Congress vice – president Rahul Gandhi, ever since return, has taken on the Narendra Modi government head-on, on a host of issues. While opening another front, the Gandhi scion met members of civil society, including Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, who had a running feud with the NDA dispensation and expressed solidarity with their struggle.
“Rahul Gandhi expressed full solidarity with the people’s struggle to safeguard hard-won Constitutional freedoms. A wide cross-section of Civil Society Leaders met Rahul Gandhi on the issue of BJP Govt’s continuing attack on Freedom of Speech & Dissent,” the twitter handle of Rahul’s office, said on the micro-blogging site after the meeting.
Pillai, a Greenpeace senior campaigner, was “offloaded” at Delhi airport, on January 11, from a flight to London, where she was scheduled to make a presentation before British MPs, regarding alleged human rights violation at Mahan in Madhya Pradesh. The incident had happened a few months after the blocking of funds to Greenpeace by the Home Ministry. The issue had led to a huge controversy.
A joint press release by the members of the civil society said that, they met Gandhi and expressed concern about an “attack” by the government, on their freedom, autonomy and right to dissent. Besides Pillai, RTI activist Nikhil Dey from MKSS, Ravi Nair, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, Tapan Bose, South Asia Forum For Human Rights, M J Vijayan, General Secretary, Programme for Social Action (PSA), Rajendra Ravi, National Alliance of People’s Movements and Jarjum Ete, President of All India Union of Forest Working People(AIUFWP), met the Congress Vice President.
In the interactive session, Gandhi assured the members of civil society, that the Congress Party would be in the vanguard of defending and enhancing all the fundamental fights, and directive principles, enshrined in the Indian Constitution. “He said that he shared the concerns raised by the delegation, on democracy and dissent being curbed,” the release said.
Their meeting with Rahul is the first in a series of meetings with all political parties “not in alliance with the BJP-led NDA” and seeks to explore commonalities of how civil society across India can encourage a broad anti-authoritarian, pro-poor, pro-environment platform, the activists said.
The civil society members, many of whom alleged that from “draconian” changes in the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and its authoritative misuse, to an attack on Human rights defenders and environmental activists, the Modi led NDA regime is involved in “stifling” democratic dissent and subversion of constitutional rights.
They demanded that all Intelligence agencies should be brought under the purview of the Parliament, the Comptroller and Auditor General. The activists said, that their meeting with the Congress Vice president addressed the urgent need to put the brakes on the rise of ” Hindutva” authoritarianism as exemplified by the BJP-RSS combine.
The civil society members alleged that in the past one year, the NDA government has “targeted” the country’s robust civil society organisations. “With an authoritarian government in place and a shrinking space for dissent, the members of civil organisations have called upon all political parties that are not a part of the BJP-led NDA to support them reclaim the space they deserve in a democracy,” they said.
They said that certain provisions of laws governing voluntary organisations (VOs) like the Societies Registration Act of 1860, the Indian Trusts Act (1882), the Charitable and Religious Trust Act (1920), Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act (1950), Foreign Contribution Regulation Act of 1976 (FCRA) and similar legislations, need to be redrafted.