View: Stop crying wolf over democracy, enjoy the quality of sheep’s clothing

The police have arrested assorted activists and student leaders, including JNU’s Umar Khalid, and have now named Sitaram Yechury, along with Yogendra Yadav, economist Jayati Ghosh and Delhi University professor Apoorvanand as possible conspirators.

PTI
In the cases registered by the Delhi police, the focus is solely on those who protested against CAA.
The trouble with crying wolf is that, eventually, the wolf gets a free pass, as people stop believing those warning cries and stop rushing out to chase away the predator. The wolf is real and deadly, only made unreal to decent folk by repeated false alarms. Threats to democracy fit the bill today: people are tired of repeated warnings, and threats to democracy enjoy a free ride.

The Delhi Police today would appear to be engineering a conspiracy about a conspiracy: apparently, leftists – political leaders and intellectuals – were conspiring to destabilise the state using protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and carried out the riots in northeast Delhi in February this year as part of the conspiracy. The police have arrested assorted activists and student leaders, including JNU’s Umar Khalid, and have now named Sitaram Yechury, along with Yogendra Yadav, economist Jayati Ghosh and Delhi University professor Apoorvanand as possible conspirators.

In the cases registered by the Delhi police, the focus is solely on those who protested against CAA. BJP leaders who held rallies, threatening to take the law into their own hands if the anti-CAA protests were not lifted, are off the police radar.


This playbook looks as if it has been copied from the police action in the wake of the Bhima-Koregaon violence, which saw a Dalit activist killed and several injured during an attack on Dalit celebration of the 200 th anniversary of the victory of Mahar troops of the British East India Company over the Peshwa’s army, ending Peshwa rule once and for all.

Initial reports blamed right-wing Hindutva groups for the violence, Prakash Ambedkar naming, according to news reports, Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide as organisers of the attack on the celebration of Dalit victory over Brahmin-Maratha oppression. After a Supreme Court prod, Ekbote was arrested. But the investigations into the role of right-wing organisations was abandoned after an eyewitness who had testified against them was found killed and her family members were charged with attempted murder.

A self-styled think tank conducted an inquiry into the violence and came up with the finding that an elaborate Maoist conspiracy was behind the whole thing. It chided the police for failing to act against this threat to social stability. The police of the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government swung into action and rounded up a number of activists and intellectuals, some from as far away as Delhi, such as Sudha Bharadwaj, lawyer and tribal rights activist, and human rights campaigner Gautam Navlakha.
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The police discovered a Maoist conspiracy to mobilise Dalit groups against the establishment, using the Bhima-Koregaon celebration as an occasion to instigate schism. The conspiracy theory expanded to include yet more individuals and even a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. The police claimed to have discovered incriminating evidence on the computers of those arrested, never mind that the ‘evidence’ flashed before the public seemed to undergo changes in formatting between press conferences by the police.

When the government of Maharashtra changed, after the 2019 assembly elections, the Bhima-Koregaon investigation was taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation, lest facts and evidence change, as they mysteriously tend to in this country, when the political executive overseeing an investigation changes.

Many of those arrested have been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which permits incarceration without bail for prolonged periods. Several of those arrested have been in jail for more than two years without the investigation progressing to prosecution or receiving bail.

In Delhi, too, a self-styled group of intellectuals have carried out an inquiry into the February riots and discovered a conspiracy to delegitimise the central government. Delhi Police, under its new Commissioner, whose letter to investigating officers cautioning against hurting the sensibilities of Hindu groups has no bearing, of course, on the nature of the investigations, has warmed up to the conspiracy theory. Anyone opposed to the CAA must have been conspiring to cause riots – that would appear to be the working assumption of the investigation.
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Liberty, equality and fraternity have been the watchwords of democracy, since the French Revolution. In India, fraternity has been trampled into the mud by rioters and lynch mobs. Equality has been given a formal farewell with the Citizenship Amendment Act that diminishes the quality of Muslim citizenship. If anyone thought that liberty could not survive on its own, they should suppress the urge to cry wolf.

The newly created Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force might come after them. It has been given powers to arrest and search people without a warrant and is obliged to hand over their detainees to the regular force ‘without delay’. The degree of urgency that determines what constitutes delay has been left undefined. It would be no surprise if those who disturb the peace with wanton cries of a lupine attack attract the attention of the new Force.
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The wolf is amongst us, sometimes in sheep’s clothing: social media trolls baying for the blood of anyone questioning the official narrative, editors who allow media management of the sort that sweeps aside pestilence, stark economic distress and barbarians at the gates, in favour of some Bollywood drama with its own tragic victims; an Opposition too scared of being branded a Muslim party to come to the aid of those victimised by the state; judges who accept evidence in sealed envelopes, as if this were compatible with the Constitution’s mandate for procedure established by law.

If the bleat coming out of that sheep near you sounds a gravelly bit like a growl, do get your ears checked.

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