The fortnight since the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill by parliament has been witness to one of the significant moments in recent political history in India. It has revealed two facets which are interrelated but opposite in nature. The first facet is that the Modi government has emerged as a full-fledged authoritarian regime. The second is that the widespread protests against the CAA and the NRC countrywide, have established the gathering resistance to the onslaughts on secular democracy and the constitution.
The Modi government at the centre and the BJP-ruled states have unleashed a frontal attack on the democratic rights of citizens–on the right to assembly, the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which prohibits the assembly of more than four persons, has been widely used in all the BJP-run states and in Delhi where police and law and order are with the centre. The most extreme form was seen in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh where the entire state was put under prohibitory orders.
The use of Section 144, a colonial law resurrected in the Criminal Procedure Code, in this manner makes a mockery of the right to protest which is constitutionally sanctioned.
Along with the indiscriminate use of Section 144, the administration resorted to internet shutdowns. In Assam, the internet was shut for nine days and was lifted only when the High Court ordered the government to restore it. These shutdowns came in the background of the longest closure of internet of more than four and a half months in Kashmir, an international record.
The most brutal State repression is taking place in Uttar Pradesh. 20 people have died so far and scores seriously injured by police firing. Yet the UP police denied anyone had died due to police bullets. Postmortem reports are suppressed. Only later in one case has the police accepted that a person was killed when the police officer fired in “self defence”. Chief Minister Adityanath, called for “badla” (revenge), and declared that those responsible for destruction of public properties will be made to pay for it. This pronouncement has intensified the police repression on the minority community and the process of issuing notices to persons to pay fines has begun. In Rampur district, for instance, 28 persons have been asked to pay Rs 14 lakh. This is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the British Raj in Punjab after the Rowlatt Act was enacted.
The suppression of freedom of expression and dissent has become rampant. People are being booked for putting out posts in the social media opposing the CAA and NRC; a student has been expelled from his college for sharing a post about a protest meeting against the CAA in a move reminiscent of the emergency. Two advisories were put out by the ministry of information and broadcasting to news channels. They cautioned the media to refrain from broadcasting content which is likely to instigate violence or which promotes an “anti-national attitude”. The second order talked about not showing content that contains “anything which may affect the integrity of the nation”. For the Modi government, criticism of the CAA is tantamount to an ‘anti-national’ attitude.
The authoritarian regime has trained its guns at students and universities where protests began. Jamia Millia University and Aligarh Muslim University–both minority institutions–were targeted for brutal repression. The police entered and beat up students inside library mercilessly in the Jamia campus–an incident unheard of even during British rule. In the case of AMU, the police used stun grenades. The police assault was so severe that one student’s hand had to be amputated; two other students’ limbs may also have to be amputated. These attacks on students come on top of the concerted efforts to suppress dissent and create an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation in the higher educational institutions.
The intolerance and fascistic attitude of the Modi regime has been on display with the prime minister downwards labelling the protestors as being instigated by “urban-naxals”, or being infiltrated by Maoists and jihadists.
If this is the vicious face of Hindutva authoritarianism, the other side of the picture is the wave of opposition and rising protests which have engulfed the country. Not a day passes without demonstrations, meetings and other forms of collective protests. No amount of repression is going to stop the popular protests. Students and young people are spearheading this protest movement. The unity of purpose in defending the constitution and secular democratic values is notable. The young people have a clear-eyed view of the machinations of the BJP rulers in bringing about the CAA-NRC measures. A wider unity based on defence of the constitution and secularism is being forged by the determined response of the people belonging to different walks of life.
It is this widening battle for the very future of secular-democracy which is going to foil the communal agenda behind the CAA-NPR-NRC trio. Twelve chief ministers of non-BJP state governments have announced that they will not implement the NRC. The BJP’s defeat in the Jharkhand assembly election has taken place at a time when it was doing its best to push this divisive agenda forward.
(By arrangement with IPA/People’s Democracy)