New Delhi: Opposition leaders have pilloried the central government after the Delhi Police said it had registered FIRs and reportedly arrested 25 people for pasting posters critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national capital.
As many as 17 FIRs were registered under sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code and other relevant sections including section 3 of the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act across various districts of the city, after posters that said, “Modiji humare bachon ki vaccine videsh kyu bhej diya (PM why did you send vaccines of our children to foreign countries?)” were found pasted in several parts of the city, officials said.
A senior police officer said, “More FIRs are likely to be registered if further complaints are received in this regard. As of now, investigation is underway to ascertain on whose behalf these posters were being put up at various places across the city and accordingly further action will be taken in the matter,” a senior police official said on Saturday.
While the arrests are being presented as the mere implementation of the law against defacement of property and not an attempt to curb free speech, the selective manner in which the law is being applied has raised eyebrows. The ruling BJP is guilty of erecting banners, hoardings and posters across the city – mostly on public property – but it is rare for criminal cases to be filed against its leaders.
Sharing an image with the same words as the posters which led to this week’s FIRs, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi dared authorities to arrest him as well.
Arrest me too.
मुझे भी गिरफ़्तार करो। pic.twitter.com/eZWp2NYysZ
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 16, 2021
His sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also followed suit.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh also questioned whether erecting posters critical of the PM was a “crime” and stated his intention to put up similar posters on his compound wall.
Putting up critical posters against PM is now a crime? Is India run by the Modi Penal Code now? Is the Delhi Police so jobless in the middle of a raging pandemic??
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) May 15, 2021
According to the Deccan Herald, Ramesh subsequently pasted posters questioning the prime minister on the export of vaccines outside his residence.
Cong RS ChiefWhip @Jairam_Ramesh pastes a poster “Modiji jawab de, vaccine aapki tarah gayab kyon hei? (Answer Modiji. How has vaccine disappeared like you?) at his house in protest against DelhiPolice arresting 25 people for pasting similar posters in the capitial @DeccanHerald pic.twitter.com/MirYLSYFEY
— Shemin (@shemin_joy) May 16, 2021
Interestingly, Ramesh’s action of putting a poster up on property that he is occupying is considered an offence under the Delhi Defacement of Property Act. In January 2015, several Aam Aadmi Party supporters were prosecuted by the police for putting up party posters on their own property, leading the Delhi high court to question the wisdom of these cases.
Former finance minister and Congress leader P. Chidambaram further mocked “freedom of speech” in the country for those who were questioning the prime minister.
The poster asked a simple question of the PM: why did you export the vaccines meant for our children?
Even before the PM could answer, the loyal Delhi Police answered with ARREST
Celebrate, India is a free country!
— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) May 16, 2021
Delhi’s deputy chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Manish Sisodia also reiterated the message in the posters in Hindi.
हमारे बच्चों की वैक्सीन इमेज मैनेजमेंट के लिए विदेशों में किसने बेच दी ?
— Manish Sisodia (@msisodia) May 16, 2021
TMC leader and MP Mahua Moitra said the posters had posed a “perfectly valid question”.
12 Arrested Over Posters Against PM Modi In Delhi
“Modi ji, aapne humare bacchon ki vaccine videsh kyu bhej diya?”
Perfectly valid question. pic.twitter.com/XCJS5Bsg3G
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) May 15, 2021
On Sunday, Aam Aadmi Party leader Durgesh Pathak said that members of AAP had erected the posters criticising PM Modi on the export of COVID-19 vaccines and said that the police should arrest leaders of the party instead of harassing people who were simply pasting the posters in the city.
“Ye posters Aam Aadmi Party ne lagvaye hain, ye poster maine lagvaye hain (these posters have been put up by AAP, they have been put up by me),” Pathak said at a press conference, reported the Indian Express. “Today, when people are asking why crores of vaccines were exported to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq, Modiji’s Delhi police is filing FIRs and putting our workers in jail. Every morning, 500-550 workers are called to the police station and made to sit in thanas till night. What is their fault? Is it because they questioned Modiji? They asked him why he sent vaccines meant for our children to other countries. I want to tell Delhi Police and BJP – you cannot arrest us for asking these questions. We live in a democracy,” Pathak added.
“If you have to arrest someone, arrest me, arrest our MLAs. Don’t go after the poor people who paste these posters for Rs 100-200. We will not stop. We will paste these posters everywhere across the country. If you have to arrest someone, arrest us,” Pathak said.
The Delhi Police has since claimed that AAP leader Arvind Gautam was behind the posters pasted in the city.
On Saturday, the police said three FIRs were registered in northeast Delhi and two persons were arrested from there. Three FIRs were registered in west and another three FIRs in outer Delhi, they added.
Two FIRs were registered in the central part of the city and four persons were arrested. Two FIRs were registered in Rohini and two persons were arrested, while one FIR was registered in east Delhi and four persons arrested. One FIR was registered in Dwarka and two persons were arrested, police said.
One FIR was registered in north Delhi and one person was arrested. He claimed that he was given Rs 500 to paste these posters, they said. Another case was registered in Shahadra wherein police have recovered the CCTV footage of the incident and are trying to nab the person involved in the act, police added.
(With inputs from PTI)