Democracy, by its very nature, is the crucible of dissent. Casting a vote is an act of free expression, not only in favour of one candidate but also against another. By this very action, democracy ensures the freedom of the individual to express opinion without fear.
Last week. Tamil Nadu Police arrested a young girl for yelling on an airplane that the Modi government is fascist. The enraged BJP woman politician who bore the brunt of the girl’s ire called her a ‘terrorist’: an OTT explosion of power’s hauteur.
Prime Minister Modi is India’s most beloved leader in spite of a kid from Canada calling him a fascist. However, also obscured by the fervour of protest is a basic privilege—of Modi’s inalienable right to be protected from insults or being called a fascist in public.
In the prevailing heat of moral fever that has gripped Indian liberals who even see the arrests of urban Maoists as a threat to fundamental rights, we forget that politicians are people too: they have the same Constitutional protection from abuse as anyone else.
Arresting people who question or slug governments and leaders is not an exclusive BJP trait. In 2012, when the Congress-led UPA government was in power, a young gentleman from Tamil Nadu was arrested for questioning the dodgy assets of Karti Chidambaram, then Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son. In 2012, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered the jailing of a Kolkata professor for forwarding a cartoon of her.
A farmer was crimped for asking her a question at a public meeting. In 2011, Kapil Sibal, then the telecom minister, wanted to censor the internet from showing offensive memes of Congress leaders. In 2012, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was thrown in the slammer for lampooning political corruption. The same year, cops picked up two teenage girls of Mumbai for criticising Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s funeral arrangements. In 2015, a school student was jailed for sharing a Facebook post against Samajwadi Party minister Azam Khan for “instigating communal tensions.”
There are countries that have jail terms for people who knock the government. Insulting the Azerbaijan President can land you in the clink. The same goes in Poland, Turkey and Venezuela. Even in fiercely liberal Netherlands, dissing the monarch will earn you an unwanted stay at the government’s expense. Rulers of Arab countries punish critics vengefully and harshly.
Political leaders across the world are easy game for mud missiles. It is one of the unwanted perks of power, to keep them from acquiring divine status through oblations of sycophants. And it is the government’s right to bring the wrath of the Constitution down on the head of anyone who maligns it. Whether it chooses to exercise this right or not is another matter.