

Monday 11 March 2019, by SC


As we go to press news has come of a terror strike in Jammu. An explosive plannted under a bus in a crowded bus terminal in the city led to injury to 30 persons following the explosion in the bus with one of the injured succumbing to his injuries. With the arrest of a 17-year-old after the blast it has now been ascertained that this was the handiwork of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Several residents in the city have declared that in spite of this incident they will not allow terrorism to disturb communal harmony while preserving the amity between Hindus and Muslims there.

Simultaneously several incidents have taken place in UP once again bringing out the sense of intolerance in sections of those associated with the ruling party. In Lucknow, two dry fruit sellers from Kashmir were mercilessly beaten by persons donning saffron dress and claiming to be VHP activists; subsequently four of those goons are learnt to have been taken into custody but only after the news of the incident became viral in the social media. In Muzaffarnagar a large group of people were found to pounce on one young man and assault him; his crime was that he had sharply criticised the government for not doing enough to ensure employment for the jobless youth. Some persons are reported to have been detained after this incident. In Shamli a cop in uniform was found repeatedly beating up a woman. All these once again bring into focus the state of affairs in the BJP-ruled State over which the saint-monk Yogi Adityanath presides as the CM.

This is not all. As reported in the media, an argument between two elected representatives of the ruling party over names on foundation stones for projects turned ugly yesterday after the BJP MP from Sant Kabir Nagar, Sharad Tripathi, rained blows with his shoe on Menhdawal BJP MLA Rakesh Singh Baghel. Videos of the fracas, that surfaced in the social media, are expected to damage the BJP as it gets ready for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls since the Opposition would exploit this to the maximum to expose the real face of the “party with a difference” as the ruling party in UP had advertised itself since its assumption to power in the State.

While all these are highly deplorable, what happened in the Supreme Court yesterday is definitely more alarming. Attorney General of India K.K. Venugopal made a submission in the Apex Court that documents relating to the Rafale fighter deal were “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence and hence the Union Government was anticipating to invoke the Official Secrets Act to initiate “criminal proceedings“ against two publications (The Hindu and ANI) that ran reports on the basis of those documents, as well as a lawyer (Advocate Prashant Bhushan) who was arguing a petition calling for a review of the Apex Court’s judgement in the matter (on behalf of himself and former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie). The SC had, on December 14, 2018, dismissed all PILs seeking a probe into the alleged irregularities in India’s Rafale deal with France.

Following this development the AG’s submission has been roundly criticised by the leading newspapers in the country. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while defending the deal and replying to the allegations against it, did not refer to this theft of the documents. As for the SC Bench, it raised pertinent queries to the AGI: “Suppose there is a corruption complaint, are you going to shelve it under national security?... Is there a liberty to commit corruption?”

In this context what is of utmost importance is the following observation in The Indian Express:

“If AG Venugopal’s objections in court on Wednesday were to be taken seriously, if it were to be dignified by the court, it could be a chilling message that would strike at the heart of a free press. It would protect the wrongdoers in the dark. The court must, as it has in the past, uphold the way of the open democracy.”

Significantly, the Editors Guild of India too has voiced its unequivocal opposition to the AGI’s position. Unless press freedom is protected from the executive’s offensive, democracy itself would be undermined in due course.

March 7 S.C.

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