On top of this government’s patronage of moral policing, imposing dress codes, enforcing dietary restrictions, circumscribing social media expressions (in the bargain exposing their acute sense of humour deficit) and selectively banning Internet access has now come the showcause notices served on prime television channels invoking the Programme Code of Cable Television Network Rules.
The government has asked these channels why action should not be taken against them for casting “aspersions against the integrity of the President and Judiciary”.
This has come in the light of the TV discussions on the execution of Yakub Memon as mercy petitions lay before the Supreme Court and the President of India. There are polarised viewpoints on the continuation of the death penalty in our statute books. This also reflects the passionate global public debate with 97 countries having abolished the death sentence.
Inhibiting such public debates in our country is tantamount to attacking the freedom of expression. Worse when this reinforces an already prejudiced viewpoint against a particular religious minority. This only reflects the hardcore RSS Hindutva agenda of seeking to spread hatred against a religious minority in the name of fighting terrorism.
On the question of fighting terrorism, there can be no compromises. This is a non-negotiable issue. However, terrorism in India recognises no religious, regional or other boundaries.
After all, the Mahatma was gunned down by the bullets of a Hindu fanatic. As prime ministers, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh extremists and Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE. Current investigations have shown the activities of various terrorist outfits, including Muslim, Hindutva and others. Also, there is no dispute on the urgent need to end cross-border terrorism.
The universally accepted template of diplomacy and foreign policy places the safety, security and prosperity of the country’s people as the top-most priority. This requires that our guard of vigilance is never lowered and the efficiency of our intelligence gathering systems is constantly improved. However, this cannot be done through jingoistic assertions and machismo rantings a la ‘chappan inch ka sarkar’.
India’s national security adviser has recently declared that India “punches below its weight. We have to increase our weight”. Mindless machismo can only be counterproductive. It, in fact, reduces India to a hyphenated status with Pakistan, devaluing our international standing.
Such assertions are also counterproductive for another important reason. The hallmark of the Indian republic, as guaranteed by our Constitution, is to provide all our citizens with ‘equality, irrespective of caste, creed or sex…’.
Even after six decades of Independence, this promise does not even appear on our horizon, in economic and social matters. In this widespread morass of denial, the only perceived hope for solace lies in the judiciary.
Even if it is seen by many as a misplaced perception, the judiciary, it is hoped, will deliver justice without any prejudice or bias. When shadows of doubt are cast on our system of delivery of justice, this spells only peril for the health of our democracy.
Look at this in the context of Memon’s execution. The Justice Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry was instituted to investigate the communal riots that engulfed the city of Bombay, in the aftermath of the Babri masjid demolition, in December 1992 and January 1993 and the Bombay bomb blasts in March 1993. One of its terms of reference was whether the communal riots and the bomb blasts have a common link (terms of reference VII).
Justice Srikrishna comes to the conclusion that: “the former appears to have been a causative factor for the latter.
There does appear to be a cause and effect relationship between the two riots and the serial bomb blasts.” Further, it says: “there was a large amorphous body of angry frustrated and desperate Muslims keen to seek revenge for the perceived injustice done to and atrocities perpetrated on them or to others of their community and it is this sense of revenge which spawned the conspiracy of the serial blasts”. And, this “provided the material upon which the anti-national and criminal elements succeeded in building up their conspiracy for the serial bomb blasts”.
However, no substantive action has been taken against the culprits identified by the commission for causing the communal riots in Bombay.
Justice has not been delivered yet in the ongoing cases related to the 2002 Gujarat communal carnage. Similar is the case with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and others.
Does questioning such apparent inadequacies in our system of delivery of justice amount to an act of ‘sedition’ against the State? Is silencing such a debate in the interest of strengthening our democracy or seeking the implementation of the constitutional right to equality, irrespective of the religious affiliation of our people? Why are some media reports alleging that this BJP government is directing state agencies to go soft on investigations in established incidents of terror by the Hindutva groups? Why are a large number of Muslim youth continuing to languish in our jails even after investigations have shown that they are innocent?
It is an act of supreme national interest to seek the elimination of grounds that lead to such an injustice by our system of delivery of justice. Public debates on such questions, far from ‘casting aspersions’, only strengthen the internal dynamics of our democracy. They urge the Indian State, through public pressure, to reach the so far unattained goal of our constitutional guarantee of ‘equality, irrespective of caste, creed or sex…’.
By negating this, this BJP government is confirming that it has no agenda of good governance, or, prosperity for the people. It is only furthering the RSS agenda of transforming the secular democratic Indian republic into their version of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Sitaram Yechury is general secretary of the CPI(M) and a Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed are personal.