Behind Bars

Tyranny grows in Modi's wonderland. In a multi-state crackdown the Maharashtra police in league with Andhra Pradesh and Haryana police raided the houses of prominent human rights activists and arrested at least five of them for their alleged Maoist links. Simultaneous raids were conducted on the premises of noted Telugu poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, social activists Vernor Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade unionist and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad and civil liberties activist and former secretary of People's Union for Democratic Rights Gautam Navlakha in New Delhi. Subsequently they were arrested under draconian laws, albeit the Supreme Court in response to an urgent plea by five leading academics and intellectuals—Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Devika Jain, Satish Deshpandey and Maja Daruwala—granted relief to the arrested five by ordering the police to keep them under house arrest till September 6. Nobody is safe in Modi's democracy, anybody can be silenced and brutalised by the police simply by concocting their 'Maoist links'. The e-mails produced by the police to prove their point of 'Maoist links' were aimed at criminalising the arrested persons. They were fabricated and false. Even the Bombay High Court questioned the legality of producing such letters in a manner that is sub-judice.

The arrested persons are all very popular and familiar personalities throughout India for their fight against social injustice and human rights violations by governments. They are voice of the voiceless. Their only crime—they have been fighting against police and army atrocities in Kashmir, in the North-East and elsewhere in the country. They were the symbols of dissent for the downtrodden during the Congress regime and they are equally vociferous today against saffron fascism.

Having failed to tame Maoist militancy in Central Indian forests, they are now searching for 'urban guerillas' in cities and towns. They are attacking liberals and democrats who are critical about systematic erosion of democratic institutions and denying democratic space to the aggrieved. It's refreshing that the apex court opines against the police high-handedness by asserting in no uncertain terms that dissent is the 'safety valve of democracy'.

In police parlance, they call it case-connection. The Maharashtra police did their 'operation intellectuals' (or 'operation urban naxals') as part of their probe into violent clashes between a section of Dalits and upper caste people at Koregaon-Bhima near Pune on 1 January, 2018 in the wake of a conclave called 'Elgar Parishad' to commemorate the victory of Dalits over the Peshwas, 200 years ago. As civil liberties activists all the arrested five made their voice heard at 'Elgar Parishad' and wholeheartedly supported the new phase of Dalit awakening. No doubt the renewed Dalit assertion is a threat to the saffron rule in Maharashtra and elsewhere. That Dalits are increasingly distancing themselves from the saffron camp is a fact of life. With the 2019 parliamentary polls round the corner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is panicked by the possibility of Dalits decling to vote en masse for the 'Lotus'. Poets, lawyers, academics, human rights defenders are arrested on ludicrous charges. Not very long ago, in June to be precise, they arrested a Nagpur University professor, some social activists and human rights crusader Rona Wilson under fabricated and false charges, again raising the bogey of 'Maoist links'. The police manufactured evidence to prove that they had 'Maoist links'. The mighty Modi government feels threatened from a 90 percent disabled person—Prof Saibaba for his alleged 'Maoist links'! 'Maoists are dead, long live Maoism'! Anybody protesting against Modi's disastrous monetary policies is silenced by the police. They cannot gloss over the bitter truth that demonetisation was a disaster and Modi's bluff has been thoroughly exposed. Now the return of almost all junked notes, as per RBI report, meant that the government had failed to unearth any black money, check terror funding and eradicate fake currency as promised by Modi while announcing note ban. They don't know how to suppress their momentous failure almost on every front. More than 100 lives were lost and lakhs of jobs were destroyed for the note ban.

In the wake of Bangladesh Liberation War the Pakistani junta decided to physically liquidate Bangladeshi intellectuals—writers, poets, professors, human rights activists, liberals, democrats while incarcerating hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who refused to kowtow to the Junta's dictates. By that genocidal policy the Pakistani military tried to cripple the rising nation and subjugate them under their iron heels. Maybe, the saffronties too want to make 'India dissent free' by liquidating rationalists and putting behind bars vocal critics of the Modi government. Arresting intellectuals with adverse propaganda hype, thanks to pliant media, is a ploy to divert public attention because the Modis are increasingly losing their relevance in national politics and even the die-hard Modi loyalists look hesitant to predict a second term for Modi.

Development rhetorics no longer sell. Modi's job creation euphoria is a mirage now. In truth jobs are vanishing very fast. Price rise is as normal as anything else. Inflation is destroying whatever purchasing power the poor and middle class people still have. This way or that Modi's party is increasingly losing ground. And their idea of 'operation intellectuals with Maoist links' seems to have backfired. After the apex court's observation that they—the arrested five—are distinguished citizens of India, the anti-Maoist campaigners are on the defensive.

Strangely enough, barring one or two opposition parties, most political parties, both regional and national, didn't come out strongly to condemn the Maharashtra police action. Today it is intellectuals with alleged Maoist links but tomorrow it might be their party activists and sympathisers with alleged 'terrorist connections'. The result will be the same: stifling voice of dissent and jail for the dissenters. 


Vol. 51, No.10, Sep 9 - 15, 2018