Sedition FIRs to police visits, Opposition parties in government are using BJP toolkit to target critics. That’s a big self-goal
It may be necessary to cast a wider look to see why the non-BJP parties are looking so effete in the face of transgressions of citizens’ rights and freedoms by the state. When these parties are in power, where they get the opportunity, they are complicit in the very acts they accuse the BJP of.
Rewind, for a moment, to this: A few days ago, in a spectacular show of overzealousness, Assam Police flew to another state to arrest a legislator over a tweet. The arrest of Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani — he has been rearrested since, after a Kokrajhar court gave him bail on Monday — for a tweet critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi under severe sections of the IPC and the IT Act is theatre of the absurd at its best, or worst. It raises, yet again, serious questions of police excess, and its abject servility to political bosses. It reiterates that BJP governments, at the Centre and in the states, are not above weaponising the harsh law against dissenters and political opponents. It underlines that at risk are constitutionally protected fundamental freedoms, and that playing fast and loose with due process to target some potentially affects everyone. The continuing drama over Mevani is chilling for another reason as well — it shows how supine the Opposition has become.
It may be necessary to cast a wider look to see why the non-BJP parties are looking so effete in the face of transgressions of citizens’ rights and freedoms by the state. When these parties are in power, where they get the opportunity, they are complicit in the very acts they accuse the BJP of. Or, they simply lack the conviction to take a principled stand. The response of the AAP, after the bulldozers rolled into Northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, affected by communal violence only days ago, is illustrative. Both Deputy CM Manish Sisodia and MLA Atishi sought to lay the blame on two groups — Bangladeshi nationals and Rohingya — that the BJP had also sought to target. They were being settled across India by the BJP to stage riots, the AAP leaders said. From Shaheen Bagh to Jahangirpuri, the AAP either stayed silent, or stayed away, or as it has done now, taken the BJP’s cue. It is not just in Delhi, however, that the AAP plays by the BJP’s book. Last heard, its newly elected government in Punjab had sent the Punjab Police to the doorsteps of at least three critics of AAP convenor and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal — former AAP leader Kumar Vishwas, Congress leader (also formerly AAP) Alka Lamba, and Delhi BJP’s Naveen Jindal.
It’s not just the AAP. In Maharashtra, ruled by the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Mumbai Police has arrested and slapped a sedition charge on Ravi and Navneet Rana, MLA and MP respectively, for apparently nothing more than raising the ante against CM Uddhav Thackeray on the Hanuman Chalisa-Azaan row. And in Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court had to step in last year to reprimand the Congress government for its alleged misuse of the sedition law — it pointed to the “disturbing trend” of filing sedition cases against officials seen to be loyal to preceding regimes after a change of government. The non-BJP parties may or may not pay an electoral price for this politics. But their many concessions and abdications are taking a wider toll — they are shrinking the space for an alternative politics, they are constricting its possibilities.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on April 26, 2022 under the title ‘Cut and paste BJP’.