On December 19, soon after protests broke out across Uttar Pradesh against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath promised, or threatened, that his government would take “badla (revenge)” against the protesters and “auction off their properties”. Last week, people across the state were served notices demanding monetary damages for alleged acts of vandalism of public property. In Sambhal, as reported by this newspaper, civil society leaders, educationists and political workers are among the 59 people who have been issued notices by the UP government for the payment of Rs 15.35 lakh. The UP government’s message of revenge has, in fact, gone out unambiguously from Adityanath’s official Twitter handle, which exults: “Every rioter is shocked. Every demonstrator is shocked. Everyone has been silenced after seeing Yogi Adityanath government’s stern intentions… Every violent protester will cry now because there is a Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh.”
Two things are clear in Sambhal: First, civil society leaders who happen to be Muslim have been targeted. Second, it appears that there is little or no evidence of their involvement in the destruction of public property. The notices will, of course, be challenged in the courts. But the UP government’s “stern intention” to ensure that “every protester will cry out” will have been fulfilled by the tedium and cost of the legal process itself. Damage to public property must, of course, be condemned, but the current protests are not the first, even in recent times, where such damage has taken place. But there are no instances of compensation being demanded from the protesters. While protest must not descend into violence, and efforts must be made to prevent them from doing so, and there must be some penalties when they do, UP is witnessing a more dangerous phenomenon — the state is pitting itself against those who express dissent.
In UP, especially in the Adityanath regime, law and order has been flawed in its implementation, and fraught for the political ends it is apparently made to serve. Who can and cannot register an FIR has long been a barometer of which communities have a dominant voice in government — the police chowki is the most visible and immediate face of the state in the remotest parts. But even by UP’s poor standards, the Adityanath government has touched new lows — from “anti-romeo squads” to the celebration of “encounters”. Now, the chief minister seeks to style the law and order machinery as an agent of revenge. For the government to fulfill its role, law must not be selectively used, or weaponised.
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