Vol. XL No. 46 November 13, 2016

Unadulterated Authoritarian Rule

THE last few days have thrown up some disturbing portents of authoritarianism. It coincided, ironically, with the prime minister speaking at the Ramnath Goenka awards function in Delhi wherein he declared that every generation should reflect on the emergency so that no political leader in future can think of committing the sin of emergency. 

The sheer effrontery of the remark became evident on that day itself (November 2) when the chief minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the deputy chief minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia were arrested by the Delhi police for visiting the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital to meet the family members of the retired Subedar Ram Kishan who had committed suicide.  The ordinary activities of political leaders have become an affront to the government and a violation of law and order. 

Two days before the prime minister’s speech, eight undertrial prisoners, who were alleged to be members of the SIMI, had escaped from the Bhopal Central Jail.  They were gunned down in cold blood by the police 15 kilometers away.  The men were unarmed and had been encircled by the police. The Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Chouhan justified the killings and stated that the terrorists are kept in jail for years and fed chicken biriyani.  For the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh, branding someone as a terrorist is enough to eliminate them in an extra judicial fashion. The approach of the Modi government is no different. Minister of state for home Kiran Rijiju warned against questioning the authorities and the police stating that it goes against our “culture”.  He was implying such questioning is “anti-national” activity. 

The increasing license for the police to act arbitrarily and in a partisan fashion was also evident in two other recent events.  The first, the way that the Delhi police behaved in the case of the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmad, a student of JNU.  It refused to interrogate the ABVP students who physically assaulted Najeeb for a full three weeks after the event.  Instead, the police manhandled the students who were protesting the laxity of the police by assembling at the India Gate. They did not spare even Najeeb’s mother who was dragged away and arrested. 

In the second incident, the police in Chhattisgarh have registered an FIR against two professors of Delhi University and JNU respectively, the state secretary of the CPI(M) and some other activists on charges of murder and conspiracy of murder.  These charges have been leveled against them after the killing of an adivasi on November 4 at a village in Bastar.  The team of academics and political activists had visited the area six months before, in May. The false case of murder has been foisted on them as a revenge for exposing the atrocities against innocent adivasis by the police and their henchmen. 

Modi had made another hypocritical declaration in his November 2 speech. He had stated that the media should become for every subsequent generation a tool to “sharpen democracy”. Two days later, the government handed out a 24-hour ban on the NDTV India channel.  The charge being that the channel’s coverage of the Pathankot attack in January, ten months ago, compromised national security.   This was the first ever ban order imposed on a mainstream news channel.  The widespread outcry against this media gag forced the government to put on hold the order. However, the government seems unfazed as the statements made by the information and broadcasting minister show that the government sees nothing wrong in ordering such media blackouts in the name of national security. 

Under Modi rule, a miasma of toxic nationalism, branding of dissent as anti-national, suppression of dalits and Muslims to fulfill the Hindutva agenda, heavy handed intervention of the State in universities and the brazen use of police powers to suppress political opposition, has emerged.  This is nothing but unadulterated authoritarian rule. 

(November 9, 2016)