Three ongoing controversies involving disparate people, issues and agencies have a common thread running through them: lack of tolerance. An ex-RAW officer V.K. Singh has written a book on the inefficiency and corruption in India’s premier intelligence agency. The result: a CBI raid on him for violating the Official Secrets Act (OSA). Next, four journalists have been given jail terms for contempt of court for daring to suggest that there had been certain improprieties committed which allegedly involved the previous Chief Justice. And then, the usual suspect, the VHP offering to weigh in gold anyone who beheads and cuts off the tongue of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for questioning the existence of Ram.
Now, the OSA is a sacred cow that is pulled out of the hat any time anyone, particularly former bureaucrats or spooks, speak their mind. The state has stubbornly refused to scrap this archaic 84-year-old Act despite the Administrative Reforms Commission’s recommendation that it do so. Why would the state do that when it is a convenient tool to shut up anyone who threatens to spill the beans? Similarly, any hint of criticism of the judiciary invariably invites the wrath of our lordships who have steadfastly refused to submit themselves to any sort of scrutiny except by themselves. And, of course, our self-appointed custodians of faith and culture have made it a habit to issue dire warnings of death or injury to anyone who raises an uncomfortable question. Oh, lest you forgot, we are the world’s largest democracy.
Forgive us for thinking that dissent and debate were the cornerstones of any democratic society, especially one as multi-cultural, multi-religious and pluralistic as ours. Whether it is a work of art or a film, out comes the state, the judiciary or the loony fringe to impose their will on the masses. Whatever happened to the liberalism and accommodation which great leaders like Gandhi and Nehru envisaged as the guiding principles of India? Surely, the Indian state and people are not so sensitive and fragile that they cannot withstand constructive criticism or the questioning of beliefs. The only problem is that the majority tends to be passive or indifferent to this creeping assault on our fundamental freedoms. The intolerance that we see today must be resisted and vocally because ultimately, we the people will be the biggest losers.