New Delhi: Leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party Sunday took responsibility for the posters across Delhi criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vaccination drive, which had led to multiple arrests by the Delhi Police.
Speaking to ThePrint, AAP leader Durgesh Pathak confirmed that the posters were put up by the party members. “We have got these posters out across Delhi and I want to ask Modi’s Delhi Police that how can you arrest people for putting up some posters in a democracy like ours?”
Pathak added: “If you still wish to arrest people, then please arrest me and not innocent poor people. The whole country is in fact asking why were vaccines meant for our kids sent to other countries — to Pakistan — and not saved for our own kids.”
In the past few days, several posters criticising PM Modi’s vaccination strategy had surfaced across the national capital. The posters read: “Modiji humare bachon ki vaccine videsh kyu bhej diya (Modiji, why did you send vaccines of our children to foreign countries?)”.
In response, the Delhi Police registered 25 cases in the matter under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code, read with sections of the Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act and Press and Registration of Books Act.
The police had arrested 25 people in connection with the case, most of whom are auto rickshaw drivers, shop owners, daily wage labourers and unemployed people. All the accused were able to secure bail.
While the police claim that the FIRs were registered according to the law, legal experts pointed out that the law was being misused by them.
Senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “I wonder how many walls of Delhi the police has thought of cleaning, except those where PM Modi is criticised. In fact this defence of Delhi Police conclusively proves the case against them.
“The larger issue is the intolerant and obstinate approach of this government. Ignore the message, don’t take corrective action on the message, let things become uncontrollable, but always shoot the messenger, also shows lack of democratic spirit, at the heart of which lies magnanimity and a capacious mind, both of which are anathema to this government and the ruling party,” the Rajya Sabha MP told ThePrint.
‘Cases registered in accordance with law’
However, according to the Delhi Police, putting up posters in public places was against the law and a cognisable offence. Moreover, since posters were put up when there was a citywide lockdown in place, it was also a violation of the Delhi Disaster Management Act.
Therefore, the police said, all the FIRs have been registered in “accordance with law”.
“According to Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, putting up posters, banners and writings on the wall are banned and considered defacement. So, we have registered the cases under relevant sections,” an officer, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
He added, “The posters did not have any names on it. No details of where it was printed, the phone number, it is all against the law.”
The police also noted that the AAP members who put up the posters will be arrested.
“AAP member and President of Ward 47, Arvind Gautam, was the one who got posters put up in Mangolpuri. He is absconding. Even in Dabri, Khanpur, Kirti Nagar, it was done on directions of AAP volunteers,” a senior police officer told ThePrint.
“AAP members engaged people in the middle of a pandemic, and gave them money to put up posters. They were given money, between Rs 200-Rs 500 to paste these across the capital. These are clear violations and more arrests will be made in this regard,” the officer, who did not want to be named, said.
‘Misuse of law’
Meanwhile, legal experts noted that the “selective action” of the Delhi Police was indicative of the Modi government’s intolerance to criticism.
According to advocate Mehmood Pracha, the defacement law was being used “selectively” and was just an attempt to “suppress dissent”.
“BJP workers have put up a majority of the posters in Delhi, but we have not seen any FIRs under the defacement act. Right now, this government wants to silence every voice criticising how they dealt with the Covid crisis. It is a patent formula of this government to suppress voices, using uniformed goons called the police,” Pracha told ThePrint.
He also criticised the police for wasting their time over the poster issue. “At this time when the police are to impose curfew, do other important things, they are running after people who passed some posters.”
Several political leaders also called out the Modi government for the multiple arrests made by the Delhi Police.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Arrest me too,” Sunday, which was accompanied by a photograph of the poster.
Arrest me too.
मुझे भी गिरफ़्तार करो। pic.twitter.com/eZWp2NYysZ
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 16, 2021
Other Congress leaders, including Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor, also tweeted about the incident.
Instead of helping struggling Covid patients, GOI's Delhi Police has registered 17 FIRs & arrested 15 people (daily wage workers, a painter, auto drivers) for pasting posters reading “Modiji, why did you send vaccines of our children to foreign countries?” Posting in solidarity: pic.twitter.com/jVvJV6qCiW
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) May 16, 2021
In the past few days, several states across India have been facing a shortage of vaccines while the country faces an aggressive second wave of the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the Centre also increased the recommended gap between the two doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks, from the earlier six to eight weeks. However, it clarified that the decision was taken on the basis of science and not due to shortage of vaccines.
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