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How protest is endangering the democracy?

  • 20 January, 2021

  • 9 Min Read

How protest is endangering the democracy?

  • The NIA’s decision to summon people associated with the ongoing farmers agitation as ‘witnesses’ in a sedition case is definitely out of the ordinary, even if not entirely surprising.
  • Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu and farmers’ leader Baldev Singh Sirsa are among 40 people it has summoned in connection with a fresh case registered on December 15, 2020 against Sikhs for Justice, a U.S.-based organisation that is banned by India.
  • Others summoned include functionaries of Khalsa Aid, a Sikh charity that provided material support to agitating farmers, and those who organised a community kitchen for them.
  • The insinuation of the NIA in the very act of summoning them as ‘witnesses’ follows statements by BJP leaders that linked the agitation to Khalistani separatism.
  • Law officers of the government told the Supreme Court last week that anti-national forces that had infiltrated the protests were misleading the farmers.
  • This portrayal of critics of a government policy as either misled and ignorant or anti-national actors forecloses all possibility of any honest dialogue with them.
  • That may not be an unintended outcome for a government that has never been enthusiastic about consultative processes.
  • In this instance, the government and the Court proffer dialogue with protesters while agencies employ intimidatory measures against them.
  • Efforts to undermine the legitimacy of political actors opposed to the government have acquired a predictable pattern. Its critics are routinely labelled anti-national by social media trolls and functionaries of the ruling BJP.
  • Investigations follow, often by central agencies, the NIA and the Enforcement Directorate.
  • The state responses to agitators in Kashmir, Bhima Koregaon and during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act have been heavy-handed.
  • That, probably, is the message that the government wants to convey to all dissenters, current and prospective: it will not feel restrained by principles of federalism or democratic norms in putting down protests.
  • The NIA’s move cannot be seen delinked from this broader context. Sikhs abroad are a vibrant segment of the diaspora, having links with the motherland, including through donations to religious and charity activities.
  • Other diaspora groups also support activities, including in the fields of education and health. The Narendra Modi government has a policy of harnessing the strength of Indian diaspora everywhere for national progress.
  • There has to be a high threshold to consider any such community activity as anti-national and no consideration of religion must influence that assessment.
  • The NIA’s instant move has been condemned as intimidation, among others, by the Akali Dal, until recently a BJP ally. Strong-arm tactics may be unavoidable when there is an immediate threat of violence.
  • But replacing political dialogue with state intimidation is never strategically prudent. The government must talk to the farmers in good faith.

Source: TH

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