The arrest of 18 students and a college principal for publishing "objectionable and unsavoury" language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pushed the Kerala government into action after the opposition CPM termed the incident as an attack on the freedom of expression.
Seven students and the principal of a polytechnic in Kerala’s Thrissur district had been arrested for featuring Modi in its campus magazine as a "negative face" along with photos of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. Days later, the journal of another college nearby was allegedly found to have cast aspersions on Modi, prompting police to arrest 11 students. All arrested are now out on bail.
The embarrassed state government has asked inspector general of police, Thrissur Range, to inquire into the action taken against the students and the principal. The students were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, one being Section 153 (provoking with the intent to cause unrest and violence).
"Newspapers and magazines are used to lampoon politicians and others. The government can't agree with any action that affects freedom of expression. We will find out whether the police made undue haste in taking action," Kerala home minister Ramesh Chennithala told HT. “It seems the police jumped the gun. We will take necessary action after the IG's report," he said.
The CPM, meanwhile, demanded the government to drop the cases against the students and the principal. "The students were booked under stringent provisions of the IPC to please the masters," CPM politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said.
Besides Modi, one of the articles also carried 'objectionable' stories about chief minister Oommen Chandy, spiritual leader Amritanandamai and former minister Shashi Tharoor.
"In a democracy, freedom of expression is paramount. Action against the students was uncalled for and unwarranted," activist K Ajitha said. "Recently, Malayalam writer B Rajeevan was served a legal notice for writing an article on Mahathma Gandhi's assassins. It's strange some people are turning intolerant towards criticism. It is not a healthy sign," she added.