The truth has a price : The Tribune India


The truth has a price

Picking on critics and opponents is a common pastime of those in power

The truth has a price

Blocking out: The BJP has opened the doors to the charge that an undeclared Emergency is now in motion. PTI

Julio Ribeiro

Would the income tax raids on Anurag Kashyap and Taapsee Pannu amount to misuse of power? In one interpretation ‘yes’, since only critics of the government have been targeted. But if these two representatives of the entertainment industry have dodged paying legitimate taxes, the answer would be ‘no’.

The Freedom House, which had downgraded India’s status from a ‘free country’ to a ‘partly free’ country during the Emergency years, has done it again.

Picking on critics and opponents is a common pastime of those in power. The best course for intended victims to adopt is to always keep a clean slate. This may be difficult in an industry that employs a generous dose of unaccounted cash in its business. If it is not able to function otherwise then there is no alternative to keeping their mouths shut even in the face of gross injustices that sensitive folk are not able to digest.

Prakash Javadekar, I&B Minister, has denied that the BJP had any hand in the raids. Income tax officials on the ground supported the minister’s contention by affirming that they came across entries in the books that aroused their suspicions. Individual citizens must have hit upon the truth according to their political preferences. The chatterati will be vertically divided on this issue, as they are on most other issues in public space. But using power to tame opponents of its policies is an old game that is difficult to play unless you yourself are a politician thirsting for power.

After the Emergency, Indira Gandhi lost the elections. She was the object of a witch hunt which landed her in jail briefly. But soon thereafter, she capitalised on the inability of her rivals to present a united front, and returned to power. Despite the farmers’ protests and the injustices heaped on Disha Ravi and Safoora Zargar, Modiji is safe on his perch. The BJP has succeeded in splitting the country on communal lines. It is advisable for opponents and the disenchanted among the populace to ‘bear the slings and arrows of outraged fortune than taking arms against a sea of troubles’ because there is no chance of ending them till Mr Modi is around.

But all is not lost. Conscientious judges of some courts have decided that ‘enough is enough’. They have decided to fulfil their constitutional duty of dispensing justice according to the truth and the law of the land. We salute them. And to make the day even more pleasant, we read in the newspapers that even the Supreme Court has stepped up its act. Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta dismissed a petition seeking the prosecution of a former Chief Minister of J&K for disapproving of the Centre’s decision to scrap the special status granted to J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution. The court held, and rightly so, that dissent is not sedition and citizens cannot be tried for anti-government views. The court fined the petitioner for the frivolous demand of disqualifying the ex-CM, Farooq Abdullah, who is an elected MP from the Valley.

The penchant of the Modi government to ram laws through Parliament without adequate discussions or following parliamentary procedures, the targeting of activists and journalists for disagreeing with government policies and misuse of draconian laws like sedition and the UAPA to silence critics of the regime has attracted adverse attention at home and abroad. The Economist of London and the Washington Post have criticised the Modi government for its indifferent record on the civil liberties of its citizens.

The Freedom House, a US-based research organisation, which had downgraded India’s status from a ‘free country’ to a ‘partly free’ country during the Emergency years of Indira Gandhi, has done it again in its ‘Freedom in the World 2020’ report! It gave India 34/40 for political rights but only 33/60 for civil liberties.

Another guardian of democracy, the Internet Freedom Foundation recorded that of the 109 times the Internet was shut down the world over, the largest number of occasions this happened was in India!

Our government has refuted the Freedom House report by criticising Freedom House itself. That is not going to help. That same organisation had criticised Indira Gandhi’s administration for the Emergency decision in its 1975 and 1976 reports. The BJP must surely have concurred with those reports. It cannot reject this year’s report with any sense of justice and fair play. In fact, it has opened the doors to the charge that an undeclared Emergency is now in motion.

When he first assumed power in 2014, Modiji made a splash on the world scene, accumulating many brownie points in the world’s capitals. Indians were treated with unaccustomed respect abroad. Alas, this will now change. When international travel revives, the humiliation of Indian passport holders abroad will resume. It had been different in the initial years of the Modi era.

Having surrendered ground to its fringe elements, having chosen the consolidation of power over the oft-repeated but unimplemented credo of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, the Modi regime is leading our beloved country towards a goal that will find its citizens divided vertically, and I am afraid, fatally. Is this the India Mr Modi dreams of when he snatches a few hours of sleep from his punishing regimen of work, work and more work?

If he truly believes in ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, and the recently added ‘Sabka Vishwas’, he should remove Section 124(A), the sedition clause, from the IPC. It is a misused provision in the law, originally introduced by the British to facilitate its rule over ‘the jewel in its monarch’s crown’. It is now being misused by police forces in BJP-ruled states to silence critics and assorted ‘enemies of the regime’, including Muslims, leftists, students, farmers, climate activists, and Dalits asking for a place in the sun!

The police forces of which I was once a proud member have capitulated totally. Its leadership in the sad words of an old, upright colleague ‘has transformed into unscrupulous careerists’. Such an about-turn in concepts of leadership is bound to weaken the security management in the country. Has this occurred to Mr Modi? I am not sure it has. Those near him are afraid to speak the truth to him. And therein lie the seeds of a possible tragedy.

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