Looking at the way the government and armed forces reacted to the Pathankot air base attack, our military, which has the third largest “ready-to-fight” force in the world, has left a lot to be desired.
But I’ll stop at that because going by the news it is a thin and obscure line that separates criticism and sedition. Recent developments suggest that it is seditious to criticise the armed forces or our democracy.
In the Pathankot attack, six terrorists entered the air base and seven security personnel lost their lives while about 21 others were wounded. Among the dead was Lt Col EK Niranjan, who lost his life while defusing a bomb on one of the terrorists. On Tuesday, as Niranjan was being cremated with full state honours, 24-year-old Anwar Sadhik from Malappuram in north Kerala was arrested on charges of sedition for his comment made on social media about the late NSG commando.
The comment was posted in Malayalam, and when translated, reads: “Finally, one nuisance is over. Now his widow will get a job and financial aid. There’s nothing for the ordinary man. Indian democracy stinks.” Police have charged Sadhik under Section 124(A) of the IPC for his “anti-national” comments. He was arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by a media house, whose name he used to “legitimise” his comment.
Putting aside the fact that the state views this incident as a seditious act, the comment needs to be reread. It is an insensitive comment; disrespectful towards the armed forces, thinks poorly of our men in uniform; and definitely does not appreciate the way our democracy functions. It is at best a stupid comment and, at worst, an obnoxious one.
The fact that Sadhik posted this comment under a fake identity shows that he is also like one of the thousand Internet trolls who seek comfort in the relative anonymity of the web. He is someone who does not have the courage to speak his mind.
But what is seditious in his comment? Is it his resentment towards the armed forces? Is it his displeasure about the fact that the state takes care of a martyr’s loved ones? Or is it his disgust for the way our democracy functions?
None of these should be seen as anti-national in a free democracy (the same democracy Sadhik fails to appreciate). In our zest to show our love for the nation, are we becoming jingoistic? Is hyper-nationalism blinding us of a basic right to disagree and express dissent? Speaking about the army, it does not enjoy the popular goodwill of the people in the Northeast or in J&K. Does that mean that the people over there are anti-national?
It will be worth recollecting what Vice-President Hamid Ansari said on democracy and the right to dissent, in the first Ram Manohar Lohia Memorial National Lecture, on September 23: “The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement.”
A circle inspector, while speaking to an online media portal, said Sadhik will be questioned to know if there is a “hidden agenda” behind the post. Really?
Sadhik’s comment is an Internet rant and it is in tune with some of the online responses to views that do not conform to the popular narrative. But what is disturbing is the way the state and the administration is closing the space for dissent and disagreement.
The writer tweets as @vijucherian.