Has Sena become intolerant to the “voices” of dissent?

Sameet Thakkar - Uddhav Thackeray Editorial

The BJP IT cell member Sameet Thakkar, who was arrested for posting “objectionable” tweets against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his family members, was finally granted bail on Monday by a Nagpur court. The Nagpur-based industrialist and a BJP sympathiser, Thakkar was arrested on October 24 by the Nagpur police from Rajkot in Gujarat.

The BJP IT cell member, Sameet is one of at least 50 accused (including people and social media accounts) named in police complaints in the state since April over similar allegations. This is irony for a progressive state like Maharashtra where the state power has an intolerant attitude towards criticisms. Its police machinery is now “arbitrarily” arresting those critical of the government whether he is a journalist, social worker or a politician.

Over the past six months, the legal cell of the ruling Shiv Sena has approached Mumbai Police and other police stations across the state with multiple complaints, alleging derogatory comments about its leaders and the Thackeray-led Maha-Vikas -Aghadi government. These complaints have resulted in several FIRs that name over 50 accused.

The Sena claimed that most of the people who make “sweeping statements” about the Thackerays and the MVA with “derogatory language” are supporters of the BJP. However, the BJP, accuses the Sena of misusing power to “silence detractors”. The classic examples are the case of Thakkar and journalists of Republic TV. The Republic TV is a known critic of the Thackeray government. Even Mishra, the legal cell in-charge of Sena said, “All those who had and are still motivating and helping Sameet Thakkar in such cyber crime matters, police will take strict action against all of them.” Surprisingly, the cases have set the stage for the latest face-off between former allies Shiv Sena and the BJP, who now lead rival alliances in Maharashtra.

The first such complaint that the Sena’s legal team filed under the MVA government was in April this year, against one Paresh Borse, a resident of Navi Mumbai. Borse had allegedly posted an image on Facebook showing the CM and his son Aaditya, also a cabinet minister, carrying a coffin on their shoulders and smiling. “Corona rugna sarvat jasta Maharashtrat, Corona mrutyu sarvat jasta Maharashtrat. Avghad ahe,” the post said. The same month, Mumbai Police arrested Borse for allegedly morphing the images of the CM Thackeray and his son Aaditya. While Borse’s arrest did not attract too much spotlight, a few other cases, including arrest of Thakkar, shot to attention on social media platforms. One Delhi-based advocate Vibhor Anand was arrested by the state police for allegedly spreading conspiracy theories in connection with Rajput’s death. And the list goes on….

The BJP IT cell member, Thakkar, who is followed on Twitter by many important and influential people of the country, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, faces multiple FIRs, including three filed by the Sena. The Sena filed the first complaint against Thakkar in Mumbai in April, alleging that he was misguiding people about the state government’s handling of the Covid crisis through his tweets. A second FIR followed in July, after he allegedly described Uddhav as “modern-day Aurangzeb” and referred to Aaditya as “Penguin beta” in a tweet. He has been facing cases in Mumbai as well as in Nagpur for posting the tweet.

It seems that the Sena was silencing dissent. In a democracy, there is bound to be criticism and dissent, but here the party and its leaders seem to have come up with a new law that no one speak against the government and its leaders. They are totally misusing their power to silence detractors. The government and the Sena should introspect and correct themselves where they have erred, rather than showing intolerance towards criticism.

 – Pradip Kumar Maitra