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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 23, New Delhi, May 22, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, May 22, 2021

Saturday 22 May 2021

Gross mismanagement in the state response to Covid-19 pandemic in India has come under the spotlight internationally and now sections of silent citizens of India have begun asking embarrassing questions (poets are beginning to speak out in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Modi).

But the authorities are (i) doing all to deflect the criticism through denial, through Whataboutism, and by claiming there is a conspiracy to defame India. (ii) using strong-arm tactics — using police and enforcement agencies to scuttle criticism. In the process, they are repeatedly violating constitutional rights and breaking the rules that define a democratic state.

You would say hang on, we have seen this in the past times, but the nature of actions at the Central government level and also provincial / state levels seem to be surpassing what we saw in the past. What is ‘new’ is the level of normalisation of outright illegal behaviour by elected officials running the Government and police & enforcement bodies; all of this is undermining our republic and we may soon be heading to a point of no return. Here are the latest glimpses of the absurd - new normal:...

• Thirteen different Police stations in Delhi register First Information Reports (FIRs) and arrest 25 people on charges of pasting posters critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the vaccination drive against Covid-19. Since when has pasting posters critical of the government become a crime requiring arrest.
• Police in the state of Manipur invoke the National Security Act against two citizens —a journalist and an activist and arrest them for saying that cow dung and cow urine were no cure for Covid-19. How is this a crime? How is this possible in a country which had a constitutional provision to foster a scientific temper? Is this what the National security legislation designed for?
• No police action or curbs against an influential BJP Member of Parliament making irrational claims that go against hygiene & public health at a time when the Covid virus is killing thousands and people are told to follow strict medical guidelines. BJP MP Pragya Thakur has publicly stated drinking cow urine saves people from Covid-19. There are also numerous reports of certain institutions promoting supposedly preventive cow dung therapies. According to doctors, these can be outright dangerous as the use of Fecal matter can cause fungal infections and mucormycosis which can be very harmful.
• A case of sedition is filed by Andhra Pradesh police against two Telugu news channels for revealing shortcomings in Government response to Covid-19. And this despite a recent ruling by the Supreme Court that ordered central and state governments to “immediately cease any direct or indirect threats of prosecution and arrest citizens who air grievances”.
• Some legislators in UP have come out expressing fears of a sedition case being slapped on them if they spoke out on mismanagement of Covid in the state. If the ruling party legislators have fears of a sword dangling on their heads what about ordinary people?
• In a disturbing style of functioning, the UP government authorities have in the past year or so ignored or disregarded strictures and orders from the High court in the state. We saw this when the Uttar Pradesh government was directed to remove the "name-and-shame" posters of those who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act. In a very recent incident of this kind, we have seen the local administration in Barabanki defy a State High Court order and bulldoze a Mosque on May 17, 2021.
• Within days of being defeated in the 2021 State Assembly elections in Bengal, the BJP led government at the center in Delhi flies in CBI officials to arrest several ministers in an old corruption investigation in the newly sworn-in government in Bengal. We are not defending corruption but this has all the airs of subverting and de-stabilising a duly elected government.

All these are signs, of the poor health of our battered democratic republic. We are caught in a pandemic now and it makes logical sense to stand up for health as a public issue, one way to proceed would be to connect the two issues and remember that greater democracy and accountability in our country would be good for our health.

Tributes:

  • Odisha’s veteran communist activist turned Sarvodaya leader Rabi Dash passed away in Cuttack on 11 May 2021
  • M. S. Narasimhan, the much respected Indian mathematician (Narasimhan–Seshadri theorem) passed away on May 14
  • Rajeev Satav, 46, a Congress party member and a Member of Parliament (since 2014), died of Covid-19 on May 14
  • Sunil Jain, the Managing Editor of Financial Express died due to Covid -19 on May 15, 2021
  • Dinesh Mohan the socially committed engineer with a notable contribution to public transport and safety and someone who actively supported initiatives for peace between India and Pakistan passed away on May 21, 2021, in New Delhi. He will be fondly missed.
  • Sundarlal Bahuguna, the noted Gandhian and environmentalist and the much-respected leader of the Chipko movement in the hills of Garhwal died of Covid-19 in Rishikesh on May 21, 2021

We pay our tributes to the above figures

May 22, 2021 – The Editors

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