Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is free speech under threat?

For the last few days, I have received a number of messages, mails and calls regarding the posts I have put up on the blog. All of them asked me to 'be careful'. This is not the first time this has happened. The last time was when I posted this article. The overwhelming concern was that I should not get into trouble with these posts. The other opinion was that I had a lot of guts to post this stuff.

This is rather strange considering that I live in a free country, where freedom of speech is one of my basic guaranteed rights. What is it about Mr. Modi that makes it 'dangerous' to write anything even mildly critical of him? That makes me afraid that my computer may suddenly crash. That makes my friends and family ask me to stop writing about him. That makes me 'brave' all of a sudden. And worst of all, that makes one of my friends tell me that India is for Hindus and I should go to Pakistan! Does the looming Modi era threaten what I thought was a fundamental right? A right to have and to freely share an opinion, right or wrong, and debate this opinion in a civilised fashion. What suddenly makes it dangerous to have a political opinion that is not shared by the majority of my countrymen?

As India prepares for Modi-raj, the writing is on the wall. It is time for dissenting voices to be stilled or else face the consequences of holding 'unacceptable' opinions. Of course, I am small fry and it is unlikely that Mr. Modi's cyber patrol will ever get to me. But respectable journalists and well-known figures have been facing the music for some time for holding 'unnacceptable' opinions. The editor of a respected magazine gets fired for expressing anti-Modi opinions. One of our modern-day Indian heroes Amartya Sen is pilloried for his anti-Modi stance and is asked to return his Bharat Ratna. Articles against Modi get taken down by internet portals the moment they start gaining popularity. A satire website on Modi is taken down in one day.The movie Fanaa gets banned because a prominent actor raises his voice in support of the farmers displaced by the Narmada dam. And of course, there is the rise of the 'majority' opinion on social networks that troll any article or tweet against their hero. The threats range from the 'mild' 'Go to Pakistan', to much more serious ones like rape and murder.

As India's educated 'elite' gravitates towards its financial saviour, the internet has now been taken over by Mr. Modi's supporters. They are more than happy to forgive any of his past sins, even if they amount to genocide. They have ready excuses for every one of his actions and semi-logical rebuttals of all the commissions and panels that have indicted him. They will always bow the Supreme Court decision, forgetting that this same court called him a 'modern-day Nero'. They will happily praise and propagate his 'Gujarat brand of development' forgetting that this was meant for the rich and has made little or no impact on the poor. Most worryingly, they will forget their own consciences in blindly following him as he leads them through their financial Red Sea and threaten any of their brothers and sisters who may not agree with them.

The wily Mr. Modi has succeeded in re-inventing himself as the only possible option our country has in this election. He has done this by converting the basic fabric of our electorate which is based on individual candidates and their credibility into an American-style Presidential election. He has done this by his amazing use of rhetoric which he uses with great skill to fool our population. He has done this by claiming that development in Gujarat has kept him in power for so long, when political pundits have long agreed that it is the 2002 riots and the absence of any sort of opposition that were the major factors in his long reign. He has done this by refraining from incendiary statements (though sometimes, he just can't help himself!) while deputing his cronies like Togadia and Giriraj (who when I last heard was still on the BJP roles as a candidate) to do it for him. He has done this by pretending to be a leader of all sections, although the truth found him out when he was caught refusing to wear a Muslim skull cap, while he has worn the head-dresses of so many other cultures and religions before and since. He has done it by terrorising the thinking population of India so much, that people will now think not twice, but ten times, before expressing an opinion against him.

So as I await the news of May 16th, I want to thank all of you who have written to me. I am aware of the risks involved, especially to my computer! (I have nothing much of worth saved on it and it is quite old, though losing it would surely be rough!!). But I have too much faith in my country and its people to believe that expressing an opinion in a non-violent forum like the internet can be anything but healthy. Granted it is the minority opinion. Please don't tell me the minority does not matter anymore! Granted it is targeted against one man and his party. But the moment that man set himself up to be the next Prime Minister of our country, he opens himself up to being the target of his subjects opinions. If he did not like it he should have taken responsibility for the poor administration that caused the lives of 2000 people in 2002 and resigned!

I find it difficult to imagine my beloved country in the hands of fascist leaders who will curtail my freedom of expression and tamper with the basic fabric of this country. But come May 16th, that may be my fate. So all I can do is to appeal to all my fellow citizens. Judge not this man and his governance in the coming years through the filter of your religion. For that filter will filter out the truth and replace it with passion and foolishness. Judge him and his governance by the facts. And if the freedom that we hold so inviolate is threatened, please do not sit by and watch. Do not consider whether I am a Hindu or a Muslim, whether I am pro or anti-Modi. Defend me. Defend your Muslim brother. Defend this country from those who would build a totalitarian state based on the majority religion. Please let the philosophy of Voltaire inspire you - I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Let no man, not even one so accomplished and popular as Mr. Modi take away that right. 


  1. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer - “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act"

    It is interesting to note that Bonhoeffer was killed by the Nazis because of his opposition to Hitler.

    This comparison is particularly interesting because of the many parallels between Hitler and Modi - the Nazi brownshirts weren't entirely unlike the Sangh Parivar's enforcers - RSS, Bajrang Dal and their ilk. Also, Modi's and the Sangh Parivar's ideologues' fascination for Hitler and the Nazis is pretty well known.

  2. While i certainly wish complete safety for you and your computer, your latest posts have been the perfect way out of the rut of political apathy and ignorance that im sure many of of us are often stuck in! (no offence intended to those who feel they are politically well informed) The mere thought of having to silence or filter your views and beliefs is the height of injustice for any Indian citizen, or any citizen for that matter. All prayers with you...and your computer!

    “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
    ― Elie Wiesel

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Apologies: wrong link: