In yet another case of dissenting dissent, five people, including a printing press owner and an event organizer, were arrested for “claims harmful to national integration” by displaying a caricature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to the Indian Express, the Prayagraj (Allahabad) police arrested the suspect on July 12, 2022.
The five men have been identified as Aniket Kesari, Abhay Kumar Singh, Rajesh Kesarwani, Shiv and Nanka alias Dharmendra and said they were paid approximately ₹10,000 for putting up the poster which has now been removed. The poster criticized the administration for the many lives lost during the peasant struggle, the “killing of youth dreams by contract workers” and soaring fuel prices. Singh, who owns a printing press, teamed up with event organizer Kesari, contractor Kesarwani and workers Shiv and Nanka to place the image on a government board in the Colonelganj area of the city.
Authorities were informed of the poster on July 9, after which they filed an FIR against unidentified individuals for allegations, allegations harmful to national integration and making statements that create or promote hostility, hatred or ill-will between classes. They found the suspect using CCTV footage. When questioned, the accused said they were asked to create and hang the poster by Sai, a member of the Telangana political party.
Speaking of the violation, the police told the Indian Express that the posters contained “offensive remarks against the Prime Minister” without the permission of Prayagraj Municipality.
This is, of course, not the first time individuals have faced FIRs for criticizing Modi or even the current regime. In April, mimicry artist Adil Ali was arrested in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh for impersonating Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Police claimed he made “obscene remarks” and accused him of provoking with intent to riot and commit obscene acts or songs, Kerala Kamudi reported.
Similarly, in 2018, the Indian Express reported how Tamil folk singer Kovan was arrested from his home city of Trichy for criticizing Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Kovan sang the song at an event in Trichy to protest the Center’s failure to establish the Cauvery Water Management Board.
It can be noted that in most of these cases the accused only criticized the ruling regime in the context of socio-political situations. This falls within the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. Over time, however, more journalists and dissenters are being prosecuted for speaking against those in power.