With the Narendra Modi government passing the Unlawful Activities Prevention (UAPA) Amendment Bill and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Amendment Bill, without paying heed to critics and without referring them to parliamentary committees for closer scrutiny, India has taken the initial baby steps towards becoming a police state. And the passage of The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill is possibly the first constitutional step towards realisation of the Sangh Parivar’s supremacist nationalist agenda. While traditionally, governments in police states have used the secret police to stifle voicing of opinion and dissent, Narendra Modi’s India has taken a constitutional route instead. By amending the UAPA Act, the government has ensured that anyone criticising the Modi sarkar and its autocratic policies can be labelled a terrorist and incarcerated even if no ties to any terror groups can be established. Every dissenter can be labelled an ‘urban Maoist’ with adequate help of a pliant media which has placed spread of propaganda at the top of its job list.
The amendments also directly interfere with the federal nature of our Constitution by making the NIA all powerful by not requiring permission of a state DGP while attaching a property in a particular state in connection with terrorism. The Centre-state relations had already touched a new low under Narendra Modi’s first term as the Prime Minister. This is only going to worsen the situation. Similarly, amendments to the NIA Act again directly infringe upon the rights of state governments. State police forces routinely investigate cases under the new offences included in the NIA’s domain. Many political parties will rightly feel that their leaders can be selectively framed or pressured into defecting by planting material evidence related to the new offences listed.
In the earlier tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we have seen the government misusing existing laws like that on sedition to round up people. In this tenure, we are seeing an expansion of the scope of existing laws to the they are planning to expand the scope of the law to use it to their advantage. They have amended the RTI Act to make it powerless. The government in power clearly does not believe in accountability to the citizens of the country it governs. And The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which effectively makes abandonment of wives a non-bailable criminal offence for Muslim men, is nakedly discriminatory as the same offence under the Hindu Personal Law is not a criminal offence.
It is possibly the first constitutional step towards making those belonging to minorities second-class citizens in their own country. This has been on the agenda of the RSS all along. Creating an atmosphere of fear is the hallmark of nationalist fascists and this government is taking a constitutional route towards it even if the changes go against the essential grain of the Constitution of India. Only people’s movements, coordinated with political and judicial interventions, can foil the government’s nefarious designs. One hopes the entire gamut of opposition forces will realise that.