Senior leaders of opposition parties came together on Wednesday to condemn the arrest of 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy, and others by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case.
During an online press conference organsied by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), the leaders slammed the BJP-led central government for “misusing the state machinery for crushing voices of dissent”.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren sent a video message, saying it was sad that a person like Stan Swamy, who has been working for the rights of tribals and minorities in the state for several years, has been arrested. Soren blamed the BJP-led government for “breaking the constitutional system of the country”.
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said what happened in the Elgaar Parishad case was not an isolated instance. He said victims were similarly charged in Delhi riots cases. Yechury talked about misuse of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and called for unified action for repealing UAPA.
DMK MP Kanimozhi said the arrest of 16 people in the case over “false implications” was meant to silence the voices of those who have taken a different stand. “…It is the time to set aside all our differences, come together and fight against draconian laws. These laws have to be repealed,” she said.
CPI leader D Raja also condemned the arrest of “intellectuals” in the Elgaar Parishad case. Raja said sedition charges are being slapped against students and activists, and said his party has always been against the UAPA. He alleged that right-wing extremist groups want to convert the “Indian democratic state to a theocratic state”.
Raja also spoke about G N Saibaba, a former Delhi University professor who has been convicted by a Gadchiroli court in 2017 for Maoist links. Raja said Saibaba is 95 per cent disabled and is still not being released on bail. “Prisoners do have rights… the present government is ruthless. It does not believe in the Constitution,” he said.
Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor, in a video message, termed Stan Swamy’s arrest “shocking”. “..As someone who has benefited from Jesuit education…I am convinced that no Jesuit priest can ever be guilty of violence or inciting violence… charges (against Swamy) seem to be preposterous,” he said. Tharoor demanded that Swamy be released on bail.
NCP MP Supriya Sule said it was unfortunate that in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case, which has happened in her home district Pune, people are being harassed. “Some are senior citizens in their 80s, who have contributed to India’s literature, poetry…. unfortunate that democratic voices are completely crushed by the central government,” she said.
“…When the Maharashtra government and police were doing a very good job… being very fair and just, this case was abruptly taken away. I think it has become a new normal that every time the Maharashtra government does a good job, the central government steps in and takes our power away……This case is like a Black Day for the Indian democracy. I know, we all know that they are innocent. This is dirty political vendetta….We must raise our voices,” said Sule.
Meanwhile, Rupali Jadhav, an artist of Kabir Kala Manch, whose members have also been arrested in connection with the case, refuted all charges and said they are being targeted by the government for raising voices for the rights of Dalits and poor.
She demanded action against Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who have been named as accused in another case related to Koregaon Bhima violence, lodged with the Pune Rural Police.
Advocate Mihir Desai, vice president of PUCL and a defence lawyer in the Elgaar Parishad case, tribal activist Dayamani Barla, Dr Marianus Kujur of XISS Ranchi and economist Jean Dreze also spoke during the online press meet.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines