Anger in India over arrests for posters asking Modi about vaccine

Imad K Harb

India’s opposition parties and social media users are outraged over the arrest of nearly two dozen people accused of putting up posters critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the weekend, posters in Hindi appeared on the walls in the Indian capital, asking: “Modi Ji, why did you send vaccines meant for our children to foreign countries?”

With India reeling under a vicious second wave of the coronavirus, Modi opened up vaccinations for all adults from May 1, doubling the number of those eligible to an estimated 800 million.

But a severe shortage of vaccines has hampered the drive, angering people who had watched India export and donate more than 66 million COVID-19 shots earlier this year to nearly 100 nations around the world earlier this year.

Only 10 percent of India’s 1.35 billion people have received at least one dose of the vaccine while less than 3 percent of its people have been fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry’s data.

‘Is India run by Modi Penal Code?’

The alarming shortage of vaccines amid rising deaths has triggered widespread criticism and anger, the posters in Delhi being an example.

Kumar is among the two dozen people arrested by Delhi Police, which comes under the direct control of India’s home ministry, led by Modi’s closest aide, Amit Shah.

“Police told us that they were following orders from the higher-ups,” said Kumar.

As of Monday, as many as 17 first information reports (FIRs) were registered in the capital under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and state laws, including the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act. Since most of these charges are bailable, many of those arrested have been released on bail.

Among those arrested were rickshaw pullers, daily wagers and auto-rickshaw drivers who might have paid to paste the posters up and who might have taken it because livelihoods have been drastically affected by a month-long coronavirus lockdown in Delhi.

In a statement following the arrests, Delhi Police said its officers “noticed walls in several areas being defaced by pasting posters”.

“More FIRs are likely to be registered if further complaints are received in this regard. As of now, the investigation is under way to ascertain on whose behalf these posters were being put up and accordingly further action will be taken,” a senior police officer told Indian news agency PTI on Sunday.

Meanwhile, India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted an image of the same poster, with the caption “Arrest Me Too”, which became one of the top trending items on Twitter across the country on Sunday following an outcry about the arrests.

“Putting up critical posters against PM is now a crime? Is India run by the Modi Penal Code now? Is the Delhi Police so jobless in the middle of a raging pandemic?” tweeted Congress party’s Jairam Ramesh.

“I am putting up posters on my compound wall tomorrow. Come get me.”

A string of police action

The poster arrests were the latest in a series of such measures reported from across the country.

Last week, Srinivas BV of the Indian Youth Congress, the youth wing of India’s main opposition party, was questioned by the Delhi Police, along with several other Delhi-based politicians for their relief efforts amid the pandemic.

Srinivas and his team of volunteers have earned praise for reaching out to coronavirus patients with oxygen cylinders, medicines and helping families find a hospital bed for their loved ones across India.

“The questioning was done following a High Court order,” claimed Delhi Police. On May 4, the Delhi High Court had directed the police to examine politicians allegedly procuring and distributing the drug remdesivir, demand for which had spiked along with COVID-19 infections.

Delhi Police on Monday said there was no proof of any fraud by the politicians who were raided and that they were only helping people.

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