Without naming anyone, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said Sunday tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy was “killed” in jail and lashed out at the Narendra Modi government for being “dictatorial in attitude but weak in the heart” to feel threatened by an ageing 84-year-old man.
Swamy, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case in October 2020, died in judicial custody on July 5 while undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Mumbai.
In his weekly column Rokhthok in Saamana, Raut recalled the Emergency years when the Indira Gandhi government had accused George Fernandes, a former Union minister, of plotting to overthrow the government.
“Indira Gandhi was scared of George Fernandes. George was a young leader then and was not aged like Father Stan Swamy. But today’s government is scared of the 84-85 years old Stan Swamy and Varavara Rao. Stan Swamy was killed in jail,” Raut wrote.
The Sena MP further said that “a government that is scared of an 84-year-old man is dictatorial in attitude but weak in the heart, like Hitler and Mussolini”.
The inflammatory speeches and provocative statements made at Elgaar Parishad could not be supported, Raut said, but what happened later — the imprisonment of intellectuals, academics, rights activists and others — was a “conspiracy of cracking down on freedom”.
“What do waging a war against the state, treason and anti-national activities mean? Does making tribal people in forests aware of their rights and freedom mean overthrowing a country? How can igniting the minds by a spark of rebellion be treason?” Raut asked.
He said the death of 84-year-old disabled and helpless Father Stan Swamy in prison could not be justified even if Maoists and Naxals are more dangerous than Kashmiri separatists.
“There is a difference between opposition to the government and opposition to the country. If anyone thinks that opposing a government is a conspiracy against the country, then the seeds of dictatorship are sowed in their minds,” he added.
Raut said that Swamy died in custody while PM Narendra Modi held talks with those who want autonomy for Kashmir and restoration of Article 370.
Over the past weeks, Raut had toned down his criticism of the Prime Minister and his government, triggering speculation of a patch-up between the Sena and BJP, but his latest commentary pulled no punches. Raut, however, expressed surprise at Modi’s inclusion in a recent list of global leaders with a record of cracking down on press freedom.
Raut said the situation was not so dire in India. “Even though it is true that those who are critical of the government are put in jail under the sedition laws, Indian press also raises its voice,” he added.