That Indian politicians are a touchy lot is well-known. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that they cannot stomach even a hint of criticism and when it comes to punishing the ‘transgressors’, they can close ranks quick as a flash. So over the last few months, we have had several cases of angry politicians punishing citizens for airing their views, a constitutionally guaranteed right, on the politicians or their track records. On Tuesday, the Maharashtra Police arrested two young girls after one of them posted on Facebook that the total shutdown in Mumbai on the day of Bal Thackeray’s funeral was not due to respect but out of fear. The second girl had ‘liked’ the comment. That the original author of the FB post was not way off the mark became clear hours later when her uncle’s clinic was vandalised by the Shiv Sena cadre. Both apologised and were given bail but the comment — the full version in which she speaks about how India treats its freedom fighters vis-a-vis its politicians — is now all over various social networks. What’s more, #arrestideas was trending on Twitter at the time of going to press and users were offering suggestions on the various ‘unusual’ ways one could get arrested for trivial reasons. The arrests also shows the poor quality of India’s law enforcement agencies (their levers are usually with the political masters) and their limited understanding of section 66A of the Amended Information Technology Act, 2000, now known as the IT Act, 2008.
Yet the case of the two girls was not the first when politicians have looked clearly out of depth when it comes to tackling the social media. An educationist and his friend were arrested by the Bengal Police for circulating and liking a Mamata Banerjee cartoon; a cartoonist was arrested for drawing eight “seditious” cartoons; and a Puducherry based businessman was arrested for his “offensive” tweets against the finance minister’s son.
Politicians must realise that the social media is here to stay and there will be people who will post their views and comments on issues of the day. Acting wrongfully against the post-authors will only push their ‘followers’ to circulate their thoughts. Instead of indulging in knee-jerk reactions, they should react to such posts in a mature fashion. If such posts actually violate the IT law, let the law take its own course; forcing the law-enforcing agencies to make wrongful arrests will only backfire on the political class.