The Metropolitan Magistrate’s recent damaging observation vis-a-vis Delhi Police while acquitting 36 foreigners associated with Tablighi Jamaat who were accused of flouting Covid 19 protocols have largely gone unnoticed.

The magistrate in the judgement acknowledged the possibility of the ‘[p]olice picking up these individuals with the malicious intention of implicating them under the directions of the Union home ministry.”(https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/justice-again-tablighi-acquittal/cid/1800862)

Definitely this is not the first of such judgements where courts have expressed their strong displeasure about the selective targeting of individuals belonging to particular institution / community as being active carriers of Corona virus.

The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court was in fact scathing in its condemnation of the government,

A political government tries to find a scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats,”   (https://thewire.in/law/tablighi-jamaat-foreigners-mumbai-court-acquits-20-covid-19-coronavirus)

Question arises whether the powers that be would be ever held accountable for their alleged role in this ‘scapegoating’ of a community and thus marginalising it further? Whether one can expect  an apology from them for their acts of omission and commission.

Whether a large part of the media which was found to be complicit in this dubious operation and thus worsening the strain on India’s inclusive social fabric further can ever be reprimanded for its acts which further magnified the sufferings of minorities.

Definitely not.

Times are such that this overt ‘othering’ of a community, demonising of a religious institution is slowly being normalised with no questions being asked.

Today, this criminalising which was earlier limited to specific communities or sections of people or dissenting intellectuals, activists is being extended even to massive people’s movements which have questioned the dominant narrative being peddled by the government.

Look at the on-going historic farmer’s movement against the three ‘draconian farm bills’.

It has been more than three weeks that thousands of their representatives have been staging in a sit-in of a different kind at the various borders of the national capital as part of their peaceful movement to persuade the government that it repeals these laws. Millions of them are protesting against these laws in the rest of the country as well in their support.

Contrary to the claims of the government that these laws are beneficial to the farmers – which were put in place by introducing an ordinance during the raging pandemic and later were passed in the parliament under controversial circumstances which effectively meant throwing all democratic traditions to the winds – it is increasingly clear to the farmers that it would effectively mean the dismantling of state procurement and opening agriculture to contract farming for big corporations. This move will allow these corporations to amass essential food commodities in as large quantities as they want. This opening of agriculture sector to giant retail chains would also mean an attack on the food security rights of the working people.

Instead of engaging with the farmer’s movement what the government has tried to do is to adopt a strategy of repression and distortion of the movement. Not a day passes that a new abuse is not hurled at this peaceful movement of farmers to stigmatise them. Starting from ‘Khalistani’ to ‘Maoist’ or ‘urban naxals’ to ‘anti nationals’ to ‘fake farmers’ the government has tried every trick in its kitty to discredit them.

It was the strength of the movement and the massive support it gathered not only at all India level but in western countries as well that all these abuses rather boomeranged on them. Now it has come up with another unbelievable claim that it is an ‘opposition sponsored movement’ which does not see any positive in PM Modi or his actions. It is a different matter that this joint front of thirty plus farmer’s organsisations have flatly denied all such claims and underlined that it is part of government’s strategy to hoodwink the people.

Perturbed over the fact that its old strategies which it effectively used to clamp down on the anti CAA movement or movements of students and youth are proving ineffective and taking into consideration the fact that even the highest courts have also emphasised the democratic right of the protesters to pursue their grievances in a peaceful manner the government today finds itself in a bind.

The option they have chosen to stall any further public discussion is no less worrying.

It has chosen to cancel the winter session of the parliament supposedly because of the pandemic.

The rationale provided by the government look ridiculous to say the least.

It is rightly being asked if the raging pandemic did not let the government holding an election to the assembly to postpone it despite the fact that the leading opposition party had demanded it ; if despite the pandemic the government is claiming that life is increasingly becoming normal, if it could hold a parliament session – highly truncated – in the month of September when it wanted the parliament’s stamp on these farm bills etc then what prompted it to cancel the winter session by citing the threat of the pandemic.

The government very well knows that despite having a brute majority in the parliament, there are issues where it finds itself on slippery ground. The first and foremost is definitely the raging farmer’s struggle which has created lot of unease not only among its close allies but within the party itself. There is an increasing perception that the government is catering to select crony capitalists only at the cost of the working people. It’s handling of the alleged Chinese incursion and the way it dealt with the issue of migrant workers with sudden lockdown has also come under scanner time and again.

The present impasse created by the government reminds one of how late President Pranab Mukherjee discussed “the three Ds of  Democracy as  Debate, Dissension and Decision” in one of his commemorative lectures.

Question arises what happens if debates are consciously stalled, dissension is increasingly stigmatised and decisions are increasingly centralised ?

Contrary to what the NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant wants us to believe that “we are too much of a democracy” (https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/reform-as-per-mr-amitabh-kant-7098586/) it just denotes slow shrinking of democracy or India’s moving towards ‘less democracy’.

Would it be incorrect to say that the ‘New India’ where we are supposedly ushering in under the present dispensation this process is gathering momentum

Subhash Gatade is a political commentator


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