In hounding dissent, India is just as rotten as China A high-profile activist, who has a large following in civil society, carries on a very public campaign exposing the governmentâ€™s many failings. When his campaign begins drawing a little too much unflattering attention towards the government, authorities have him arrested. Under public pressure, he is subsequently released, but to muzzle him, the government initiates tax cases against him â€”and serves him a big penalty notice. The most striking thing about this narrative is that it happened not in one country, but in two â€“ India and China â€“ which, despite their vastly different political and social systems, share one attribute: the way their governments hound and selectively harass dissenters for standing up to them. In China, dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who is seen as Chinaâ€™s conscience-keeper for the way he has been confronting the naked authoritarianism of the Chinese Communist party, has been slapped with a 15 million yuan ($2.3 million) tax notice on charges that he evaded taxes. Ai, an internationally renowned artist who designed the Olympic stadium in Beijing and who hails from a distinguished revolutionary family, was arrested in April. After being held in detention without charge for 81 days, he was released on condition that he not speak to the international media, with whom he enjoys an Arundhati Roy-esque celebrity status. In the time since he was released, Ai has been charged with â€œeconomic crimesâ€â€” principally that he evaded taxes on his design company. On Tuesday, he received two notifications summarily directing him to pay the back taxes and penalty within 15 days. Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi and Ai Weiwei in these photos. AFP and AP image Beyond the merits and demerits of the tax case, the move is widely perceived as an unvarnished attempt to muzzle the high-profile activist for challenging the government on a range of issues â€” from censorship to crackdowns on civil liberties to its unwillingness to fully account for the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren in an earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008. The attempt by Chinese authorities to turn the heat on an activist in order to silence him has an eerie echo in India, where the Dirty Tricks Department of the Congress has come up with ever more inventive ways to target Arvind Kejriwal and other anti-corruption activists banded together under Anna Hazareâ€˜s leadership. As with Ai, Kejriwal has been served with a notice penalising him for not serving out his contract with the government, from which he sought voluntary retirement in order to become an activist. Plus thereâ€™s the matter of a loan he took from the government, and the accumulated interest thereon. Again, the merits (or otherwise) of the case are not easy to establish: Kejriwal initially contested the claim, but has since said that he will pay up â€” so that he can devote mindspace to his campaign for the Lokpal Bill without distractions. It is nobodyâ€™s case that due process of law shouldnâ€™t be invoked in cases where (as in Aiâ€™s case) there has been suspected tax evasion or (in Kejriwalâ€™s case) service rules must be enforced. Yet, the vigour with which both the governments have gone after dissenters tells its own story of overzealous governments out to fix those who step out of line and challenge them. In Kejriwalâ€™s case, the pettiness extends to selectively targeting his wife, an income tax official on deputation to the Serious Fraud Investigation Office. (Details here.) Perhaps unnerved by her serving in the Serious Fraud Investigation Office at a time when her husband is publicly campaigning against corruption in high places, busybodies are trying to heave her out citing a technicality. Likewise, after the controversy surrounding Kiran Bediâ€™s travel bills surfaced, her NGO is being investigated by the finance ministry. Officials claim that they are not targeting Bedi, but that the investigation will cover several other NGOs, but the timing of such a move is a dead giveaway. Even Anna Hazare is feeling the heat, with the CBI on his tail investigating allegations that funds were siphoned off from an NGO that he runs. On the other hand, the Congressâ€™ primary megaphone has no qualms about issuing character certificates to even those who have been charge-sheeted in mega-scams. The message is starkly clear: donâ€™t lift up your head and challenge us. We have the power to overwhelm you with a thousand petty investigations and spurious claims. Be it China or India, the venal immorality of those who wield absolute power and invoke it to crush the feeblest of dissenters is breathtakingly similar. ========== Totally agree with this assessment. The UPA govt. has left no stone unturned to witch-hunt Anna and his Team members as the Congress is feeling the heat of the anti-corruption movement gathering the mass. The UPA need to be taught a lesson at each and every stage whenever elections takes place in states or the centre.