Democracy is about freedom of choice. Freedom to air opinions at open forums. Freedom to vote. Freedom to speak out against social evils, oppression by the state, and caste and religious inequalities. Democracy is also considered the mark of an evolved nation, irrespective of the few bigots and social opportunists who exceed their limits. Democracy is also about respecting rules. The uproar over IIT Madras derecognising the Ambedkar Periyar Student Circle (APSC) for spreading “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government, based on an anonymous complaint, is fuelled by the freedom argument. The liberal and secular champions of Indian democracy, in the media, politics and society, are outraged, accusing the Modi government of stifling opinion.
The basic law in their argument is the assumption that the Modi government is socially oppressive. In the 2014 elections, however, poll data show one in four Dalits voted for the BJP. One in three Dalits voted for the NDA coalition—that too, mostly the upwardly mobile urban, educated and middle class Dalits, whose awareness of national events is high. Hence the implication that the Modi government is anti-Dalit is simply gratuitous and farcical.
Student politics has always been a hotbed of radical opinion, simply because it possesses the energy of youth, more than experience. The APSC is no different. At the hub of the issue is a Leftist pamphlet concerning Dr Ambedkar, which accuses the government of having a “Hindutva agenda”, “assisting multinational corporates to loot Mother India” and “communally polarising the people by the ban on cow slaughtering, Ghar Wapsi programme and promoting Vedas”.
Really? The UPA’s reform push was pro-corporate and boosted by foreign investment. The cow slaughter ban in Maharashtra is not a national restriction: beef is eaten in Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and the Northeast. Modi has cracked down on Ghar Wapsi and love jihad, initiated by the extreme Hindutva fringe. And since when did the Vedas become anti-national? In June 2014, nine students of a Kerala college were arrested because of “objectionable and unsavoury” language against Modi as part of a crossword puzzle, the solution of which was calling Modi a “s.o.b”. Freedom of speech doesn’t include invective or libel.
To accuse IIT Madras of being a Modi sycophant is even more opportunistic. The IITs and HRD ministry have been at loggerheads since 2014. The government initiated budget cuts for the five new IITs and IIMs—from `500 crore to `65 crore. For the existing 16 IITs, the budget has been cut by `163 crore. Besides, the ministry did not order a ban: it simply forwarded the complaint upon which APSC was temporarily derecognised “for violating guidelines”.
In his re-invention drive, Rahul Gandhi has taken on Smriti Irani, his rival in Amethi. She is a soft target, vilified for her alleged lack of educational qualifications to head the HRD ministry. Not one to take anything lying down, Irani replied, “Give me a time n place n I’m ready to debate everything...” The battle of Amethi has became a proxy war for political ownership of the constituency.
Rahul is ignoring the fact that it was under the UPA, attempts to stifle dissent were the worst. Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested on charges of sedition for his campaign against corruption. In 2012, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal got egg on his face for demanding laws to regulate the Internet. Trying to bully Internet companies, he showed them a Facebook page that lampooned Sonia Gandhi. “This is unacceptable,” he told them. Two Mumbai girls were arrested over their Facebook post questioning Bal Thackeray’s funeral arrangements, when the Congress government was in power in the state. Mamata Banerjee, a former UPA ally, has thrown people in jail for tweets and posts criticising her.
Debates are based on rational arguments, not a political jeremiad. This only leads to a descent into ideological insanity, which defeats the purpose of a national conversation.