“Democracy in India is under threat.”
One would read the above statement depending upon the ideological prism one holds. Those aligned with the Leftist worldview, would see the assertion as a predicament for the Modi government at the centre. While those on the right would probably dismiss it as fake news.
However, if one were to truly analyse the aforementioned sentiment, they would look at the following cases:
1. BJP leader Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga is picked up from his home in Delhi by the Punjab Police and is detained illegally over some tweets critical of the Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kejriwal and his politics. His father says he was assaulted as he tried to record the arrest of his son.
2. In West Bengal, results of assembly elections are announced declaring Trinamool Congress (TMC) as the winning side. The same night a number of BJP workers and supporters, including women, are attacked, killed and raped. The spectre of violence continues for days as the ruling party looks the other way.
3. FIRs against a journalist and Youtuber, Maridhas, are repeatedly filed by Tamil Nadu police. His crime? He is booked for being extremely critical of the ruling DMK and an Islamic organisation, Tablighi Jammat (that too a year back) for violating COVID protocols. Charges notwithstanding the scrutiny of law, the Court later quashes all the FIRs against him.
4. Republic TV Editor-in-Chief and a critic of the Maha Vikas Agadi government in Maharashtra, Arnab Goswami is arrested from his home by the state police. He is dragged out of his home while his son is assaulted. He is first falsely implicated in a TRP scam and then another old case of abetment to suicide is opened up by the police. The Supreme Court grants him bail and questions the Bombay High Court that denied him bail for “abdicating its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty”.
5. An independent MP, Navneet Rana and her MLA husband, Ravi Rana are booked for sedition for expressing their intent to chant Hanuman Chalisa outside the residence of Maharashtra CM, Uddhav Thackeray.
6. A Chhattisgarh based journalist, Nilesh Sharma, is booked by the state police for writing political satires that are critical of the Congress-ruled state government. It is alleged that his fictional characters resemble the Congress ministers and MLAs.
These cases may not have garnered enough space in mainstream media, or would not have been considered fit for public-shaming as they did not occur in a BJP-ruled state or maligned PM Narendra Modi in any way. In fact, they would not even be considered detrimental to the health of democracy.
Now, let us look at the cases which were considered an immediate 'assault on democracy' and made to the ‘hall of fame’ that was indicative of 'fascism' in India.
1. Umar Khalid is arrested for being a key conspirator in inciting riots in the national capital, that claimed 53 lives. As per the charge sheet, Umar Khalid was part of the larger conspiracy to cause unrest on the eve of the former US President, Donald Trump, visiting Delhi. He has been denied bail by the Court.
2. AAP Councillor, Tahir Hussain is arrested in connection with the murder of Intelligence Bureau officer, Ankit Sharma, during Delhi riots. His bail application is dismissed as the Court observes that he “used his muscle power and political clout to act as a kingpin in planning, instigating and fanning the flames of communal conflagration”.
3. Members of Kabir Kala Manch are arrested for making inflammatory speeches at Elgar Parishad conclave in Pune that led to violence near the Koregaon Bhima war memorial. NIA investigation finds evidence that shows close ties of those arrested with the banned Maoist organisations that aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected government and hatching a plot to assassinate PM Modi.
Based on a letter placed on record, the Court observes, "The contents of the aforesaid letter prima facie speaks that the CPI (Maoist) was bent upon ending the Modi raj, that is the Modi-led government. Not only this, they were also thinking to go for another incident, like the death of Rajiv Gandhi, by targeting the road shows of Modi."
The differences between the two sets of case studies presented range from the gravity of the matter at hand as well as the intention of those charged with the said crimes.
In the former set, it is evident that state action is derived from vendetta politics. The charges are so flimsy that they falter under the scrutiny of the law. While in the latter, it is clear that the intention is to cause violence, unrest and fan communal tensions. In these cases, it is a question of national security and interest and does not merely concern an individual or government. All these cases are being tried in the Court with strong evidence indicating culpability and ill-intention.
Yet, when Indian democracy is judged for its robustness and libertarian thought process, it is always the Modi government and the BJP that are put under the dock, even when in reality, it is the non-BJP ruled states which have been displaying authoritarianism and intolerance to freedom of speech.
If we continue to sacrifice freedom of speech and genuine dissent at the altar of ideology, we would soon be forsaking those rights completely. It is high time that we set aside the coloured lenses and evaluate the miscarriage of justice on its own merit.
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