Arrests a bid to suppress dissent

The arrest of five rights activists in a nationwide swoop by the Pune police on Tuesday has given rise to widespread outrage and protests. None of the grounds given by the police for its action is credible and genuine, and the arrests are rightly seen as targeted actions against dissenters and ideological opponents. All the five have long and impressive records of fighting for justice and human rights, especially the rights of oppressed sections like the Dalits and tribals. One of them is a woman, Sudha Bharadwaj, and the other is the 80-year-old balladeer Varavara Rao. The charges are that they were involved in the Bhima-Koregaon violence in Pune many months ago and were parties to conspiracies against the State and a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. No credible proof has been adduced, and a letter which is mentioned as evidence is of questionable authenticity.

The Supreme Court declined to remand them and ordered that they be kept under house arrest in their own homes. The bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud criticised the police action in strong terms. Justice Misra lashed out at the “sweeping round of arrests” and said that democracy could not survive without dissenting voices. Justice Chandrachud said that democracy will burst under pressure if dissent, which is its safety valve, is not allowed. The court even shouted at the Maharashtra government’s counsel for making irrelevant arguments. The court’s decision and its remarks reveal what it thinks about the police action and the evidence submitted to it so far. But the court should have thrown out the case if it felt there was no merit in it, as can be presumed from what transpired. The Delhi High Court had even started dictating orders to set civil rights activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha free, and stopped it only when it learnt of the Supreme Court’s decision. The Supreme Court should have categorically stood for the rights and freedoms of people, which it has always championed, and quashed the police action, making it clear that it was wrong, illegal and arbitrary. It was wrong to allow police to keep the five activists under house arrest.

The arrests may be an attempt to divert attention from the failure, actually refusal, of the governments in Maharashtra and at the Centre to take action against the right-wing organisation Sanatan Sanstha, which has been found to be involved in terrorist activities. They may also be a bid to deflect attention from controversies like the Rafale deal or the government’s failures on the economic front. But more than anything else, they are repressive actions of a central government out to suppress dissent as elections approach and its popularity is falling. 

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Arrests a bid to suppress dissent

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