The BJP Government of Rajasthan has tabled a Bill – the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 – in the state assembly, seeking to protect public servants (including serving and former government officers, magistrates and judges) from investigation of allegations of corruption. The Bill seeks to prevent magistrates from ordering investigations into allegations of corruption against public servants without Government sanction for a period of six months. It also seeks to prevent media from publishing any information – even about the existence of any allegation of any crime against any public servant – without Government sanction! Publishing any story about such allegations would, according to the Bill, be punishable with up to two years in jail. This is an unprecedented attempt to strengthen impunity of public servants and gag journalism.
The Centre has approved of this preposterous and draconian Bill, calling it “perfect and balanced.” Already, BJP leaders had been deploying the criminal and civil defamation laws to try and intimidate media and gag portals and papers that had reported corruption and money laundering allegations against the son of BJP President Amit Shah. Moreover, journalists have been receiving death threats from persons closely associated with BJP leaders including the Prime Minister. And now, there is an attempt to provide an unprecedented degree of impunity to the corrupt.
The Prime Minister’s boasts of fighting corruption are unravelling spectacularly, with the BJP Governments making the most blatant and shameless efforts to protect the corrupt and suppress information about allegations of corruption and crime from being available to the public. Existing laws already had adequate provisions to protect public servants from frivolous complaints in the course of their duty, and Supreme Court judgements had already set down limits on the scope of such protections. The Rajasthan Ordinance and proposed Bill which crossed all bounds of necessary protections, has now been sent for review to an assembly select committee following widespread protests and challenges to the Ordinance in the court.
Elsewhere in the country, the BJP’s attempts to gag and muzzle criticism and questions to its Governments continue. The BJP has sought to get a dialogue critical of GST and babies’ deaths due to lack of oxygen supplies in government hospitals cut from a popular Tamil film Mersal, and Tamil Nadu BJP leaders in a typical communal move tried to discredit the actor by hinting at his Christian identity.
In Jharkhand, Koili Devi’s 11-year-old daughter Santoshi died of starvation after the family was denied rations on grounds that their ration cards were not Aadhar-linked. And Koili Devi was attacked and hounded from her village because she dared to say that her daughter died asking her for food. Not only that, an ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) has lost her job in the village because she confirmed that Santoshi had not been diagnosed with any disease, contradicting the Jharkhand Government’s claim that the child died of malaria.
As the ‘Achhe Din’ promises of the Modi regime and various BJP regimes in the country are exposed by the grim reality of corruption, economic slow-down, unemployment and the shame of starvation deaths, the BJP Governments’ bid to shoot the messenger and insulate public servants from any enquiry or investigation must be resisted and defeated.