The media has spared no details when it comes to its coverage of the Mumbai meat ban. Naturally, it’s a juicy topic. But more pertinent issues that have been percolating over time have not received their due attention.
In fact, some of the BJP’s moves in Maharashtra are almost comparable to the British Crown’s activities in colonial India, or its activities in England pre-Magna Carta. Allow us to elaborate.
Time Traveling To Pre-1215 England
Magna Carta was a political agreement reached between the Barons, about 100 landed families, and the King of England in 1215. For the first time in English history, it brought the King under the Rule of Law, thus cementing the supremacy of Law as a cornerstone for democratic constitutions across the world.
The Maharashtra Cabinet’s first pre-Magna Carta move was its attempt to bring the state above the law by amending the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) to prevent the filing of an FIR against public representatives, namely Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and bureaucrats.
Maharashtra has the second largest proportion of MLAs with criminal cases in the country. Under the new law issued on 9 June, the police cannot file an FIR against an MLA or a bureaucrat even if directed by the court, without the sanction of the speaker of the Assembly or the Chief Secretary, respectively. An FIR does not directly result in criminal charges, rather it is simply the registration of a complaint that serves as basis for an investigation. Effectively, this gives the State apparatus the ability to prohibit police investigations against State Personnel.
Acche din are here for Maharashtra MLAs and bureaucrats.
Strengthening Despotic Colonial Laws
The second anachronistic move by the Maharashtra Government was the circular it issued on 28 August that expanded the scope of Sedition, conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state or a monarch. The circular contains contentious clauses, such as the following: “Words, signs or representations to be treated as seditious if they are against a person who is shown as representative of the government.” Not only are such statements ambiguous, but it essentially suggests that criticizing a government representative can amount to sedition.
While the eventual application of this law will depend on interpretation, the wide scope for speculation is hardly promising in a city whose residents have been arrested for controversial Facebook statuses and cartoons against corruption. In the wake of Aseem Trivedi’s arrest, several lawmakers spoke out against India’s outdated sedition laws that were introduced in 1870 by the colonial government to criminalize free speech.
Even the United Kingdom repealed its sedition law in 2010. Against this backdrop, the BJP’s move (not Fadnavis’, naming him would be seditious) represents a step backwards, and essentially licenses the state to target individuals and clamp down on freedom of expression.
Expanding The Geographical Reach Of The Meat Ban
The third, and most sensationalized move by the media is the banning of beef, which essentially allows the state to dictate the diets of people. More recently, this was buttressed by the state’s move to extend the ban on the sale of meat in Mumbai during the Jain festival of Paryushan. It is true that this ban was initially introduced by the Congress in 1994, but the BJP has introduced the ban in 4 more States where it has power: Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Arguably, the BJP benefits by appeasing and coalescing extremist Hindu voting blocs, who consider it democratic to impose their beliefs on others, something that certain authoritarian Arab states are notorious for. For example, during Ramadan, residents are forbidden from consuming water or food during daylight. If caught, they are jailed for the rest of the holy month.
Limiting Media Interaction
While it’s uncertain what’s next for Maharashtra, there have been disturbing trends at a national level. The Home Ministry on 23 July passed a notification that media personnel are barred from meeting with officials other than spokespersons. This comes months after Modi explicitly forbade BJP MPs from interacting with Media.
Taken together, these moves clearly indicate the BJP’s tendency to curb transparency, limit accountability, and criminalize personal choices and free speech. Why? Is this the development and acche din we were promised?
This post was written in collaboration with fellow blogger Saanya Gulati.