For a state whose chief minister owes his eminence in public life to the mass movement that began against the Emergency to endorse an order that says those participating in violent protests, sitting on dharna or blocking roads will find it difficult to get government jobs or passports sounds inane. The Bihar Police have said such persons are also not to be given loans or grants by the state as this will amount to misuse of technology. Uttarakhand has followed in Bihar’s footsteps with its police stating that the social media behaviour of those applying for a passport and arms licence will be verified for ‘anti-national’ content. The problem will be of defining not just what constitutes objectionable content, but also to guard against the misuse of powers by state agencies.
The police as the arm of the law had been instrumental in implementing the stringent lockdown and paying attention to the normal law and order duty is now needed, which also means tackling cybercrime, instead of merely seeking out individuals with a dissenting view. Efforts to check the entry of people with a criminal background into politics have still not been completely successful. The Bihar Police have sought to justify this by clarifying that it does not curb the democratic right to protest, but was intended only to check involvement in criminal activities during a protest. With separate legal provisions already there for dealing with criminal activities, the justification does not qualify on the grounds of logic.
In Bihar, because of the lockdown, political parties chose to hold virtual meetings to reach out. With restrictions and social distancing in place because of the pandemic, technology platforms were increasingly used by the people to communicate and stay connected. Some time back, the US State Department had also stipulated that applicants for a visa would need to submit social media details for scrutiny and false information could have serious immigration consequences. For governments, there will be a need to be circumspect in the exercise of their powers when it comes to the life of an ordinary citizen.