The Maharashtra government is spending its entire energy in stifling dissent and freedom of expression. And its targets are not only the media, but the common people as well.

Ever since its formation, the Uddhav Thackeray government has been characterised by its ego and desperation. The MVA government itself is a by-product of three political parties which, seeing their presence shrink and ego bruised, resorted to dumping governance or ideological concerns in order to somehow keep the BJP out of power.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar made it blatantly clear recently while remarking about CM Uddhav Thackeray’s statement on single-handedly forming the government in the state. Pawar said that while he has been hearing about the Shiv Sena forming the government on its own for the last 30-35 years, he must remind Thackeray about the blunt truth that they are in it together only to keep BJP out of power. After one year since its formation, this speaks of the existential crisis of three political parties, which continues to dictate the priorities of the administration. And the recent attempts at stifling the freedom of expression are just another manifestation of it.

For an inept and incompetent administration like the MVA, the biggest threat is the freedom of expression which can expose its shortcomings. The Thackeray government is acutely aware of it as it has been found wanting when it comes to delivering governance. The coronavirus crisis has further increased their concerns. Maharashtra has seen the highest number of cases and the highest death counts. Meanwhile, disturbing accounts of rape in Covid centres had become routine news. But the state government left its people to fend for themselves while focusing on enjoying the perks of power and shifting the blame on the Centre. Whatever remaining accountability was left was shifted to the people in the name of “My Family, My Responsibility”. In effect, this government didn’t take any responsibility, apportioning blame to the Centre or to the people.

Arnab Goswami as a journalist had routinely picked up news which the Lutyens’ media carefully avoided in order to not discomfort the Congress or its allies. While the entire media looked the other way with regards to the Palghar incident, Arnab took a moral stand and resigned from the Editors’ Guild in the middle of the broadcast, accusing the body of hypocrisy. While the Thackeray government chose to keep quiet over the sadhus being lynched by the mob in Gadakchinchale village in Palghar district, the media held the government accountable.

Thackeray’s ideological stance of Hindutva, which had been on a weak footing after allying with the Congress, was further exposed by his inaction over the Palghar incident. While reports of a lack of coordination and internal rumblings made it to the news daily, the Thackeray government appeared weak as different parties spoke in different voices, with even open conflict coming to the fore, like in the case of Pawar’s statement against CM Thackeray. There are many reasons why the Chief Minister doesn’t like the media and, therefore, resorts to shooting the messenger.

Sameet Thakkar, Sunaina Holey and Anand Karmuse, on the other hand, were social media users who, as aware citizens, criticised the government and were silenced. While, on one hand, the MVA government muzzles the media’s voice by using brute force—for instance, the manhandling of Arnab—the arrest of Sameet Thakkar is a wake-up call for average citizens, that their fundamental rights aren’t secure anymore. A progressive state like Maharashtra deserves a better government than one which feels threatened by the tweets of someone with 60,000 odd followers. A person charged with tweeting against the government being covered in black cloth and tied like a hardcore terrorist is not just human rights violation but also portrays Maharashtra in poor light. Coming on the heels of the arrest of Navi Mumbai resident Sunaina Holey, who tweeted about the Maharashtra CM, there has been a well-organised pattern of silencing all voices on social media. Jitendra Awhad, a minister in the current MVA government, even has the dubious distinction of using police force to act against social media critics as seen in the Anand Karmuse incident. Maharashtra, known as the land of Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar, is a state which is looked upon with respect by all Indians. But the actions of the MVA government bring disgrace.

By acting against Arnab Goswami, Sameet Thakkar, Sunaina Holey and Anand Karmuse, the MVA government is trying to drive home the point that dissent will not be tolerated. While the actions are against a visible figure in the media, like Arnab, and a number of social media users, like Sameet Thakkar, the warning is for everyone else: Questioning a democratically elected government isn’t legitimate anymore. The actual purpose is to sow fear among those questioning the government’s competence. However, to the amusement of many, the MVA government is also reminding the people of Maharashtra that they had never voted this government into power in the first place.

As pressing issues of the day like Covid and farmers’ crises lay by the wayside, this government is keener on expending energy to settle petty scores. The uncomfortable truth which will come back to haunt them is that millions of farmers are watching the government obsessively suppressing legitimate voices while their cries of compensation for crop losses are falling on deaf ears.

The writer is a passionate politician, entrepreneur and government policy expert. The views expressed are personal.