Vinod Mubayi and Raza Mir


As this issue of the INSAF Bulletin goes to press, the case against Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand of the Citizens for Justice and Peace and SABRANG foundation has begun to acquire greater urgency.


On the 24th of July, the Supreme Court will conduct a hearing on their petition for anticipatory bail against the charge of having received foreign donations in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Setalvad recently recorded her statement before the CBI in the same context. The harassment of these activists includes intrusive house-searches, calculated press releases full of untruths and a vicious campaign of intimidation and misinformation. SABRANG has provided detailed documentation of their dealings with the Ford Foundation, and it is instructive to note that in the past, government contributions to SABRANG have routinely exceeded any legal foreign exchange remittances received by them.


It is therefore imperative that we understand the attack for what it is, a chilling message to all progressive organizations that any opposition to the government’s agenda will merit a similar harassment. This of course is the new modus operandi of “soft dictators” all over the world. Be it Erdogan’s Turkey or Modi’s India, these rulers are the new autocrats of the 21st century. Typically, they come in to power through an electoral process, and then unleash their illiberal agenda by degrees. Their modus operandi includes a calculated media campaign, privatization of public assets and goods to favor crony capitalists and the use of selected media outlets to demonize their opponents. Advertising contracts are used to get favorable press, and as we see in the SABRANG case, protracted suits are brought about by the government not only to intimidate activists but also to embroil them within the legal system to such a degree that they have no time or mind-space left for activism. Any form of resistance can then be dealt with by surgical applications of violence that the compromised press either overlooks or supports.


In this atmosphere it is essential that the disparate groups of anti-Modi activists develop a coordinated response, to avoid being picked off one-by-one by the government. There have been occasional moments of partial success, such as for example the inability so far of the government to enact the draconian land acquisition bill, designed to favor corporate interests, into law. What we face in India now is nothing short of an “undeclared Emergency,” and unless we prepare to safeguard our democratic rights and civil liberties, we will continue hurtling toward the era of autocracy. The first order of business in this struggle should be to ensure that the persecution of Setalvad, Anand and SABRANG ends, and the rule of law ekes out a minor victory.

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