Andhras Orwellian moment: Criticise the government at your own peril

Andhra's Orwellian moment: Criticise the government at your own peril

“Stop illegal arrests and harassing social media activists. Shame on your governance.” This was a tweet by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy on May 17, 2017, under the hashtag “SaveDemocracy,” when he was the opposition leader in Andhra Pradesh.

“Stop illegal arrests and harassing social media activists. Shame on your governance.” This was a tweet by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy on May 17, 2017, under the hashtag “SaveDemocracy,” when he was the opposition leader in Andhra Pradesh.

The YSR Congress Party supremo was voicing concern over the arrest of a political cartoonist and journalist Inturi Ravi Kiran for posting ‘offensive’ content on social media targeting the then Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and his son and minister Nara Lokesh.

Cut to May, 2020. It is role reversal in a political drama that is getting murkier by the day. Jagan, who will be completing one year in office later this month, is facing flak for being arbitrary and ruthless while handling critics of his government.

Bizarre turn

The YSRCP government’s intolerance to criticism has touched a new low. The arrest of a 65-year-old woman for a critical Facebook post is the latest in a series of instances of blatant attempts by the government to muzzle the voices of dissent.

P Ranganayaki, a self-employed woman in the coastal Andhra city of Guntur, was detained and questioned by the police for her Facebook post criticising the government’s handling of the gas leak tragedy at Visakhapatnam recently.

She had posed 20-point questions to the government. However, the Criminal Investigating Department (CID) said she was “stoking fear by sharing false and derogatory content.”

More alarmingly, the CID has asked people to avoid posting “defamatory content against the government or government officials, thereby creating mistrust among people towards the government, provoking dissent amidst people and disturbing law and order.”

The opposition parties and social activists denounced the police action as “tyrannical.”

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“A police wing directly warning the people of criminal action if they criticise the government constitutes a new low,” said CPI leader A Ramakrishna.

The critics of the government are routinely hounded by the trolls on the social media.

“While the discussion threads on social media have always seen bitter political debates, it is particularly ruthless now with intimidation and threats becoming the order of the day,” said A Srinivas Reddy, a research scholar at Osmania University.

In another instance, a suspended government doctor was beaten up by the police in Visakhapatnam for speaking out against the lack of facilities and protective equipment for medical staff at hospitals in the coastal city.

Arrest without a warrant

Ranganayaki, a sympathiser but not an active member of the opposition Telugu Desam Party, has been named as the prime accused and served a notice under CrPC section 41-A (arrest without a warrant).

The CID sleuths summoned her to their office in Guntur where she was questioned for several hours.

“She failed to give a valid reason for her misleading post and could not explain the purpose behind her post, the police said.

Ranganayaki, who describes herself as a social activist, said that her intention was to ensure justice to the gas tragedy victims and expose the loopholes in the government’s handling of the situation. “I have not committed any crime by sharing a Facebook post,” she said.

The police, however, was not impressed and went on to issue warnings to general public.

“In the extremely sensitive case of LG Polymers gas leak, we found that some people have posted defamatory content against the government in a way that creates anxiety among people and shared false information to stoke dissent among people,” the CID said in a statement.

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The detention evoked widespread outrage on social media platforms with her supporters starting a campaign with #SupportRanganayakiMadam.

The TDP chief and Leader of Opposition Chandrababu Naidu tweeted in her support.

“Power is blinding the CM and his ability to take criticism. One day, fate will turn its back and all this arrogance will come crashing down,” Naidu tweeted while party leaders joined the hashtag campaign to support her.

“I will repost Ranganayaki’s FB post. Arrest me if you have guts,” challenged former TDP minister Ayyanna Patrudu.

Contents of the post

The post which led to the arrest was shared by Ranganayaki on May 12. Her Facebook profile has Chandrababu Naidu’s picture as cover image and it says that she runs her own business.

In the post, it is alleged that “all evidence” in the LG Polymers gas leak case has been “destroyed”. The controversial post questions why the case was not handed over to the CBI for investigation. It also alleged that the quick disbursal of compensation to victims by the state government was a cause for suspicion.

“No arrests have been made. The company representations have been roaming freely,” she said.

Another accused in the case Malladi Raghunath involved in spreading “deliberate false information” was absconding, the Additional Director General of Police (CID) P V Sunil Kumar said.

The CID has registered a case under sections 505 (2) (making statements conducive to public mischief), 153 (A) (promoting enmity between different groups), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy) read with 34 IPC, and Section 67 of IT Act, 2008.

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“Those who commit such a crime could face jail term from three to five years and a fine ranging from ₹5 lakh to ₹10 lakh,” the police official said.

“People must refrain from making improper and defamatory comments, and false accusations against the government or government officials, thereby causing confusion and anxiety among people and creating law and order problems,” the CID statement said.

Doctor beaten up

Another case where a dalit doctor Dr K Sudhakar was brutally thrashed by the police has triggered widespread public outrage across the state.

After being suspended from service for alleged “misconduct”, Dr Sudhakar was seen hitting the streets and abusing his colleagues and also the government.

The police allegedly assaulted him and tied his hands behind his back before bundling him into an auto-rickshaw to take him to the police station for creating nuisance in public in a drunken state.

Taking a suo moto cognisance of the case, the High Court on Friday (May 22) ordered a CBI probe into the alleged inhuman treatment meted out to him by the police.

The court also ordered that CBI register a criminal case against the guilty policemen and complete the investigation within eight weeks.Andhr

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