Govt should reconsider its stance towards anti-CAA protesters

| Updated on January 12, 2020 Published on January 12, 2020

The suspension of Internet services across the country, when seen along with the recent police excesses in the Capital, could not have helped in calming ruffled sentiments

The social and political unrest over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has possibly escalated because the government has chosen not to reach out to the protesters through persuasion and dialogue. An inability to accept a certain level of dissent, particularly among students, as a fact of public life can turn out to be counter-productive for social and political stability. The Emergency of nearly 45 years ago, and the protests that ensued, should remind us that democracy, besides conducting free and fair elections, is also about ensuring that freedoms such as those pertaining to freedom of speech are guaranteed — and seen to be guaranteed. The government must reach out with a softer touch than it has displayed so far. The Supreme Court has rightly observed that peace must prevail against the backdrop of its examination of the CAA for its constitutionality. However, in the face of strong resistance from West Bengal, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and even the NDA-ruled Bihar, which have opposed the Act and said they would not implement it, the Home Ministry has merely clarified that there is no need to consult the States in framing the rules under the Act. Its position may seem unassailable in a purely legal sense, with matters of citizenship being the Centre’s domain, but statecraft and politics are also about the art of being firm and accommodating in the right measure.

The Supreme Court has already asked the Centre to review continuing orders that have been issued under Section 144 of the CrPC and warned governments against indiscriminate imposition of this section. An order has simultaneously been issued to mandatorily cite specific reasons not just for imposing Section 144 but also with regard to suspension of Internet services under Telecom Suspension Rules. It is instructive here to note that from a total of three incidents of Internet shutdown in 2012, to five in 2013 and six in 2014, the incidence has grown to as many as 106 such shutdowns in 2019. In Jammu and Kashmir, it has been 161 days since the Internet services were shut. As the court has observed, while considering Internet services as a part of Article 19, it is necessary to strike the right balance between ‘security’ and ‘liberty’. The suspension of Internet services across the country, when seen along with the recent police excesses in the Capital, could not have helped in calming ruffled sentiments. As a confidence-building step, the Centre should act credibly against those responsible for the attacks on campus properties, students and teachers. The demand for a judicial inquiry into the recent incidents is gaining ground.

Ensuring stability and rule of law is the primary task of a functional and credible State. With the Budget due in a few days it is worth noting that an improvement in law and order can go a long way in reviving business and consumer sentiment.

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Published on January 12, 2020
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