New Delhi: The first week of October is still on and three agencies and an arm of the police – all under the control of the Union government – have conducted search and seizure operations at what appears to be over 200 locations across the country in five days alone.
These actions may have taken place across India but they are linked by similar features. Most began early in the morning, most were accompanied by damning ‘leaks’ in the mainstream media, and all targeted critics of the Narendra Modi government.
The crackdown has focused on prominent human rights activists whose work is close to the ground in ignored parts of India, journalists, writers, two parliamentarians, a state minister and leaders from parties opposed to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and a comedian.
In at least two cases, those being raided were – and some continue to be – unsure of the charges against them, of which case they were being ‘raided’ for, and whether they were being questioned as accused or suspect or witness.
Ask old timers when was the last time they’ve seen such a visible pan-India mobilisation of Union government-controlled agencies against individuals the ruling party does not like in such a short period of time and they are likely to say, ‘the Emergency’. A charge underscored by the fact that one of the people jailed this week is NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha. The last time he was picked up by the police and locked up was in 1975.
Here is a quick chronology of this week’s raids.
October 2: NIA
On October 2, as The Wire’s Sukanya Shantha has reported, officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrived in groups of four and five at 62 locations across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. They conducted coordinated raids on houses and premises associated with members of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers, the Human Rights Forum, the Civil Liberties Committee, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, and the Revolutionary Writers Association.
The action was in connection with what is popularly known as the ‘Munchingiputtu case’, which deals with the alleged movement of Maoists and the transportation of Maoist literature in a village of the Alluri Sitharama Raju district. One person arrested in 2020 had allegedly disclosed the names of some 60 Maoist activists in the region.
The NIA collected 60 books from one functionary of the Human Rights Forum, alone. Anything in a vernacular language, which officials could not read, was taken, The Wire has learnt. Another person raided is counsel for many of those accused in the case, who was asked to appear as a witness in the same case, in a serious breach of ethics and law.
The NIA has had a busy year when it comes to its focus on rights activists.
In May, it raided independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh’s house at Ramgarh in Jharkhand. Singh was one of those whose phones were targeted with Pegasus spyware and is a petitioner before the Supreme Court alleging violation of privacy. The agency also raided rights defenders Damodar Turi, convener of the Vishthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, Bacha Singh, general secretary of the Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS), and the Anil Hansda, Dinesh Tudu, Nageshwar Mahato and Sanjay Turi of the Jharkhand Jan Sangharsh Morcha. Documents and phones were seized and the NIA said they were “incriminating.” Those raided alleged that the aim was to turn the focus away from the government as polls neared.
In February, 10 days after human rights lawyer Ansar Indori appeared in a case challenging an FIR filed by the NIA, the agency raided his house.
October 3: The Delhi Police
In a day being called one of the worst for a free press in India, 46 journalists and commentators – some in their 20s, some in their 70s – and all associated with the independent news website NewsClick, were raided. Their homes were searched, their devices seized and they were interrogated for hours. Ostensibly, the case against them – which invoked sections of the anti-terrorism law, UAPA – was prompted by a report in the New York Times which alleged that one of its funders, a US businessman, was close to the Chinese government. However, most of the journalists raided were asked about their work on the farmers’ protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. NewsClick director Prabir Purkayastha – who spent two years in jail during the Emergency in the 1970s – was arrested, along with another staffer, Amit Chakravorty.
The Delhi Police opposed Purkayastha’s plea seeking a copy of the FIR against him but has now been ordered by the court to part with it. In its absence, neither those arrested, nor those whose devices have been taken, have a clue about what the case against them is exactly.
Ironically, the Delhi Police did not oppose the bail plea of a BJP strongman MP with sexual harassment and molestation charges against him – Brij Bhushan Singh. To seek justice against Singh, India’s most famous wrestlers had sat in dharna for months.
This is not the first time that the Delhi Police has been on the receiving end of criticism for a partisan investigation focusing disproportionately on dissenters. Its probe into the 2020 northeast Delhi riots – during hearings of which it is routinely slammed by court judges for its negligence – has led to the jailing of activists and scholars. In contrast, the police has refused to register cases against Hindutva and BJP leaders who were caught on video inciting violence.
The Delhi Police is under the direct control of the Union home ministry under senior BJP leader Amit Shah.
October 4: The Enforcement Directorate
On October 4, the Enforcement Directorate began raids at Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh’s house early in the morning. Officials arrested him in connection with the New Delhi liquor policy case in the evening. The ED has already jailed two of AAP’s biggest leaders, Satyendar Jain and Manish Sisodia, both Delhi ministers, in connection with the case.
During Sisodia’s bail hearing on Thursday, a Supreme Court bench asked the ED how it plans to sustain its charge of money laundering by Sisodia “factually and legally” when he did not come to possess the money allegedly paid as per its own submission.
A day ago, the same bench had asked how, if the the whole of the AAP was said to be the beneficiary of the Delhi government’s liquor policy as the ED contended, “it is neither an accused nor impleaded in the case.”
The ED on October 5 raided premises linked to Trinamool Congress leader and Bengal cabinet minister Rathin Ghosh, in connection with a recruitment scam. TMC is protesting in the national capital for the Union government’s disbursal of MGNREGA funds.
On the same day, ED also raided Karnataka Congress’s R.M. Manjunath Gowda in connection with an alleged scam at the Shivamogga District Cooperative Central Bank.
The ED and its internal functioning have been in the news more than any other central agency, thanks to the tenure of its chief, S.K. Mishra. In an unprecedented move, the Modi government pleaded its case at the Supreme Court – against the latter’s judgment – by reiterating its stand that Mishra was required to stay at the helm because of the global Financial Action Task Force’s impending review. But, as The Wire noted in an analysis, the ED has a comparatively limited role in an FATF review.
The ED’s extraordinary attention to opposition leaders during Mishra’s extended tenure has been chronicled in a case-by-case analysis by The Wire of what the ED is handling. In August 2021, the ED submitted a list of 122 elected representatives who are currently being investigated for money laundering charges to the Supreme Court. When Scroll.in sought details under the Right to Information Act, the ED declined to share them. However, The Times of India published a report featuring 52 names drawn from it. Nearly all belonged to Opposition parties.
The Indian Express further reported last year that since 2014, there had been a 4-fold jump in ED cases against politicians. 95% were from the ranks of the opposition.
October 5: Income Tax department
The Income Tax department on Thursday conducted searches at about 40 locations linked to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP S. Jagathrakshakan in Chennai and its suburbs. DMK’s Stalin is one of the most vocal critics of Narendra Modi and was quick to note that “Arresting AAP MP Sanjay Singh and raiding DMK MP Jagathrakshakan’s home are clear examples of their misuse of independent investigating agencies for political ends against INDIA bloc leaders.”
In June, DMK leader and Tamil Nadu minister V. Senthil Balaji was arrested by the ED in an alleged money laundering case. Following this, in an unprecedented move, the governor of the state, R.N. Ravi, sought to dismiss him from the council of ministers.
It is noteworthy that Income Tax officials also went to the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, just days after it released a documentary focusing on Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
On October 5, I-T officials also raided Bharat Rashtra Samithi MLA Maganti Gopinath in Hyderabad – it is unclear in connection with which case.