AS the 2019 election draws closer, the Modi government has unleashed a massive witchhunt against a whole range of dissenting voices including some of India’s most credible and respected human rights activists and public intellectuals. Nearly two months after arresting human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling, Dalit rights activist and journalist Sudhir Dhawale, former Prime Minister Rural Development fellow Mahesh Raut, Nagpur University Professor Shoma Sen and human rights campaigner Rona Wilson, the Pune Police carried out another round of simultaneous raids and arrests on 28 August.
The latest list of the arrested activists includes noted Chhattisgarh-based trade union leader and tribal rights campaigner Sudha Bharadwaj (arrested from Faridabad), renowned writer Varavara Rao (arrested from Hyderabad), activists Arun Ferreira (who has incidentally written a book on his experience of being in prison for five years on false charges) and Vernon Gonsalves (picked up from Mumbai, also someone who has survived a long period of imprisonment based on false charges) and long-standing human rights campaigner Gautam Navlakha (who was arrested from his residence in Delhi but the High Court stayed his remand to Pune). Among those whose houses have been raided are Ranchi-based Father Stan Swamy (who has been opposing corporate land-grab and Sanghi violence in Jharkhand and has recently been charged with ‘sedition’), journalist Kranthi Tekula, lawyer Susan Abraham who is defending Surendra Gadling and others, writer and academic Anand Teltumbde, and Anala and KV Kurmanath (daughter and son-in-law of Varavara Rao).
Quite intriguingly, the Maharashtra Government and the Pune Police are using the Bhima Koregaon violence of January 1 as the background for planning this witch-hunt. This year had marked the bicentenary of the defeat of the Peshwas in the battle of Bhima Koregaon (Dalits who had fought as part of the British Army in this battle celebrate this as their victory), and Dalits congregating to celebrate the occasion were attacked by right wing casteist forces. Instead of taking action against the attackers – of the two prime accused Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, the former has not been arrested and the latter has been granted bail soon after his belated arrest in April – the government is persecuting the alleged organisers of the Elgar Parishad held in Pune on 31 December. This has since been linked to the alleged Maoist plot to carry out a ‘Rajiv Gandhi style assassination’ of Narendra Modi and the larger narrative of war on ‘urban Naxalism’, the bogey that fuels the continuing Sangh-BJP assault on universities like JNU, Jadavpur, Hyderabad and on every expression of dissent against the government’s pro-corporate policies and the Sangh’s communal fascist campaign.
The BJP never tires of invoking the dark chapters of the 1975 Emergency and the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom even as it remains silent on, or actively celebrates, the 2002 Gujarat genocide and the current reign of communal lynch mobs. Ironically, many of the human rights campaigners now being attacked are ones who had fought hard against the Emergency and the 1984 pogrom. Gautam Navlakha, for instance, has been a key organiser of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, which along with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties fought for the release of political prisoners and brought out the most credible fact-finding report on the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. The human rights movement which emerged out of the experience of resistance to Emergency-era subversion of democratic institutions and rights is today being branded as an ‘urban Naxal’ project. An actual incident of anti-Dalit violence is being manipulated to persecute Dalit rights activists. While terrorist organisations like Sanatan Sanstha are enjoying full impunity to openly threaten people and call for overturning the secular character of the Indian republic as guaranteed by the Constitution, lawyers, writers, poets and public intellectuals are being framed with outlandish charges of plotting an assassination of the Prime Minister. Incidentally, several such wild accusations were used in the past to justify a series of extra-judicial killings in Gujarat.
These raids and arrests and slapping of sedition charges and invoking of draconian laws like UAPA are all aimed at reducing India to a republic of fear. And the state is doing this in partnership with the hired assassins and thug squads who are being deployed to kill dissenting intellectuals and lynch innocent persons. The assassination of Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, the failed attempt on Umar Khalid, repeated attacks on Swami Agnivesh and the continuing persecution of human rights campaigners are all part of the same strategy of silencing dissent and subordinating democracy to a fascist regime of fear and repression, hate and lies. When lawyers and writers who fight for the people are being attacked and arrested, the people must stand with them and fight for their unconditional release. If the government is unleashing all-out repression on the eve of a Lok Sabha election, it only shows the desperation of the rulers and they deserve nothing but a decisive defeat in the elections. Declared or not, India is now experiencing a full-scale Modi Emergency, and it must be treated in the same way as the people had dealt with the Indira Emergency in 1977.