A day after Delhi Police arrested former JNU student leader Umar Khalid under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the Congress Monday appeared critical of the move while the Left outrightly condemned it.
Arguing that UAPA is a special law that should apply in special circumstances, senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid said invoking it in cases of protests will have a “chilling effect” on democratic rights.
Rajya Sabha MP and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told The Indian Express: “Congress has no problem with a fair, non-discriminatory, even and balanced application of the law. This is the expectation in Khalid’s case also. Unfortunately, past events have frequently belied such expectations. We hope that does not recur in this case. Apart from this apprehension, we believe in the law taking its course.”
Former Law Minister and Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal told The Indian Express: “The manner in which the police seems to be investigating the Delhi riots establishes two things — the investigation process has been sullied and is proceeding in tandem with political considerations of the union government to brush under the carpet the complicity of those who started the riots and targeted people, and blame those who were the victims.”
He said: “The fact that they have obviously obtained statements seeking to name academicians like Jayati Ghosh, leaders like Sitaram Yechury and people like Apoorvanand who sympathised with those who were peacefully agitating shows the extent to which the government will go to silence dissent. Even economists, intellectuals and political leaders are being targeted to instill fear in the minds of others. This augurs ill for democracy and is a pointer to the slow decimation of Constitutional values.”
Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “PM says he welcomes criticism, but forgets to mention the cost of criticism to be paid by those who who speak out. In today’s India, payback is only reserved to our own citizens, never against countries who actually question and challenge our sovereignty. #StandWithUmarKhalid.”
The Congress officially did not react to the arrest. The CPM said Khalid’s arrest under provisions of the “draconian” UAPA is condemnable.
“This comes following the detention, under UAPA, of Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita (JNU), Ishrat Jahan, a former councillor of the Congress party, Jamia students Meeran Haider, also an RJD youth leader, Asif Tanha, Safoora Zargar and Gulfisha Fatima and Shifa-Ur-Rehman,” it said, arguing that while “top BJP leaders who made hate speeches and incited violence are protected by the Central government, young peaceful protesters against the CAA are being targeted and arrested citing the utterly manufactured version of the country’s Home Ministry and the Delhi Police linking anti-CAA protests with communal violence”.
The Centre, the CPM said, must stop the practice of the Special Branch summoning anti-CAA activists for questioning and trying to coerce them into implicating those targeted by the Home Ministry and the police.
Talking to The Indian Express, Khurshid said: “If young people in their enthusiasm and passions cross the line, I would be very surprised that they cross the line to such an extent that they could impose criminal culpability on them.”
“But we don’t know enough. What we have seen of the charges and chargesheets that have been filed, they are extremely unsatisfactory. Some judges have picked them up to say that this is not fair. Some judges have treated them in their routine manner in which investigations happen where you tilt in the favour of the investigation because you don’t want to interfere with it. But the overall picture is extremely unsatisfactory,” he said.
The UAPA, he said, is being imposed almost on a routine manner on people who otherwise would be granted bail.
“UAPA is imposed and then they say this is a larger conspiracy… we will need more time to investigate the larger conspiracy. So, this imposing of UAPA indiscriminately in this manner is extremely unsatisfactory. Because UAPA is about terrorism and not about anyone violating the normal law of the land in which case the CrPC applies to them. But UAPA is a special case and it is a special law that should apply in very special circumstances. And I’m not sure that it is very sensible for anyone to say there was large-scale intent at terrorism or something akin to terrorism that happens when these kinds of civil strikes happen and people come out to agitate, etc. It is extremely unfair and has a chilling effect on democratic rights,” he said.
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