No space for Opposition in Modi's new India

No government in power has ever tried to prevent their political opponents from staging protests against the ruling party. That is precisely how democracy functions. We’re indeed living in dark times

NH Photo by Vipin
NH Photo by Vipin

Zafar Agha

I have spent a little over four decades in journalism, all of them covering national politics in the capital city of Delhi. I have been a witness to the best of times and the worst of times in Indian politics during these years between 1981 and 2022.

During these four decades, Prime Ministers from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh ruled the country and went away. Naturally, these years saw their fair share of historic protests and rallies that transformed national politics for the good or the bad of the country.

I remember watching Indira Gandhi’s farmers’ rally when over two million people converged in and around Delhi’s Boat Club. Mahendra Tikait led a farmers’ protest which was attended by lakhs of farmers. There was a massive rally organised by opposition parties against the Rajiv Gandhi government in the late 1980s. A VHP rally attracted lakhs of people in support of Ram temple at Ayodhya in the early 1990s.

No government in power ever tried to prevent their political opponents from staging protests against the ruling party. That is precisely how democracy functions.

But nowadays, a new definition of democracy is being scripted by the BJP-led Central government. How else could Delhi Police personnel enter the Congress Party headquarters at 12, Akbar Road and manhandle Congress leaders and workers holding legitimate protests against the Enforcement Directorate’s move to question their former president Rahul Gandhi this week?

Can you imagine two sitting Chief Ministers, Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) and Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) along with the leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge being detained repeatedly for three days for protesting against the government! Or senior Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram being jostled around by the police. Or, for that matter, Indian Youth Congress president Srinivas BV being manhandled and brutally kicked by policemen.

Such things certainly do not happen in a genuinely functioning democracy. But the BJP-led government at the Centre is writing new rules of democracy wherein opponents cannot oppose the government even by peaceful means.

I was not in Delhi when the Emergency was imposed in 1975. But I cannot recall any of my seniors telling me about the police entering any political office to arrest any leader even then. These are much darker days than the Emergency, perhaps. No one can hold a demonstration nowadays in the national Capital. Even the farmers were not allowed to enter Delhi for over a year! One can cite many more such examples.

Frankly, we are living in strange times wherein strange rules of democratic functioning are being written. If you protest, you may be kicked brutally like Srinivas, or pulled and pushed around like Chidambaram, and detained in a police station even if you are a chief minister like Ashok Gehlot.

But if you are an ordinary citizen and dare to take to the streets, you will be arrested, and your house may be razed to the ground by a bulldozer.

Will you still like to call it a genuine democracy?

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Published: 16 Jun 2022, 9:03 AM