In late September, it has been reported that Amnesty International India (AI) is suspending its work in the country in the face of prevalent governmental in what they called “witch-hunting” to pressure AI into halting its work on highlighting gross human rights violations by the Indian state within India and in the internationally disputed territory of Kashmir.
AI in a statement accused the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of pressuring it is terminating its work by financially suffocating the organization through freezing bank accounts of AI in early September, effectively leading to the bring AI’s important human rights work in a ‘grinding halt’.
Notwithstanding, the importance of its work for the preservation of human rights, AI is no stranger to government reprisals for its scathing reports on gross human rights violations by state and non-state actors. From Cambodia to Poland, the work of AI is instrumental in bringing to light violations of fundamental rights of assembly and speech by governments bent upon restricting these very freedoms. AI has been one of the organizations to bring governments to accountability.
Even in India, as back as 2009, when India was ruled by a different political party, AI temporarily halted its operations in India, citing the rejection of license to receive funds from abroad, after the publication of its critical assessment of the Indian government’s human rights progress. But, this time around, the situation has rather been complex and much-frightful than in the past.
Particularly, two of the very recent highly-condemning and blistering critical reports by the AI may have crossed the threshold of the patience of the BJP-led government. The reports on Indian-occupied Kashmir and Delhi violence in early 2020 were strongly critical of the flagrant violations of human rights by the Indian government and, in some cases, active participation of the state in perpetuating them while the state ensures the protection of the culprits from the prosecution.
However, the halting of AI’s operation is not an isolated episode in contemporary India, it follows a broader trend toward gagging of dissent in all its forms and manifestations including the reporting on the violations of fundamental freedoms by the national media or international organizations. Since the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India in 2014, and subsequently, re-election with a greater majority of Modi and BJP into the Indian legislative and executive institutions, India has experienced a terrifying shift toward a concerted attempt by the right-wing government and its proxies to stifle dissent, total control of media and, those who do not budge from their principled positions, shall be prosecuted for being ‘anti-national’.
Global indexes of measuring press freedom, degree of democracy, and human rights all picture a dire state of affairs within the Indian state. Dropping to 142nd position out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index and reported as being the least free democracies in the Freedom in the World index, the terrible record-setting of a right-wing government in India around notions which have principal importance in any democratic political system, BJP wilful negligence of these metrics foretells a vision of India which is less free, less tolerant, and less open to the world.
Although India does have a checkered history in the upholding of fundamental human rights, there wasn’t a period in modern India where there is a sustained effort from the very top of the political class to smother the very essence of the Indian political model which earned it a distinctive place in the comity of nations as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation thriving in a secular political and constitutional order which guarantees freedom and rights to all without discrimination.
The Modi-led BJP government seeks to resurrect a mythical idea of nationalism by operationalizing their narrowly-thought political doctrine of Hindutva which aims to restrict citizenship to Hindus as the first-class citizens while the rest should be damned to second-class status. But to immerse the thought in doctrine into political practice, the right-wing BJP requires a complete submission of the intelligentsia, academia, police, judiciary, and politics, to its political will. For that to happen, BJP needs an atmosphere of persistent fear and demagoguery to not merely govern with an iron will but also to govern without much dissension from the concerned civil society and social institutions of the state. Narendra Modi is leading India toward an authoritarian state where only the state institutions will have the monopoly over the truth; a reminiscent of the fascists of the early 20th century, from whom BJP’s parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) draws its inspiration from. From the murder of Gauri Lankesh to the stifling of any dissent and state-sponsored trolling and arresting of those who are principled in their dissent, BJP aims to construct a hegemonic state of affairs where the only truth will be BJP’s truth and the only voice to be expressed would be the BJP’s voice. This is the state of affairs of which is beneficial for the right-wing political agenda of BJP and this is a state of affairs which dangerous for the unity within a multi-ethnic and multi-religious national state.