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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 32, New Delhi, July 25, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - Mainstream’s COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.18 -July 25

Friday 24 July 2020

The deteriorating state of democracy under the Modi Regime: The weakening of institutions of our republic began a while ago but in the post-2014 period it has become sharply pronounced. In the past few years activists, writers, lawyers championing democratic rights, civil liberties and rights of marginalised have become targets of the ruling party and the security agencies under the control of the central government. Many such people have been arrested and are languishing in jails. On display is disrespect for the due process, double standards in the way procedures are followed and a clear abuse of the powers of India’s police and security agencies. Varavara Rao, the respected radical poet, has been held in jail for 2 years and the trial hasn’t yet begun; as was feared by many he has contracted Covid19 while in detention and is now in the hospital. The NIA, being totally unreasonable, is still denying bail to him in these circumstances. Similarly, Sudha Bharadwaj the sterling activist lawyer, and several others (Shoma Sen, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha among others), charged in the Bhima Koregaon case, continue to be denied bail. No credible evidence has been presented; their case stands as it is with no movement. This is a clear case of misuse of police for political purposes . . . Sudha Bharadwaj has been in jail for close to two years, even though charges against her are vague; she is alleged to have so-called “links with Maoists”. Readers will recall the case of the paediatrician and human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen, who had been slapped with the charge of sedition — for allegedly having ’Maoist sympathies’, but in 2011, the Supreme Court granted him bail in an order stating that having sympathies is not the same thing as calling for disaffection against the state. In more recent times, the other pillar our democracy, the judiciary seems more timid and losing its sheen with some senior Judges referring to the Prime Minister as a ’versatile genius and a visionary’ or a ’hero’, ’Modi model’ at public events. Separation of powers must be respected. The courts are doing a disservice by not taking the police and security agencies as well as the government to task for violation of rules. By way of example, some young persons, inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg, had recently set up a website to spread environmental awareness; their website was blocked by the Cyber Crime Unit of Delhi Police on July 10, because they were drawing attention to the problems with the Indian government’s new draft law for environmental clearances (EIA 2020). The Karnataka High Court and the Delhi High Court had directed the Central Government to ‘give wide publicity in all official languages of states’ to the notification so that ‘citizens will be in a position to submit objections prior to 11th August 2020. The is a case of the overzealousness of the police acting against websites promoting wide dissemination of the draft EIA 2020 enabling public discussion on the matter.

Security agencies have long been involved in misconduct by cooking up FIRs and booking people under draconian laws like the Sedition Act, UAPA, NSA despite having practically no evidence. This is done in a targeted way to go after those seemingly marked on an arbitrary list. Even when the courts have granted bail to people, the police come up with tricks to slap new charges to prevent their release. Wrongdoing has become an accepted norm.

A recent report of the Delhi Minorities Commission on riots in North East Delhi that took place in February 2020 has pointed fingers at the murky role of several leaders connected with the BJP and also the biased attitude of the Delhi police. Police must act lawfully and allow proper investigation. The Delhi Police is bound by law to file FIRs and record written complaints, but it has refused to do so against BJP activists and leaders involved in abetting the riots and also against policemen who were complicit.

The police and investigative machinery seems to act differently when the accused have links with the ruling party circles. Do we recall that some key files and papers in the case of Swami Aseemanand mysteriously disappeared and he had to be acquitted of serious terrorism charges; similarly Pragya Thakur who was charged for being involved in an incident of terrorism in Malegaon has been out on bail. Vikas Dubey, a man with 65 criminal cases against him in Uttar Pradesh was out on parole certainly due to links with politicians. Umpteen others, who were involved in cases of mob lynching and rioting have not been acted against by the police.

Respect for rule of law must prevail, regardless of whoever is responsible for the wrongdoing: the police and non-state agencies or citizens.

On July 18 three persons were lynched in Assam’s Karimganj district. They were alleged to be cattle thieves and labelled as ’Bangladeshi’ — a pejorative term in India popularised by the BJP-RSS combine. Earlier on June 1, a Bangladeshi national was lynched in a Tea Estate close to the India-Bangladesh border. It doesn’t matter whether they are thieves or smugglers, their killings are brazen acts of mob-justice that should not go unpunished. These incidents continue to send a disturbing message to people of Bangladesh and will certainly create a backlash and give a handle to the powerful Muslim fundamentalist groups in that country.

Social saction that allows mob violence and also extrajudicial killings by the police have both been growing in the country. This is dangerous trend that must be acted upon promptly or else it will grow into a wave of violence.

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In our editorial of July 11 we had referred to the events in wake of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan over the liberation of Bangladesh when the Americans siding with Pakistan had waded into the Bay of Bengal with the deployment of the US Seventh Fleet warships. In those days India had a ’non-aligned’ foreign policy that stood at a distance from the United States. But those days are gone — on July 20 US warships were back again in the Bay of Bengal for a ‘PASSEX’ or passing exercise following India’s standoff with China in Ladakh. This exercise, involving the US and Indian naval ships, should be a cause of concern for us and lead us to posing the question as to whether India is being recklessly led into troubled waters by the US establishment. New Delhi must carefully choose its policies and responses on its neighbourhood on its own terms and not get carried away over being in the big guys club with the US, Japan, Australia. India seems to be eroding its long-cultivated friendships in the neighbourhood and beyond. SAARC is paralysed, Most South Asian neighbours have some disagreement or the other with India. New Delhi’s long-standing friendly relations with Tehran are under stress — a railroad connecting the Chabahar port to the Iran-Afghanistan border that India was building has now been called off. On top of that India, which has been one of the largest importers of crude oil from Iran has put on hold all its plans to avoid facing US sanctions.

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We are utterly shocked to learn via a report in the Indian Express of June 13, 2020 that the Chief Minister of Kerala the CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan gave a hero’s farewell to a party leader convicted in the murder of the CPI (M) rebel, T P Chandrasekharan, in 2012 in Kozhikode district. The post of a minister or the head of an elected government carries with it responsibilities and a code of conduct and he or she is expected to keep a distance from people seen to be on the wrong side of the law. But such advice is routinely flouted by ministers from all political parties and Mr Vijayan has joined that club. Just as a few years ago India’s former minister of Culture in the post-2014 Modi Government, Mahesh Sharma made a name for himself for supporting men accused in the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq. And not to be left behind the then Minister of State for Finance and the Minister of State for Civil Aviation of the same Govt, Jayant Sinha publically garlanded the mob lynching accused. People of the Left are expected to show high ethical standards but in India political violence seems to unite the Left, the Right and the Centre. It is better late than never, its time India’s political movements and parties showed spine and take a real stand against acts of public violence (and also domestic violence) involving their own members.

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We express sorrow at the death of a young journalist Vikram Joshi. The 35-year-old journalist from Ghaziabad, UP who was shot and killed by goons against whom he had filed a police complaint. That the safety of persons making complaints with the police are facing death threats in the National Capital Region is matter of great concern.

We would like to remember Sayed Haider, a student of the Dhaka Medical College, who had in 1952 built a memorial to activists who died in the Language Movement. Haider passed away on July 15.

We pay our homage to the highly respected US Democratic party politician who served in the US Congress John Robert Lewis, died 17 July 17, 2020. Lewis was a civil rights activist from the early 1960s, committed to non-violent struggle against injustice and had been a younger comrade of Martin Luther King.

The Editor, July 25

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