After the ban on Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes comes a ban on disagreement. At least two people have been arrested in the Bharatiya Janata Party-run state of Madhya Pradesh for airing criticism against and making fun of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization move.
If that was not enough, the District Magistrate of Indore P Narahari recently ordered a ban on “objectionable and inflammatory posts on demonetization move” on social media and mobile messenger applications on grounds that such posts were “hurting the sentiments of the general public.”
Though the disturbing developments have been reported by a section of the media, it is yet to come to the notice of the people of the country at large and political parties opposing the demonetization move.
Abhishek Misra, a 19-year-old student, RTI activist and resident of Chhatarpur in MP, was initially detained by the police after he criticized the demonetization move in his social media posts. He was later arrested by the Cyber Cell of the Bhopal police.
The news of his arrest was initially kept a secret. But it came to light after he was released on bail. By then all his posts were deleted by the police. Misra told the local media that he had posted his comments to raise awareness of the people on demonetization, which, he believed, would not wipe away black money as was being trumpeted by the BJP and the government. Misra has 16,000 followers on Facebook.
The police filed an FIR against him under the section 469 of the Indian Penal Code (forgery for harming reputation) and 66C of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (identity theft). Mishra’s laptop, dongle, mobile phone and other gadgets were confiscated.
Ravikant Dehariya, a cyber cell official, later told the media that Misra was “involved in posting offensive comments and posts against the chief minister and other important dignitaries. He was also running a website. We arrested him, deleted all the posts from his Facebook and also blocked his website.”
Abhishek Mishra’s lawyer Ajay Mishra, however, said that his client had simply posted a newspaper clipping, which said the police had seized money from a BJP leader’s car in Hoshangabad district. The police, however, charged Misra for fraudulently replacing the BJP leader’s photo with that of the chief minister.
The government’s decision to silence critical voices has not spared even disgruntled BJP activists. A member of the BJP’s minority cell, 25-year-old Aslam Khan of Morena district, was arrested on November 25, “for allegedly posting a morphed photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi wearing a garland of shoes on a Whatsapp group.
Khan, had allegedly shared the morphed picture within the Whatsapp group, all of whose members comprised BJP activists. Local BJP leader Rambaran Mawai and his supporters went to the Banmore police station and lodged a complaint against Khan following which he was arrested. It is still not clear whether Khan himself had morphed PM’s photograph or had merely circulated it.
Khan was booked under section 505 (2) of the IPC, which relates to inciting a community or class to commit a crime. Khan, too, was critical of Modi’s demonetization move.
Mawai termed the photograph posted by Khan as an ‘insult’ to the nation. “Modiji is the tallest leader in the BJP and any mischief against him – big or small – will not be tolerated,” he said.
On November 14, the DM of Indore P. Narhari imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure making it a criminal offence “to post any objectionable and inflammatory posts on social media or mobile messaging applications about the Modi government’s decision to withdraw Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.”
According to the order, these so-called objectionable social media posts could have the potential to harm or damage “human life and public property”. “Because of the events in the past few days, it is clear that Facebook posts and comment/likes on them, messages on WhatsApp, which are unfavorable, have hurt the sentiment of the general public. Forwarding such messages on Twitter, etc, has a proximate and direct nexus with the disruption of the public order. Such conduct in future can disturb public order and give rise to a reaction that can incite an individual to commit a crime,” the order said.