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It was truly the theatre of the absurd in India. Last Friday, the Punjab police, which reports to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the state, landed up at the door of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman Tajinder Bagga in Delhi and went on to arrest him for his tweets against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Bagga is charged with making provocative statements on social media and promoting religious enmity.

Bagga was then taken in a Punjab police vehicle but in total filmy style, the Haryana police, which comes under the BJP government in the state, intercepted the Punjab team as they crossed Haryana and stopped them. The Delhi Police, which comes under the central government, bizarrely filed a kidnapping case and also rushed to the spot.

After a stand off, Bagga was brought back home by the Delhi cops. This entire episode put the police forces of 3 states on an unseemly collision course and has only reaffirmed the politicisation of law enforcement agencies.

Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga
Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga speaks to the media on his arrival at his residence, Janakpuri, after being produced before Duty Metropolitan Magistrate in Gurugram, in New Delhi Image Credit: ANI

A glaring travesty

Only weeks earlier, the Assam police, which reports to BJP Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, rushed a team all the way to Gujarat to arrest Jignesh Mevani, an independent and staunchly anti BJP lawmaker late at night for a series of tweets criticising the Prime Minister.

Like Bagga’s case, this was a complete overreach and to make things worse, when Mevani got bail a few days later, he was promptly rearrested by the Assam police in a new case. It is another matter that he got bail a few days later. The whole episode was a glaring travesty.

The misuse of police forces is not new in India. All governments have put pressure on agencies and the police to work in their favour but the current government has taken it to a new level.

For example, data shows that most cases pursued by central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have been against opposition leaders and other critics since 2014.

Now, opposition states are paying them back in the same coin. And it is setting the country down a dangerous path where institutions have become compromised, where vendetta politics is now being normalised.

Jignesh Mevani
Gujarat Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani addresses the media, at AICC Headquarters, in New Delhi on Monday Image Credit: ANI

Disproportionate reaction

At around the same time Mevani faced arrest, the Maharashtra government ruled by the opposition Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine, arrested independent MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana after they threatened to sing the Hanuman Chalisa outside the home of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

They were not only arrested but also faced sedition charges. India’s sedition law is an obsolete, outdated colonial legacy that has been misused by all governments to silence dissenters. The Supreme Court is now deciding whether this law needs to go, with India’s Chief Justice saying that a sedition is a colonial law that suppresses freedoms.

Tajinder Bagga is no saint. Some years ago, he physically assaulted lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Known for his often hateful conduct, he makes crude social media posts. But the AAP government’s reaction was totally disproportionate.

In the cases involving Mevani and Bagga, all norms for inter states arrests were thrown to the wind. The guidelines issued by the courts clearly say that the local police station must be informed, that the arrested person must get a chance to consult a lawyer before being taken out of state among other things. None of these were adhered to.

Rule of law must matter in a democracy. But in today’s politically charged climate, vendetta is taking precedence, sending us down an alarming spiral.