In Yogi’s UP, the Lucknow Press Club became the handmaiden of the state police and government when it succumbed to the illegal pressures of the state administration to ‘cancel’ the reservation made by senior activists on the anti-Dalit policies of the present BJP ruled state government and allow the police to arrest activists within its premises. This incident, evidence of creeping authoritarianism with Modi-Yogi’s India happened on the afternoon of Monday July 3.
Reservations for the press conference and the march had been made ten to twelve days earlier but when eight senior activists, including former IPS officer and IGP SR Darapuri, Ram Kumar, Ramesh Dixit, Ashish Awasthi, P.K. Yadav, P.C. Kureel, K.K. Wats, reached the venue at Kaisarbagh, Lucknow 500 policemen including the PAC had surrounded the building and they were peremptorily told ‘their reservation was cancelled.’. SP City Tripathi, present in full force with many seniors, demanded to know where the activists would go from there and when all activists said there was freedom of movement in India, they were arrested from inside the premises of the press club causing a furore and outrage across the country. Joshi, a representative of the press club was reluctant to speak to Sabrangindia on the issue today. Johru Twari is currently President, Press Club, Lucknow.
“The actions of the Yogi government are violative of fundamental human rights and freedom of expression. This act was a means to terrorise all dissenting voices into silence,” said Darapuri speaking to Sabrangindia. “It is shocking that we were arrested from inside the premises and worse still that the press club succumbed to the pressure.” Darapuri further explained that the ludicrousness of the episode extended to the police wanting to impose Section 144 of the criminal law, a section often used by the authorities to stem public gatherings ‘in the open.’ The fact that the press club is a hall and that reservations meant that the law could not be invoked was of no importance to the policemen!
“The actions of the Press Club are as dangerous as that of the police,” said senior political activist Ramesh Dixit who has recently re-joined the NCP.
“Our CM is scared of a Bar of Soap,” said former Vice Chancellor, Lucknow, Rooprekha Verma sarcastically summing up the sinister moves of the state government. “It is all a game of soap. First, he got the Dalit protesters arriving from Gujarat with a 125 kg soap arrested at Jhansi and now this!” In a more serious vein, she said, “it is Dictatorship of the worst kind. If the venue of the press conference had been a state government cultural centre, the knee jerk reaction of the authorities would have been predictable if not understandable. But the fact that it is a Venue of the Fourth Estate, meant to be a Watch Dog of Democracy that is now conniving with a Dictatorial Regime makes it sinister. This did not even happen during Hitler’s regime. Is the CM so scared of us, activists? I feel very empowered at the moment.”
“The fact that we could not even gather to protest and discuss the present situation of Dalits in India is shocking and disgrace” said senior activist Ram Kumar. In Jhansi after the activists from Gujarat were detained, the 125 kilogram soap was seized by the administration. “We hope that the soap reaches our chief minister, very concerned about culture and cleanliness,” Ram Kumar added.
The arrest of eight activists including senior Dalit rights activists and former IGP SR Darapuri in Lucknow yesterday was worse because of the manner in which the Press Club of Lucknow behaved and the role played by this venue, ostensibly of access to the ‘fourth estate’ in a democracy.
It all boils down then to a bar of soap that the UP chief minister is afraid of..