The midnight arrest and three-day police custody of Gujarat legislator and dalit leader Jignesh Mevani for an alleged offensive tweet on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at best follow the pattern of the ruling dispensation’s propensity to silence its critics through the state machinery and "legal" means; and at worst, signal an undeclared Emergency.
Mr Mevani’s tweet, since been withheld in India by Twitter, suggested that Mr Modi is a follower of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of the Father of the Nation. That’s a grievous allegation, and anyone accused of being one has every legal right to prove that he is not so. That option is available to Mr Modi as well.
But to allege that the tweet, which went on to request the Prime Minister to appeal for peace and harmony during his visit to Gujarat, "has the propensity to disturb public tranquility, prejudicial to maintenance of harmony among a certain section of people" is outrageous. The Assam police has not only arrested the MLA in another state, but also slapped on him sections in the Indian Penal Code which, among others, deal with criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between communities), deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings), insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and Section 66 of Information Technology Act. This is undemocratic, malicious, arbitrary and smacks of political vendetta of the worst kind.
The police in India have often been reduced to be mere tools in the hands of the powers that be, but to allow themselves to be puppets that have no qualms about making extreme misinterpretations of the law to suppress fundamental rights, including the right to speech and expression, is unacceptable. The courts in India, including the apex court, have in recent times repeatedly warned the government against the misuse of the laws to take on people who express dissent. The judiciary must intervene, again, to stop the state bulldozers that are being unleashed on dissenters.