When Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked democracy and law in his televised address to the nation on Tuesday, many Indians would have shivered. The PM was clearly hinting at making sweeping changes in the law and ‘system’ and empowering the executive with extra teeth. With the government having already bared all its teeth and fangs, this was far from reassuring.
It is a miracle, for example, that retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju has still not been charged with sedition even after suggesting the formation of a national government in India comprising all parties on the lines of the British war cabinet during the second world war. The Government had proved to be incompetent in meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic and it was necessary to bring all parties together to run the country.
It is also a surprise that retired Justice B.N. Srikrishna is still not in jail for saying that it is illegal to make the Arogya Setu app mandatory; or for that matter Justice Deepak Gupta, who retired as Supreme Court judge this month and criticised the Supreme Court for abdicating its responsibility.
The three venerable judges have escaped the ‘long arm of the law’, perhaps because the Government is still not prepared to strike a hornet’s nest and risk national and international opprobrium. It is also possible that the Government doesn’t want to draw attention to the fact that Justice Srikrishna had chaired the committee, which drafted the Data Protection Law two years ago and which has not been debated in Parliament yet. Or Justice Katju may still be in the United States, where he had gone before the lockdown, and a sedition charge against him would attract unwanted international attention.
But Dhaval Patel, editor of a Gujarati news portal, has not been as lucky. He was charged with sedition and arrested this week, media reports said, for publishing a report that Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani’s ouster appeared imminent for mishandling the corona crisis in the state.
The arbitrary and selective ‘Rule of the Law’ has been used with greater abandon during the lockdown. The breather offered by the lockdown has been used indiscriminately to arrest people under the sedition law, the National Security Act and the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which makes it impossible to seek relief from the judiciary or demand an immediate trial.
This period has also been used by the Government to crackdown on people who protested against the arbitrary Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019. Not only is Dr Kafeel Khan in prison for an alleged speech he delivered at Aligarh Muslim University (though former psephologist Yogendra Yadav swears that he was himself present and the good doctor had said nothing remotely seditious), several students of Jamia Milia University have also been charged with sedition and several students and research scholars, including women, have been sent to jail.
Trust the Government to make full use of the crisis to make use of all colonial and post-colonial laws to make life comfortable for itself. Others outside the Government need to be worried. Very worried.