Disembodied fear actualises into horrible reality in a faster, scarier way than presumed at first. In my column after the attack on an Israeli diplomat, I had feared stereotyped profiling and rounding up of people under draconian laws by our security agencies. And I had warned that our agencies should avoid the trap of regarding opposition to western and Israeli policies in West Asia as militant jehadism. In the arrest of S.M. Kazmi and harassment of John Cherian by the Delhi police, my fears now knock menacingly on the door of the same ‘freedom of the press’ behind which I so often seek shelter, a seemingly fragile privilege, though the aam aadmi, whose rights are trampled upon everyday, has no access to even that. I hate to read conspiracy theories in tea leaves, yet I’m forced to note that both Kazmi and Cherian are journalists with outspoken anti-Israeli, pro-Iranian views. The hand-out for the police visit at Cherian’s house, that the police had acted on a hoax tipoff, makes the visit look ridiculous. But we can only guess how intimidating it must have been for him. More serious, prima facie, is the persecution of Kazmi. Silence on a few vital questions makes the security agencies suspect.
Is there credible evidence against Kazmi, like a legally obtained, incriminating phone intercept? Or does the case stand on a few calls from a journalist to his contacts after a major incident, or a so-called intercept produced by a foreign (Israeli or western) agency? Are there credible witnesses of Kazmi deliberately sheltering any Iranian, or conducting a ‘reconnaissance’ of the Israeli embassy (all journalists on the foreign beat are supposed to know its layout), or any remote terror link? If so, how did the Union home ministry, which controls Delhi police’s special cell that arrested Kazmi, grant him his security clearance for PIB accreditation? And why use a draconian law like the UAPA, which makes bail difficult and treats confession before the police (fabricated or forcibly extracted, who knows) as valid evidence?
Stereotyped profiling and rounding up of innocent Muslims by the police and security agencies, even in terror activities later found to have been committed by Hindu right-wing extremists, was one of the factors that cost the Congress Muslim votes in UP. Trying to protect his pet foreign collaboration, PM Manmohan Singh outshone the Sangh parivar in trying to stoke xenophobia against the popular anti-nuclear agitation in Koodankulam. Now, under his home minister Chidambaram’s charge, the bar—of racial profiling (Shia working for an Iranian news agency: screams an Israeli news website report on Kazmi), arrest on suspicion, muzzling of dissent—is lowered with an aim to intimidate journalists. Since the Anna agitation, many Union ministers have dreamt of a tamer media. Censorship during the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi’s failed Defamation Bill—attempts to impose a quietus on the media or public dissent have always cost the Congress dear. Esquires Manmohan and Chidambaram should take careful note.
Neelabh Mishra is editor, Outlook Hindi
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