Forum against Fascism

Shatabdi Das

Bengal against Fascist RSS-BJP is a civil society platform that was formed through a mass convention on 4th January, 20021, when the apprehension of the BJP taking over the power in the Vidhan Sabha in West Bengal, was looming large, or at least seemed so, courtesy to the paid news channels. The platform actively took part in anti-RSS as well as anti-BJP awareness campaigns throughout the state in the following months, which, according to veteran politicians of the CPIM, Congress, BJP itself and TMC (the ruling party) played a significant role in shaping the defeat of BJP. The campaign, however, was trolled throughout for 'conspiring' to make the win smooth for TMC, especially by the Bengal brigade of CPIM, who wanted the platform to campaign only with the slogan 'Vote for Left'. However, following the consensus of the convention dated 4.1.2021, the platform raised 'No Vote to BJP' slogan instead. The motto was to mobilise the masses to vote for anyone other than the BJP. The following programmes were based on the common minimum principle that all the parliamentary parties, when in power, take part in corruption and other malpractices. Some even become tyrannous. But the Bharatiya Janata Party, with RSS as its anchor, is different from all these parties, not quantitatively, but qualitatively. It is an extremist Hinduist group, leaning towards Fascism, and abides by a rigid set of principles, which are the polar opposites of the secular spirit and the constitutional values of equality. They want a 'Hindu Rashtra' instead of the secular, socialist, democratic republic that people are promised in the Constitution.

Even after the 2021 election, the platform continued its anti-BJP, anti-RSS awareness campaigns. As a part of this continual campaigning, the third mass convention was organised at Moulali Youth Centre on 12th January, 2023 from 3-7 pm with demands of repealing UAPA and other sedition acts, releasing Umar Khalid, Gulfisha Fatima, Khalid Saifi and others jailed in Delhi riots conspiracy case under sedition act/s. Apart from Sujato Bhadra, the conveners' representative and eminent human rights activist, three other invited speakers shared their thoughts, all of whom came from outside Bengal. Local leaders of various women's and labour organisations also delivered their short speeches in the second half. The convention was conducted by three conveners, KushalDebnath, Satabdi Das and Ashok Mukhopadhyay, while another convener, Ashiskusum Ghosh, read out the proposed resolution.

The convention strongly opined that Umar Khalid, though acquitted from the stone pelting and arson cases linked to the 2020 Delhi 'Riot', is still behind the bar, as are others for more than three years, proving the Islamophobia of the present Government. When protests against CAA-NRS was gaining momentum, the 'riot' was shrewdly manoeuvred by the ruling party itself to thwart the ongoing protest, while the leaders of the protest movements were put behind the bar with false allegations of instigating it. Like the Bhima Koregaon case, where sixteen activists were put behind the bar in 2018, the cases against the protesters at Shaheen Bagh were based on manipulated evidence and predetermined ideas. Paying homage to Stan Swamy who was allowed to die under judicial custody on July 5, 2021 and noting with deep shame that no one was even booked, let alone punished, for this, this convention sharply criticised the facts that the Supreme Court in an unprecedented manner had suspended Bombay High Court's verdict regarding the acquittal of the paraplegic professor G N Saibaba (October 14, 2022) and that Arundhati Roy, the author, is being threatened with a possibility of arrest. The sedition laws, UAPA and others, are even worse than the colonial Rowlatt Act. As per latest data provided by the PUCL, more than 8000 arrests were made under UAPA between 2015 and 2020. These laws are being used by the ruling government at the centre and various state governments to silence the political dissent and thereby replacing democracy by elected autocracy. The convention registered its strong protest against the recent attack on journalists and founders of a media group, NewsClick, on the flimsy ground of a report published in New York Times and demanded immediate unconditional release of the two journalists. The convention noted that the three Bills (NyayaSamhita), tabled towards the end of the monsoon session of the parliament, with the so-called claim to replace "punishment" with "justice", actually aim to restrict the basic freedom and fair trial system in the name of public order and national security. Recounting the recent experiences of the mysterious administrative procedure of the justice system and the dangerous emergence of inquisitional jurisprudence and analysing onerous bail conditions to the accused in UAPA cases, the convention expressed concern over the demise of judiciary and fearless judgement.

The convention demanded the followings:

1.    Release Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Khalid Shahidi, Gulfisha Fatima and others immediately.
2.    Repeal UAPA.
3.    Release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners all over India.
4.    All bail conditions must be reasonable and just and fair.
5.    Roll back three Bills relating to the criminal justice system.
6.    Repeal all other draconian laws including AFSPA.
7.    Release all poor, long-term-serving prisoners from jails in compliance to the appeal (2022) of DroupadiMurmu, the honourable President of India.

Among the speakers, Mihir Desai, the human rights advocate from Mumbai High Court, the co-founder with Colin Gonsalves of Indian People's Tribunal, informed about the directive sent to all the High Courts that the treatment of under-trial prisoners would be based on what the prosecution wanted and not on the merit of the case. This indirectly means that jail and not bail would be the priority. He said that 93%of ED cases are fake. 67% percent of UAPA cases have no merit. All codes of NIA are arranged in such a way that the centre will not need to consult the state even before thrusting UAPA on an individuals. Talking about UAPA, he said, 'After BhimaKoregaon in Maharashtra, CPIM activists also came to fight against UAPA, but even they charge people with UAPA in Kerala. No ruler wants to scrap it.' It may be mentioned that TMC also charges protesters with UAPA in this state. He also said that the 'People's Money Laundering Act', too, is a tool to choke the opposition. That the use of UAPA had increased manifold during the BJP regime and that the practice of 'planting evidence' was something new. e.g-the 'evidence' was planted in the laptops of Stan Swamy and others through malware. He discussed how the three new bills of the proposed NyayaSamhita were designed to be the worst tools of curbing freedom of speech and expression and will bring sedition under IPC.

The renowned journalist and economist, Paranjoy Guhathakurta narrated his ordeal as the consultant of Newsclick when the channel's offices were going through raids. He was asked whether he covered the peasants' movement and Muslim slaughters during Delhi riots. Every penny he has received from NewsClick is accounted for and shown in the IT return file, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta reported. He opined that the media, unfortunately, has forgotten its duty and is acting rather like the central Government's very own ad agencies.

Nadeem Khan, the National Secretary of APCR (Association for Protection of Civil Rights) and founder of United against Hate, a friend of Umar Khalid and Khalid Saifi, was also invited. He, himself an 'accused' in twelve odd cases, requested to show 'a little bit of commonsense'. 'Let's put aside differences and fight against the BJP unitedly, because if the BJP comes to power again and again, there will be no room even for expressing points of view, let alone arguing over subtle differences', he said. Reports of APCR's activities, surveys on butchery and oppressions of Muslims and Christians were also presented, among which the recent one was on the Nuh riots.

Finally, Kushal Debnath, the veteran convener, summed up the discussion. With the consent of the audience, the aforementioned sevenfold resolutions were passed.

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Vol 56, No. 22, Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2023