“Who’s next?”: Modi government raids, arrests of rivals ahead of Indian elections | Narendra Modi News

New Delhi, India – Indian investigators raided several buildings linked to a prominent human rights activist in the national capital – a move that critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi say is part of a pattern that has seen his government target political opponents two months before a general election.

Officials from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday morning raided the residence of former bureaucrat Harsh Mander and the New Delhi office of the Center for Justice Studies (CES) linked to him, alleging financial irregularities under the Anti-Corruption Act. Foreign Shareholding (Regulation) Law.

Mander worked as an officer in the Indian Administrative Service for 22 years before resigning in 2002 following riots in Gujarat state when Modi was its prime minister. More than a thousand people were killed in the violence, most of them Muslims, according to the state government.

A journalist takes pictures of an office
A journalist photographs the Center for Equity Studies office after the CBI raid in New Delhi (Arun Sankar/AFP)

Mander has been a vocal critic of the Modi government’s Hindu racist agenda since the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

But he is just the latest in a string of critics and opponents who have faced raids or arrests from federal agencies in recent weeks — including four state premiers who belong to opposition parties.

India’s financial crimes agency, Enforcement Directorate, on Wednesday arrested Hemant Soren hours after he resigned from the post of Chief Minister of Jharkhand. Sorin is accused of corruption, a charge that his party denies.

Former Chief Minister of the Indian state of Jharkhand, Hemant Soren
Hemant Soren, with folded hands, is presented before the Enforcement Directorate in Ranchi (AFP)

Other opposition leaders, including Tejashwi Yadav, the former deputy chief minister of neighboring Bihar state, and Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, have also been subjected to raids by federal agencies in recent months. Kejriwal’s MP and one of his party’s MPs are already in jail.

In the central state of Chhattisgarh, executive administration officials arrested Prime Minister Bhupesh Baghel and his aides before the elections that took place in November last year. The BJP accused them of committing several scams, including an illegal coal mining deal, and used the charges as a major incentive to win the state elections.

“It’s paralyzing”

Apoorvanand, a professor of Hindi literature at Delhi University and a close acquaintance of Mander, said he woke up to “disturbing news” of the raids on Friday.

“Mander and members of civil society have been relentlessly pursued by investigative agencies,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It is not just about the Harsh (mandir), it is a pattern we are seeing. Funding for civil society in India has been frozen and many have been imprisoned. “It’s paralyzing,” he said. “It’s also a signal to civil society: you can talk about water or solar panels in villages but not human rights or minority rights.”

The government alleged that Mander accepted foreign contributions amounting to nearly $14,000 between 2011 and 2018 into his association’s FCRA account, in violation of the law. Recently, the government suspended the FCRA licenses of several think tanks and nearly 6,000 NGOs, including Oxfam India and Amnesty India.

“It appears that these raids or allegations of financial irregularities have become a standard for the authorities to silence peaceful criticism,” Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.

Several activists are currently facing charges, some under strict terrorism laws. “When independent government bodies are seen to act in a partisan manner, with the opposition being targeted for political motives, it undermines India’s image as a country that upholds the rule of law,” Ganguly said.

“Agencies work for BJP”

Sushil Sunny Agrawal, a 39-year-old former minister in the Baghel government, was among the politicians raided by the ED ahead of the state elections last year.

“They tortured us psychologically. External Affairs Ministry officials told me: ‘What will remain in the Congress?’ Join the BJP, that is the future.”

“These agencies have become contacts for the BJP. They are doing business on their behalf: If you go with Modi, you will be cleansed of all this and you will have a chance for a bright future.

The upcoming general elections are keeping Agrawal on her toes. “The BJP knows no bounds. They are in full offensive mode, arming central agencies to completely rein in the opposition.”

Agrawal said he looked to the Indian judiciary to address the escalating crackdown on opposition parties.

In March 2023, a group of opposition parties filed a petition with the Supreme Court of India, citing a “clear pattern of using investigative agencies… to target, weaken and in effect crush the entire political opposition and other vocal citizens.”

The petition pointed out that since 2014, when Modi came to power, 95% of the cases taken up by the CBI and the CEO were against opposition politicians — an increase of 60% and 54%, respectively, from the previous year. Congress-led government.

However, the Supreme Court refused to rule on the petition, stating that politicians cannot be placed on a higher pedestal than citizens, nor can they receive special treatment under the law, or immunity from arrest.

“When they (political parties) say that there is a chilling effect on the opposition due to CBI/ED cases against opposition political leaders, the answer lies in the political sphere and not in the courts,” the court said.

“Like politicians, civil society or anyone who criticizes this government is being targeted,” Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said.

“This is the rise of a fascist state under Modi. Unfortunately, the judiciary does very little or hardly anything to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens. Its independence seems to have collapsed.”

Agrawal said the Modi government is “hijacking” the upcoming elections by targeting opposition leaders and activists. “Democracy has completely ended in India,” he said.

Apoorvanand agreed. He told Al Jazeera that the government’s crackdown was an attempt to establish one-party rule in India.

“When opposition parties have to hit the roads (to campaign) before elections, they move from one agency to another,” he said. “Campaigns are fragmented and their followers will be demoralized. You can practically achieve a one-party state without changing the constitution.”

“From civil society to academia, I can feel that fear – who will be next?” Apoorvanand said.

According to Agrawal, the answer is clear. “Whoever does not walk with Modi and raises voice against him is next,” Agrawal said.

“If an ordinary man raises his voice against the government, civilians will be the targets.”

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