Dissent deliberately stifled as terrorism: Sonia

Published: Oct 26, 2020, 12:00 pm IST

New Delhi: Ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections, Congress President Sonia Gandhi has attacked the Modi government for what she called “targeting political opponents and civil society members” and cautioned that the world’s largest democracy was at the crossroads as “dissent was stifled as terrorism or branded anti-national activity”.

In an article published in a newspaper and later released by the Congress, she alleged that the Indian economy was in deep crisis.

“But what is less appreciated is that all the pillars of a democratic system of the governance are under assault. The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as ‘terrorism’ or branded as an ‘anti-national activity’,” Sonia Gandhi said.

The opposition leader said that the Indian state had diverted attention from the “real problems” of the people by pronouncing bogus threats to ‘national security’ everywhere.

“Of course, some of these threats are real and have to be dealt with uncompromisingly but the Modi government and the ruling BJP conjure up sinister conspiracies behind every political protest, indeed behind any and everything they see as opposition to them.”

The system unleashes investigative agencies on dissenters and deploys proxies through sections of the media and online troll factories. “India’s hard-won democracy is being hollowed out,” Sonia wrote.

The Congress leader also attacked the Modi government by saying that “every organ of the State that could possibly be used to target political opposition has already been pressed into service — the Police, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and even the Narcotics Control Bureau”.

She accused the Modi government of branding its political opponents as enemies of the Indian State. “This self-serving move unleashed the most draconian laws in our penal code against any and every protester who disagreed publicly with the BJP and its politics. It began in 2016 with the pressing of sedition charges against young student leaders in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of India’s foremost universities. It has continued relentlessly in a wide variety of contexts, with a series of disturbing arrests of well-known activists, scholars and intellectuals,” the opposition leader added.

After the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat dubbed anti-CAA agitation as “organised voilence” on Sunday, Sonia Gandhi defended the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

“The most cynical attempt to label anti-BJP protests as anti-India conspiracies is seen in the Modi government’s response to the extraordinary protests against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC). The CAA-NRC protests, led primarily by women, showed how a genuine social movement can respond to sectarian and discriminatory politics with a strong message of peace, inclusiveness, and solidarity.”

The protests at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and other countless sites across the country demonstrated how dominant male power structures can be persuaded to play a supporting role, leaving the centre stage to women, Sonia Gandhi pointed out.

“It was also notable for its proud use of national symbols, including the Constitution and its Preamble, the national flag, and our freedom struggle.”

She added: “This movement received widespread support from civil society activists and organisations across the political spectrum, who also opposed the divisive CAA-NRC. But the Modi government refused to acknowledge this movement.”

“Instead, it chose to vilify it and made it a divisive issue in the Delhi elections. BJP leaders, including Minister of State for Finance and the Home Minister used abusive rhetoric and violent imagery to attack what was essentially a Gandhian ‘satyagraha’. Other Delhi BJP leaders publicly threatened to attack the protestors. The ruling party created the conditions in which violence broke out in northeast Delhi. These riots in February would never hve occurred had the government wished to prevent them,” the opposition leader alleged.

Continuing her attack on the Modi government, Sonia Gandhi said that in the months to follow, the Centre carried its vendetta to extreme lengths, claiming that the protests were a conspiracy against the Indian State. “The result has been blatantly biased investigations with around 700 FIRs filed, hundreds questioned, and dozens detained under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

“The BJP may have differences with dissenters and civil society activists. Indeed, the same activists have often protested against the Congress governments as well. But to paint them as anti-national conspirators promoting communal violence is prejudicial and extremely dangerous for democracy.”

The Congress leader said that it is nothing less than shocking that eminent economists, academics, social campaigners and even very senior political leaders that includes a former Union Minister have been maliciously targeted through so-called disclosure statements in Delhi Police investigations. “This only shows that the BJP is determined to pursue its authoritarian strategy regardless of the consequences.”

She also mentioned the Hathras crime and said that the Uttar Pradesh government’s “vile response to the Hathras protests against the rape of a Dalit girl, the unlawful cremation and the intimidation of her family crying out for justice” is in keeping with this intolerant and undemocratic mindset. “It also happens to be in total contrast to how the UPA government handled the Nirbhaya case.”

“This nation will thrive only when democracy — as envisioned by our Constitution and the Independence movement — is followed in its letter and spirit,” she wrote.

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