India, together with the world's nations, is engaged in a battle of unprecedented proportions adist a huge crisis that gives no clue about when it will end. The country has had to go into lockdown at the expense of a massive economic setback. Normal life has become impossible, and a large section of the population are face to face with starvation deaths. Every one including leaders, are seized of, and keep repeating the fact that this crisis can be overcome only by standing together shedding selfish interests and political disagreements. But then, why is it that the authorities themselves are persisting in carrying out their narrow political agenda?
The FIR filed by UP government against the Siddhartha Varadarajan, editor of 'The Wire' asking him to appear before police in Ayodhya is an illustration of not only unjusficiable hounding but also of a narrow mind-set. A look at its background will make this clear. When the country is going through a complex and critical phase, political leaders and media with pro-government leanings, have been taking out a purely communal propaganda. News come from different places that lynchings, denial of treatment and subjecting people to starvation are all happening at diverse locations. There is an obvious link of this with the intensely communal propaganda - including plenty of fake news – surrounding the Nizamuddin religious conclave of Tablighi Jamaat.
In the meantime, while handling reports about the closure of the Tabligh headquarters, 'The Wire' pointed out one more thing: it was at the same time when the Tablighi conference was being held that UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath declared that a big celebration would be held in Ayodhya in connection with Ram Navami. Further the Wire report also highlighted that it was after the prime minister declared the lockdown on 24 March that Adityanath attended a function in Ayodhya with a large number of people flouting official directives; Adityanath himself had tweeted its pictures. An error that had crept into the original 'Wire' report was corrected later. The error was the mention of Adityanath having said that there would not be any problem when Ram devotees gather, Lord Ram would protect the devootes from the virus. The wrong attribution of the statement to Adityanath was subsequently corrected to read that it was made by Acharya Paramhans. The UP government's action is based on this. The notice was served on Varadarajan at his residence in Delhi by about seven policemen from Ayodhya who came in a car without any number. And the order was to appear before police in Ayodhya at 10 am on 14 April, in this time of lockdown.
That such media-hunt, which even in normal times would be despicable, is happening also during a time of crisis speaks sufficiently for the priorities of the government. The same propensity is visible in the hurry to jail activists Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. The attempt is to put these human rights activists in jail on the charge of incitement to murder of the prime minister. But when the Supreme Court accepted this contention of the government, it overlooked its own guidelines. For, the same court had directed that inorder to mitigate the risk of spread of covid-19, the rush and congestion in prisons should be reduced and for this, a good number of prisoners should be released. The UN Commission on Human Rights also had recommended release of a section of current prisoners. Already it has been pointed out by Amnesty International and other human rights movements that the charge against Teltumbde and Navlakha are baseless and was prompted by their human rights activism. Sending them to already crowded jails at this juncture is by no means justifiable. As WHO pointed out, the aged deserve special attention and care during the time of Covid; and both these are above 65 – with cardiac-related problems too.
Even ignoring considerations of justice and humaneness, at this time calling for full focus on efforts to face the pandemic, the central and state governments should be ready at least to set right their priorities. It is those who let go of the Karnataka government, which despite being asked by the Centre and courts denied treatment to patients from Kasargod, are now busy clamping down on human rights activists and mediamen. Obviously, it is not Covid that matters to them!