India’s crackdown on dissent may stall reforms, says NYT

Washington, Feb 23 (IANS) Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and its political allies of trying to silence dissent, the New York Times Tuesday suggested that it may stall progress on economic reforms.

“India is in the throes of a violent clash between advocates of freedom of speech and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its political allies on the Hindu right determined to silence dissent,” it said in an editorial.

“This confrontation raises serious concerns about Mr. Modi’s governance and may further stall any progress in Parliament on economic reforms,” the influential US daily said.

The editorial titled “India’s Crackdown on Dissent” traced the crisis to the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s sStudents Union, by Delhi Police on charges of sedition.

Kumar’s arrest, the Times noted, followed an on-campus rally on February 9 that marked the anniversary of the 2013 hanging of Muhammad Afzal, who was convicted of participating in the 2001 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament House.

Referring to reports that lawyers and Bharatiya Janata Party’s supporters assaulted journalists and students at a court in New Delhi where Kumar’s hearing took place, the Times said: “Responsibility for this lynch-mob mentality lies squarely with Mr. Modi’s government.”

On Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s reported comments that anyone raising anti-India slogans will not be spared, the Times said: “Mr. Singh apparently does not realise that, in a democracy, voicing dissent is a vital right, not a crime.”

The influential daily said protesting journalists, students and faculty at universities across India “are right to voice their outrage at government threats to the exercise of their democratic rights.”

“Mr. Modi must rein in his ministers and his party, and defuse the current crisis, or risk sabotaging both economic progress and India’s democracy.”

“The charge of sedition against Mr. Kumar should be dropped,” the Times said citing a recent opinion piece by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Mehta, it noted, warned members of Modi’s government “have threatened democracy; that is the most anti-national of all acts.”

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