NewsClick FIR: Group accused of ‘sabotaging’ 2019 electoral process merely issued a letter?

The 2019 letter by People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism urged opposition parties to unite against Modi.

WrittenBy:Prateek Goyal
A piece of paper saying ‘FIR against NewsClick’ framed by a pair of hands.

In March 2019, a group of people signed a letter urging opposition parties to unite ahead of the general election that year and “undo the most insidious actions of the Modi regime”.

The letter was issued under the banner of a civil society organisation called the People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism. While it’s no longer active, it was formed in 2014 to promote democracy and secularism.

Four years after this letter was issued, PADS was mentioned in the Delhi police FIR against media portal NewsClick

The website’s founder Prabir Purkayastha was accused of conspiring with PADS to “sabotage the electoral process during the 2019 general elections”. Purkayastha and NewsClick’s HR head Amit Chakraborty were arrested last week in the case filed under the UAPA. Prior to their arrest, the Delhi police searched the homes of numerous journalists and others tangentially connected to the news website.

The FIR named “key individuals” of PADS who were “involved in this conspiracy”: Battini Rao, Dilip Simeon, Deepak Dhoulakia, Harsh Kapoor, Jamal Kidwai, Kiran Shaheen, Sanjay Kumar, Asit Das, etc.

Newlaundry combed through PADS’s activity during 2019, and the only thing we could find was the letter from March that year. The names of “key individuals” were just a few of the 70-odd signatories to the letter. Purkayastha was not a signatory. 

While the full text of the letter can be found here, it said the Modi government “devalued constitutional institutions”, “tried to subvert the federal structures of the union to concentrate central power”, “shamelessly subverted India’s criminal justice system”, “unleashed a reign of fake encounters”, “tried to destroy the autonomy of important institutions of governance”, “used state power to advance the totalitarian programme of the RSS”, and “tried to criminalise India’s political culture”.

It therefore urged opposition parties to “rise above political competition” and “realise and confront the gravity of the threat to democracy”.

The letter was signed by 73 academics, activists, scientists, journalists, lawyers and others. 

Battini Rao, the erstwhile convener of PADS, told Newslaundry the letter was simply “an appeal to the opposition parties to unite together and fight BJP in the 2019 election”.

“But in the FIR, they are projecting it as some conspiracy to destabilise the electoral process,” Rao said, adding that the police randomly selected the names of the first few signatories to include in the FIR. “PADS is not a political organisation nor has it ever supported political parties. But the way BJP functions is not good for democracy, and that’s why PADS appealed to opposition parties to come together.”

Rao emphasised that PADS would have made a similar appeal had any other party functioned the same way.

“We are against any kind of extremism, whether it’s from the right, left or any religious extremism,” he said. “The only intent of PADS was to promote democracy and secularism – and I believe that’s totally constitutional.”

Rao said the statement itself “couldn’t even get circulated among 1,000 people” and yet the police called it a “conspiracy to sabotage the electoral process”.

Newslaundry also contacted some other signatories to the 2019 letter.

Anil Sadgopal, an educationist based in Bhopal, said, “How can an appeal to unite together to fight a particular party be termed as sabotage? It’s the right of people in India to appeal. People in power should know that citizens of a country are going to appeal as per their constitutional rights. And if someone is trying to muffle their voices, then it’s against our constitution which emerged out of our freedom struggle.”

Prafulla Samantara, an Odisha-based environmental activist, said he had been jailed during the Emergency but believes “this kind of undeclared Emergency is 100 times more serious and dangerous”.

“It’s not only that Modi is operating like a dictator. But he has developed a fascism which can now be experienced in the country,” he said. “...It is necessary to protect democracy in the country. We have to protect the soul of democracy which we achieved during Independence.”

Shankar Singh, a member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, said, “How can a statement for the unification of opposition parties to fight the BJP sabotage the electoral process? The appeal is not against the constitution. In fact, it’s totally as per the values of the constitution. But if people in power want to harass someone, they can make any release or letter a plan to sabotage elections.”

Gauhar Raza, a scientist, poet and activist, also pointed out that making such an appeal is a “constitutional right, not an anti-national activity”.

“When political parties go and ask for votes, that’s also an appeal,” he said. 

Newslaundry reached out to Lalit Mohan Negi, ACP of the Delhi police special cell, to ask him about the allegations against PADS. This report will be updated if we receive a response.

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