Modi .2 going ahead with its programme of crippling dissenting voices

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]HILE the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his second avatar is projecting himself as a new mascot of tolerance and reconciliation, his government agencies have been taking up one by one the institutions which represent dissenting voices in both media and the legal profession. In the three week period since Modi took the oath as the PM for the second time on May 30, two prominent  independent voices of the country, NDTV Ltd among the television media and Lawyers Collective, have been targeted by the government agencies for actions which are old and which have already been dealt with by the concerned institutions.

SEBI, all on a sudden, interfered in the management of the NDTV by asking the promoters Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy to step down from their management positions for two years. This was challenged by the NDTV promoters and on June 18, 2019 the Securities Appellate Tribunal stayed the order passed by SEBI and fixed September 16 for hearing the matter. The SAT, in fact, pulled up SEBI for not supplying a copy of the order to the Roys. SAT also expressed the view that the company cannot remain headless and it is not in the interest of NDTV shareholders.

The case is an old one and the NDTV management led by Roy submitted all the relevant documents to counter the allegations of the SEBI. Still continuously, the government agencies including the SEBI and the Income Tax authorities have been after the NDTV to ensure that the management follows the editorial line set by the PM’s supporters. All the national TV channels have been managed, only NDTV is still not fully falling in line. So, the ruling lobby wants to teach NDTV promoters a lesson. The rulers know that the post-May 23 situation is most propitious for an attack on a free press. There is nothing worth opposition voice. The Congress is still seeking to come out of its defeat trauma.

After taking on the media, the most independent voice in the legal profession, Lawyers Collective (LC), headed by Anand Grover and Indira Jaising has been under attack. The CBI has registered an FIR against LC and Anand Grover for issues that have been there since 2016 and on which enough clarifications have been given by the LC in the last three years.

“The FIR is solely based on proceedings under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, (FCRA) in which orders for the suspension and cancellation of LC’s registration to receive foreign funding were passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 2016, which LC has challenged before the Bombay High Court. The Appeal is pending,” a statement issued by LC and its trustees, including its founding members, Anand Grover and Indira Jaising said.

Pointing out that the FIR had been registered after a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by one ‘Lawyers Voice” comprising lawyers affiliated to the BJP, including a Mr Neeraj who was the head of the Legal Cell of the BJP in Delhi, the statement said that the LC had reason to believe that its officer bearers were being personally targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora, particularly in their capacity as senior lawyers.

“LC sees this as a blatant attack of the right to representation of all persons, particularly the marginalised and those who dissent in their views from the ruling establishment. It is also an attack on the right to free speech and expression and an attack on the legal profession as such.

“The right to legal representation is a guaranteed fundamental right under the Constitution of Indian and is part of the jurisprudence of every civilised country of the world,” the statement said, while expressing surprise that notice had been issued in the petition filed against the LC by an organization that had no income or PAN card, a mandatory requirement for filing a PIL.

“In the recent past, office bearers of LC have represented activists detained in the Bhima Koregaon case and other politically sensitive cases such as that involving the Police Commissioner of West Bengal, Rajiv Kumar. LC’s Trustees have also been vocal on the subversion of due process of law in the matter of the alleged sexual harassment of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India, while not commenting on the merits of the case,” the LC said.

Referring to the FCRA proceedings, they said that even at that time, the LC had pointed out that the proceedings were taken against it because its office bearers had taken up sensitive cases against the leading figures of the BJP and the Government of India, including Amit Shah, the present Home Minister, in the Sorabbudin case, amongst others.

“There was no basis in MHA’s allegations of violation of the FCRA. For example, apart from the fact that there was no prohibition under the FCRA for Ms Jaising to receive remuneration from LC for her work on women’s rights, which is well-known and in the public domain, the said remuneration was being paid before she became ASG and continued during and after her tenure in that capacity, with the permission of the Competent Authority i.e. the Ministry of Law and Justice the Law Minister under the Law Officers (Terms and Conditions) Rules, which has been admitted by the MHA. This can hardly be the basis of alleged offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Similarly, official expenses reimbursed to Mr Anand Grover were permissible under the FCRA. All such submissions were simply ignored by the MHA.”

“There has been no change in circumstances or material on record since 2016 and hence, the question arises what has changed between 2016 and 2019,” the LC statement asked while asserting that they would defend themselves “in accordance with the law in every forum”. For the ruling regime, dissent has no place.  (IPA Service)

The Leaflet