Guest post by THUSHAR NIRMAL SARATHY
Are we living in a democratic dictatorship? ‘Democratic dictatorship’ is a much debated concept in Kerala. I am referring not to that here but to the dictatorship of the executive led by democratically-elected politicians. Recent incidents seem to indicate that this is now an ever-growing tendency in our democracy.
A few months back, a notice with the photos of well-known public figures, which identified them as Maoists, appeared in the Mananthavady police station at Wayanad. These were pictures of senior, very well-known activists who have fought battles for democracy in Kerala. Following widespread protests, the police was forced to remove the notice. On 28th July this year, Jonathan Baud, a Swiss citizen was arrested by Valappad police for attending a commemoration meeting of a Maoist leader, Sinoj, who died in an accidental explosion at the forested Kerala- Karnataka border. Mr Baud was in India on a tourist visa. His arrest was big news in the media which had happily swallowed policespeak, and so he was also projected as a Maoist. The reports claimed that he had come here with the express purpose of attending the meeting, and that he delivered a solidarity speech there. Later, when the Commemoration Committee made public its own version of events, the police sensationalism was refuted and had to be withdrawn. The charge against Mr Baud are apparently limited to violation of visa conditions and it was admitted that he had no Maoist links.
The latest in the series of such incidents involves a young woman, Aradhana, an empaneled casual artist of the Kochi FM radio of Akashavani. She was one of the producers of Samakalikam, a programme based on current affairs. A team of officials from the Kochi office of the National Investigation Agency seized tapes of Samaklikam produced by Aradhana and broadcast by the Kochi Unit of the All India Radio for suspected ‘subversive messages’ supporting Maoists. She was questioned by NIA for nearly two hours in connection with the incident. The All India Radio does have a competent team of editorial staff to monitor and select the news items, especially linked with news and current affairs, and the finalization of these happens before broadcast. The news and current affairs programme broadcast by the AIR, it is well-known, stays well-within acceptable limits set by authorities. Even in the dark days of Emergency, media persons were not hounded by the security agencies on a retrospective basis as has happened in the case of Ms Aradhana.A police team snooping on a news item broadcasted after due clearance by a competent editorial team appointed for the purpose goes against the very fundamental tenets of media freedom.
NIA has the power only to investigate crimes coming under UAPA and no case,not even a petty case, is pending against Aradhana. The fact being so, this action is a clear violation fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. These incidents are the outcome of a Maoist phobia deliberately spread by the state in the name of fighting Maoists. From the very beginning itself India has been an integral part of the so-called global war on terrorism. It is a new kind of war where the enemy is not another nation but militant groups or organizations. These are, by now, well-known facts.
Now, who is this enemy? To this question, it appears, many answers are possible. The answer is decided purely on the basis of subjective assessment by different authorities. In other words it is purely left with the state to decide who the enemy is and how the threat should be dealt with. No wonder, plenty of space is thrown open for all sorts of excesses by the executive. The temporary measures taken at the time of war such as large- scale spying, arrests, torture, violation of fundamental rights, special powers to the armed forces and police are now became permanent features of our democracy. It is in these situations such incidents are happening. The judiciary and legislature are least concerned about these excesses. Increasingly, democracy is being hollowed out and made into a superficial shell while we move implicitly towards everyday dictatorship of state carried out through state agencies, which creates an order that benefits the new globalizing elites, and reinstates Brahminism as the dominant value system. ruling class whose world outlook and value system is based in Brahminism . The mass resistance to this lies somewhere ahead in time, perhaps, but until then, it seems, we will see episode after episode in the hollowing of democracy in Kerala and India. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that for all the talk of Kerala’s ‘vibrant public sphere’, we still seem quite unmindful of creeping dictatorship that promises to undermine our actually-existing democracy.
[ Thushar Nirmal Sarathy is an advocate, human rights activist, and the secretary of Janakeeya Manushyavakasha Prasthanam in Kerala.]