From the Viewsroom

Absence of conviction

A Srinivas | Updated on July 18, 2021

Even with freedom of expression in peril, Opposition is failing the country

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s recent statement that the party needs “fearless” leaders to take on the ruling party raises a few questions.

The context here is the need to protest the use of ‘black laws’ such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, National Security Act, 1980, and the sedition law (now being critically reviewed by the Supreme Court) — which are being used to shackle journalists and other political protesters. The presumption of innocence has been turned on its head. The origins of such laws can be traced to the Rowlatt Act, 1919 and the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, which as the name suggests, permits detention without trial. TADA and POTA have been used to incarcerate innocents. In the Indira Gandhi years, the Maintenance of Internal Security Act was used to detain political opponents. The black laws have been amended over time to make them more draconian.

But what is mystifying is the fact that unlike in the Emergency (or during British rule), the Opposition has not taken to the streets, courting arrest. In an age of social media, these leaders have chosen to tweet from the comfort of their homes. Civil society actors have circulated signature campaigns. There are no fearless leaders in sight, and one daresay that includes the Gandhis, who too have chosen to tweet rather than court arrest. If the Opposition takes to the streets, it is on matters — if even important — that involve less personal or political risk, such as fuel prices. A jail bharo by 100 politicians challenging the Centre to invoke UAPA against them would be enough to delegitimise such laws.

Today’s leaders fear the prospect of spending even a day in jail, and worse still, of an ED probe into their assets. This absence of moral conviction could cost us all dear.

Published on July 18, 2021

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