The BJP government has successfully reduced Parliament to a "notice board and a rubber stamp", Congress MP Shashi Tharoor alleged at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Friday.
During a session titled "Sustaining Democracy; Nurturing Democracy", he claimed that tightening the already stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in a way that kept people like Siddique Kappan in jail for two years without bail is one of the many ways the current dispensation has "managed to depart from the democratic spirit of the Constitution".
The government has been able to take "a lot of autocratic steps without ever having to declare an emergency", the Thiruvananthapuram MP alleged, adding, "You can call this an undeclared emergency."
"They did it under the ambit of the law and Constitution. Look at something like the tightening of the UAPA which has resulted in people getting thrown into jail without charge and bail in some cases for two years like the instance of Siddique Kappan," Tharoor said.
He added that such incidents lead to questions about "whether our Constitution is too easily subverted in an undemocratic way".
Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan was arrested in October 2020 while on his way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh where a Dalit woman had died after allegedly being raped. He and three others were accused of having links with the now-banned Popular Front of India.
The Supreme Court granted him bail in that case in September last year but he continued to be in jail because of the money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate. In December, the Allahabad High Court granted him bail in the money laundering case.
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At the 16th edition of the literature festival, replying to a question about Parliament's ability to hold the government accountable, Tharoor said, "Under (Jawaharlal) Nehru, we had a parliament in which even ruling party members could challenge their prime minister, the minister of finance was forced to resign over a scandal exposed by backbenchers and we saw the prime minister held accountable to Parliament even during the 1962 China war."
"Today, I am sorry to say... our government has successfully reduced the parliament to a notice board and a rubber stamp. It is a notice board for the government to announce whatever it wants to do and it is a rubber stamp because their crushing majority obediently passes every bill in exactly the form it comes from the cabinet," he said.
Tharoor also noted that in "most of the first seven decades, except the aberration of the emergency, democracy deepened in the country".
"You saw democratic institutions acquire more power, more vigour. Look at the Election Commission. You saw a commission that had more formal authority than ever been exercised by the earlier incumbents and actually becoming a rather formidable instrument that controlled the political parties and their behaviours," he added.
Touted as the "biggest" literary festival in the world, Jaipur Literature Festival 2023 will host some of the world's best thinkers, writers and speakers over the next five days.
Among the 250 speakers across some 240 sessions, including music concerts, are Booker Prize winners Bernardine Evaristo, Marlon James and Geetanjali Shree, besides author Amia Srinivasan, academician David Wengrow, MP Varun Gandhi, and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani.
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