Criminalising Dissent: Modi Government's Latest Assault On Democracy

The arrest of five leading activists on trumped up charges related to the Bhima Koregaon movement and a so-called assassination plot against the Prime Minister is the Modi Government’s latest attempt to criminalise and silence dissenting voices that are questioning it.

The five arrested activists are Sudhir Dhawale, writer and Dalit rights activist, Surendra Gadling, a leading lawyer from Nagpur, Mahesh Raut, an activist and researcher on displacement issues, Shoma Sen, head of the English Literature department at Nagpur University, and Rona Wilson, an activist for the rights of political prisoners.

To begin with, the Pune police claimed that the arrested activists were the masterminds behind the Bhima Koregaon celebrations and related violence earlier this year. This allegation is full of holes. In the first place, the Bhima Koregaon celebration was perfectly Constitution and lawful: it was a public event organized by a publicly-announced committee. The violence was unleashed by anti-Dalit forces led by RSS man Sambhaji Bhide and former leader of BJP and Shiv Sena Milind Ekbote, backed by the state police. Now, months after the violence, Bhide and Ekbote are yet to be arrested, but well known Dalit rights activists are arrested instead!

After the arrests, the Pune Police then claimed to have discovered a letter on the laptop of one of the arrested activists, which outlined a plot to kill the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi style assassination plot” and mentioned the names of well known Dalit movement leaders like Prakash Ambedkar and Jignesh Mewani, and JNU activist Umar Khalid. The police has used this letter as a basis for invoking the draconian UAPA against the activists. Many experts have already cast doubts on the authenticity of this letter, which was leaked by the police to the media. Many forensic experts and senior police officers have remarked that Maoists never write letters using real names and mentioning specifics of weapons and other details. The letter bears all the hallmarks of a shoddy fabrication that has the sole aim of smearing various movements and activists. Such a letter will never carry any weight in a trial in a court of law – but it is being used to try and cast doubt on movements and activists in a media trial.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has, in the wake of the arrest of the five activists, tweeted that “Half-Maoists” are a “serious threat to Indian democracy.” The BJP and Sangh and their tame media houses use vague terms like ‘Urban Naxal’ and ‘Half Maoist’ to try and cast suspicion on all activists and movements that are defending the Constitution of India, asserting the rights of the oppressed and exploited, and questioning the Modi Government. As many commentators have remarked, it is a “full fascist” Government that attempts to brand activists as ‘Half Maoist’.

The so-called war on Maoism has for long been a ploy to unleash terror against adivasi communities fighting for their land, forests and dignity – and now the attempt is to try and include urban activists in the scope of this attack on democratic rights.

It must also be recalled that there is a long track record of concocted claims about so-called assassination plots against Modi – which have never been backed by any facts but have been used variously to boost his image and create sympathy for him. While he was the CM of Gujarat, fake encounters too were conducted by the police to back the fictitious claims of such assassination plots.

This time, however, the Government’s and the BJP’s attempts to milk the so-called assassination plot for political capital seems to have come undone. Various figures ranging from BJP ally Shiv Sena to NCP leader Sharad Pawar to leader of the Patel agitation in Gujarat Hardik Patel have cast doubt on and even mocked the police theories as being a last ditch, desperate attempt by a failed Government to gain some sympathy with Assembly and Parliament elections drawing closer.

Everyone in India who is concerned about the country’s democracy must rise up to demand the release of the five activists and withdrawal of all charges against them. We know that if we do not speak up today when the fascists come for ‘others’, there will be no one to speak for us when, tomorrow, the fascists come for us. People of India will continue to expose the BJP Governments which are attacking people’s rights on all fronts.