Thursday, August 30, 2018

Modi's Atmosphere of Fear

PM Narendra Modi has come under fire after police arrested five lawyers and left-wing activists accusing them of links to Maoists. Rights groups say the government wants to stifle dissent ahead of the general election. The arrested include poet Varavara Rao, human rights lawyer Vernon Gonsalves, writer and lawyer Arun Ferreira, journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, and trade unionist Sudha Bharadwaj. The arrests followed months of tensions between BJP supporters and liberal activists in college campuses across the country.

The authorities are investigating violence between low-caste Dalits and upper-caste Hindu groups following a political meeting in the western city of Pune on December 31 last year and that the five activists were detained in connection with that meeting.

"These persons have been arrested for their Maoist links," Shivaji Bodakhe, joint commissioner of Pune police, said.

Human rights organizations said that the arrest of five prominent activists is part of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) campaign to silence critics ahead of next year's general election. Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer, explained that those arrested on Tuesday have a history of working for India's marginalized communities and their arrests raise questions about government's motives.

Umar Khalid, a student activist and member of the "United Against Hate" civil society group, told DW the authorities are using sedition laws to curtail free speech in the country.

Right-wing extremism has been rising in India since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Modi's critics say the government's crackdown on opposition and rights activists has intensified in the run-up to the 2019 polls.

"This is an attempted coup against the Indian constitution and all the freedoms we cherish," Arundhati Roy, activist and Booker Prize-winning novelist, told DW. "This is a concerted drive by the state and this drama of diversion and distraction will play out till the general elections of 2019."

Amnesty International and Oxfam also condemned the arrests, urging the Indian government to respect "people's rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear."

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