As journalists convened at the Press Club of India in New Delhi to voice their protest against the extensive raids conducted on nearly 50 individuals associated with NewsClick the previous day, acclaimed author Arundhati Roy conveyed her grave concern, likening the present state of affairs in the country to a situation far more perilous than the Emergency era.
Roy emphasized that an Emergency could only be imposed for a limited duration, but she expressed deep apprehension about the BJP and Narendra Modi’s endeavors to fundamentally alter the essence of the republic, manipulate the constitution, and stifle the voices of the people if they secure power once more in the upcoming 2024 elections. She issued a stark warning, asserting that “If the BJP wins the election in 2024, India will not remain a democracy.”
The author-activist asserted that mainstream media can no longer be categorized as genuine media outlets. She praised digital journalists for pioneering a new form of journalism that has posed significant challenges to the government. She pointedly referred to the arrest of NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and the web portal’s HR head Amit Chakravarty.
Roy questioned the blurred lines between journalism and terrorism, expressing bewilderment over how authorities could confiscate journalists’ devices without providing any explanation. She highlighted that no First Information Report (FIR) was issued, and charges were left unspecified, emphasizing the draconian invocation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
She underscored that the Modi government had already introduced regressive regulations that grant it the authority to determine what constitutes fake news. Roy warned that the ongoing attacks on the press would result in only government-favored news reaching the public.
Regarding the raids on individuals linked to NewsClick, Roy conveyed her concerns about the Modi government’s apparent apprehension. She expressed fear that more arrests might occur in the lead-up to the state elections in December and the general elections scheduled for May next year.
Roy also emphasized that the raids and arrests of journalists should not be interpreted as mere distractions from the Bihar caste census issue. She urged people to seriously consider the fact that journalists were being treated as terrorists.
Regarding the Bihar caste census, Roy believed that despite attempts to divert attention from the issue, it has exposed the true composition of the country and would ignite a social revolution. She highlighted the dominance of the upper castes, who constitute only 15% of the population, in various fields.
Historian Ram Guha drew parallels between Modi and Indira Gandhi, describing both as authoritarian leaders. However, he pointed out that unlike Modi, Indira Gandhi was not majoritarian and did not discriminate on the basis of religion. He expressed confidence that regimes of this nature have arisen before and eventually passed, indicating that this one would also fade away.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan argued that the raids on NewsClick and its associates were unlawful on several grounds. He questioned the legality of using the UAPA in cases where NewsClick allegedly received money from Chinese nationals, highlighting similar allegations against other entities like PM CARES and Adani. He deemed the seizure of laptops from journalists remotely connected to NewsClick as a blatant attempt to intimidate independent media, which he believed would ultimately fail.
Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha from the RJD concurred with Arundhati Roy’s assessment that the Bihar caste census would empower marginalized groups.