Is this a democracy where laws ranging from sedition to terrorism are imposed arbitrarily?
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Take a look at the headlines on the front pages of newspapers on Saturday. Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Yuva Morcha, was arrested in Delhi by Punjab Police under the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the team, including Bagga, left for Mohali. Arjun Chaurasia, a BJP worker, was discovered hanging from a tree in Kolkata. Amit Shah, the Union home minister, was in Kolkata that day. The Enforcement Directorate raided multiple premises of a senior Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer from Jharkhand and a few others, across various locations.
This was only the beginning of the day. As the day progressed, temperatures rose. The squad that arrested Bagga was stopped at Kurukshetra, Haryana, by uniformed police officers. Meanwhile, after Bagga’s father filed a complaint in Delhi, a case of kidnapping was filed against Punjab Police officials, and a team from Delhi Police arrived in Kurukshetra to rescue Bagga. This police-versus-police conflict is unprecedented.
Later, Punjab officials were forced to hand Bagga over to Delhi Police. It would appear that they made a technical error in haste. The Delhi high court has ruled that police from a state cannot act in another state without first informing the local police. However, the taint of arrest remains for Bagga. Punjab Police may attempt to apprehend him in the near future if all technicalities are met. The question here is what kind of action will be taken against the Punjab Police squad? Is this a criminal offence or should it only face disciplinary action?
In Kolkata, in the afternoon, after visiting the residence of the deceased activist Arjun, Shah announced that the perpetrators of this crime would face the harshest punishment. Earlier, too, Shah visited the homes of BJP workers, who suffered in political clashes. Obviously, he does not want his party’s morale to deteriorate under any circumstances. West Bengal’s situation is worrying. Since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, nearly 50 people have been killed in political clashes, according to senior state BJP leader Dilip Ghosh. The West Bengal government has not made any official data available on this so far. The ruling Trinamool Congress dismisses the claims though the state has a long history of political violence.
This furore was not limited to Kurukshetra and Kolkata. Crores of rupees was recovered from the premises of Indian Administrative Service officer Pooja Singhal, reported to be a close aide of Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren; her chartered accountant and husband. The amount was so large that officials from the Central Bank of India were summoned to count it. Those in the ruling coalition in the state, said the raids and the investigation into alleged mining allocation irregularities, was part of political vendetta.
What have our leaders done to these institutions? Why has their credibility deteriorated so drastically? Why do we have rogue elements among officers associated with these agencies who seem to act at the behest of their political overlords? Unfortunately, all parties are equally responsible for fuelling this destructive trend.
When similar raids were conducted in some cases in Maharashtra and West Bengal sometime back, the local police and central agencies came face to face. The situation deteriorated to the point where central security forces were called in to protect the investigators. The clash between Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar and the Central Bureau of Investigation had become a hot topic in the run-up to the Bengal elections. Meanwhile, BJP national president JP Nadda’s car was also targeted. The central government acted decisively, recalling three police officers stationed there.
The manner in which Bagga was apprehended has opened old wounds. The matter of Ravi and Navneet Rana had not yet been settled in Maharashtra when this incident occurred in Delhi. The police of one state are filing kidnapping cases against the police of another, and the police of one state are preventing the police of another from taking back someone under arrest. Is this democracy? Adesh Gupta, Delhi president of the BJP, announced that they will repay all this with interest. The Aam Aadmi Party is also launching similar attacks.
The time has come for voters to consider whether they elected their representatives as public servants or as overlords. Is this a democracy where laws ranging from sedition to terrorism are imposed arbitrarily? Is it sedition to criticise those in power?
Regrettably, those in power bear the responsibility for putting an end to it, despite the fact that they are the perpetrators.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal