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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 46, New Delhi, October 31, 2020

Modi government silencing the voice of democratic protest | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 31 October 2020

by Arun Srivastava

NIA is on the mission to accomplish the unfinished task of CBI. We all know how the CBI as used by the political system of the country to serve the interest of the ruling elite. The situation has reached to such a stage that the CBI was described as the “caged parrot” that sings the Centre’s tune. Professionally the CBI enjoys highest order of trustworthiness, but for its own misdemeanour of pleasing the political masters by agreeing to become an active partner in their dirty game it has lost much of its credibility. It has not only done a disservice to the people of the country but more than that to the professional ethics. No law abiding citizen now desires that any case of serious nature and deserves an impartial inquiry should be handed over to the CBI. It is only the government and vested interest prefer to hand over the cases to the agency that too purely with the ill-gotten to bury and hush up the case.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which in recent times has suffered severe crisis of credibility and faith in the eyes of the people has suffered yet another shattering blow with the Maharashtra government withdrawing general consent for operations within its territory. Before Maharashtra four other states have also withdrawn consent. Obviously this should worry the CBI and the onus is on the agency, not its masters, to ensure its credibility.

The UP government design to assign the investigation into the case of TRP manipulations by TV channels when Mumbai police was already probing the matter was purely aimed at protecting the owners, editors and anchors of the TV channels who were involved in scam. The move came amidst the opposition’s allegations that the Centre was striving to circumvent investigations by Maharashtra police especially in the cases related to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the TRP scam.

While the CBI is considered a Central investigative agency, it was not constituted by an Act of Parliament like the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The CBI was formed under the law, Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946 (DSPE Act). The NIA can take up a case dealing with its scheduled offences in India without the consent of the state government in question.

But unfortunately the NIA is also being used by the Modi government to serve its political interest. It is worth mentioning the Bhima Koregaon case. While the Maharashtra government was reviewing the Bhima Koregaon case and had ordered to hold back framing of the charges, the NIA at the directive of the Home Minister took over the case without the state’s consent. This was done under the façade of NIA enjoying the right of countrywide jurisdiction to take over any case related to terrorism.

The home ministry had entrusted the NIA with the Bhima Koregaon case at the initiative of the RSS only with the ominous intention to implicate the social activists and left inclined intellectuals. The RSS leaders were highly critical of the Koregaon case as it was against their Hindutva agenda. The NIA used the Koregaon case to involve the names of prominent activists and frame under the charges of sedition. It has already implicated nearly a dozen prominent academics and intellectuals in this case. What is bizarre is most of the arrested persons have been accused as “urban naxals”, a coin evolved by the RSS. These persons are accused of being soft to Naxalites or helping them. Though Supreme Court says that as an accused has an indefeasible fundamental right to bail if the investigating agency fails to file the chargesheet within the stipulated period, a significant number of these accused persons are yet to be charged.

The true character of a state is perhaps best exposed by its choice of enemies. The latest victim of the NIA has an 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy, who has devoted his life to fight for the cause of most oppressed among the Indian people, the Adivasis in Jharkhand. He has been jailed on grave charges of treason and terror, of being a Maoist, being actively involved in violent Maoist enterprises, part of a larger sinister Maoist Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy.

Prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists and student leaders have been arrested for dissenting with the policies of the government. He has carefully documented the monstrous profits made by big corporations, and the inestimable price that people dependent on the land and forests pay. He had opposed the manner in which land was acquired at dirt prices for the Adani power plant in Godda, and how the bulldozers destroyed the standing crop. Adani Power signed in 2016 an agreement with Bangladesh to build a 1,600 MW power plant in Godda. Jharkhand. The coal would be imported from Adani’s mines in Australia.

In his own words, “If you question this form of development, you are anti-development, which is equal to anti-government, which is equal to anti-national. A simple equation. This is why the government calls me a Maoist, although I am completely opposed to Maoist methods, and have nothing to do with them”. He researched and found that at least 3000 Adivasi and Dalit youth in Jharkhand had been jailed for years for being Maoists.

With Sudha Bhardwaj, already in jail in Koregaon case, he co-convened the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee and filed a petition in the Jharkhand High Court seeking their release. Astonishingly the NIA has accused him of plotting to murder Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the video he recorded before his arrest, he declared quietly, “I am ready to pay the price, whatever it is.” He is older than the republic which he fights to defend. For him, the love of his country and the love of his religion is the love of its poorest people. Meanwhile people have been mobilising mass movement to exert pressure on the central government to release Father Stan Swamy. They assert that father’s arrest is unconstitutional and immoral and shows how the government machinery is being used to silence voices raised for tribal and Dalit rights.

Popularity of Fr Swamy could be gauged from the simple fact that people of at lewast 100 villages have decided to launch a door to door drive to make people aware of the central government’s nefarious plans and urge them to come out on streets and exert pressure on the central government to release octogenarian Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist. If the sources are to be believed at 83, his body has begun to show the ravages of age and a life of austerity. Parkinson’s disease has set in. His hand trembles as he picks up a cup. But his spine both physically and metaphorically is upright and unbending.

“Stan Swamy has been fighting for rights of tribals and marginalised for decades and had to face harassment from the then BJP government over the pathalgadi issue. It is our turn to stand with him at this juncture and resist the current BJP-led central government’s move to suppress voices of dissent,” said advocate and tribal rights defender Aloka Kujur

Meanwhile the NIA has received a major set back in its attempt implicate the intellectuals and activists with most of the witnesses denying that they entered the venue due to large crowd and also didn’t hear speeches. The NIA has claimed that the accused had “incited people” by giving provocative presentations and speeches at the event, which promoted enmity between caste groups leading to violence at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, resulting in loss of life and statewide agitation. The chargesheet claimed that the event was a larger conspiracy linked with banned organisation CPI (Maoist).

Many of the witnesses in the Elgaar Parishad case, whose statements were recorded by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with alleged provocative speeches given at the event held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017, have told the agency that they could not enter the venue of the event due to the presence of a large crowd. Only two witnesses said that the speeches were “provocative”, one person said that a song performed by members of Kabir Kala Manch was “aggressive in nature”.

The NIA has so far recorded statements of 48 witnesses, including professors, activists and lawyers. The statements are part of its 10,000-page chargesheet filed against eight persons on October 9. Of the 48, statements of 13 witnesses were recorded in connection to the Elgaar Parishad event, held ahead of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. The event formed the basis for the FIR in the case, leading to the arrest of 16 people.

The witness added that the final speech was given by Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar who appealed to the people to donate, following which members of the district committee set up for the event collected over Rs 2 lakh in a large cloth that was taken around the venue.

A witness, linked to an NGO working in the field of education, said that he came to the event with two of his friends. “On being asked about (who were present on stage)… I state (the names of) Dr Prakash Ambedkar, Jignesh Mewani, mother of Rohith Vemula, etc. Other members were also present on stage but I don’t know them… Since we were hungry and uncomfortable sitting on the ground, we all came outside and had some food. Thereafter, I heard the speeches by standing outside the venue,” his statement said.

A note sent to various guests, which is also a part of the chargesheet, named over 30 people as “hosts”, including Teltumbde. The chargesheet claimed that the event was a larger conspiracy linked with banned organisation CPI (Maoist).

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