BJP’s Majoritarianism

In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections held earlier this year, the Bhartiya Janata Party fielded as many as 403 candidates but only 1 ticket was given to a Muslim candidate. Yesterday, the saffron outfit came out with its list of candidates for the 182 member Gujarat Assembly and unfortunately not even a single Muslim made it to the final list. On both the occasions the BJP came out with the explanation that it does not believe in appeasement.

It’s commendable if a party discards votebank politics and embraces meritocracy while allotting tickets and electioneering but this policy of no appeasement (if it is indeed appeasement) should apply to all and not merely to a particular section of people. In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections, BJP brought firebrand leader Uma Bharti belonging to a backward community to lead it’s campaign in the state in order to woo the OBC’s, in Punjab BJP allied with the Akalis, a party with religious inkling and in Goa which happens to be a minority bastion, more than 20% of the candidates fielded by the BJP were Christians. In the past also, BJP has acted in an opportunistic and sectarian manner to fetch votes. During the 90’s they allied with the BSP and raised the slogan, ‘Hathi nahi, Hanuman Hai’ to consolidate Dalit and Brahmin votes. History as well as the continuing trend makes it clear that the BJP’s ‘no appeasement’ politics only applies to the Muslims. It would rather be apt to say that for the BJP, the Muslims are untouchables because it was opposition to the Muslims which brought their party to national prominence and they are least interested in shedding their image of being an anti-Muslim party because it is this fearless figure of the BJP which helps them in polarizing elections.

This is one fact which will remain true no matter how many times Mr Modi embarks on a Sadbhavna Mission or LK Advani’s reiterates his party’s commitment to secularism by condemning movies like ‘Innocence of Muslims’ because these things are nothing apart from plain lip service. I want to ask the BJP one very simple question. If they could find only a single Muslim candidate in UP (Where over 4 crore Muslims live) and not even a single in Gujarat (Where Muslims, as per the Sachar Committee Report, are better in terms of education and economic well being than the national average, this fact in itself might appear unbelievable to many) where in India will they find Muslims whom they can consider fit to be given a party ticket ? BJP’s actions and its ticket distributing patterns puncture its claims of the inclusiveness of its ideology of Hindutva. This subject needs to be evaluated very objectively and that can only happen when people get over their perverse thinking which makes them feel that if a particular person is speaking against some injustice being done to his community then he or she is indulging in communalism.

Self Regulation vs Government Regulation

The Congress led UPA government has been heavily criticized by free speech activists ever since Union Telecom and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal made public the news that the government had instructed internet giants like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to screen all the content available on their website and block the objectionable ones. Sibal’s comments were frowned upon by India’s netizenry which puked at the very thought of internet patrolling. Eventually, Sibal had to take back his words and claim that he never pitched for pre-screening of content as it was a near impossibility but for post-screening through an internalized scrutiny-cum-regulation channel developed by the website itself.

This development was followed by yet another sensational one which came at the time of an interview of newly appointed PCI Chief, Retd. Justice Markandey Katju. Katju opined that he did not hold a very ‘high’ view of the media and considered ‘journalists’ to be ‘people with low intellect’. Katju emphasized upon three basic problems of the Indian media. He said that media was involved in dividing the society through irresponsible journalism. He cited the example of media reception to terror strikes to drive home his point. He said that whenever a terror strike takes place in the country, without any verification or veracity of the claims made to them by some organizations, the media starts coming up with some Muslim organization’s name and indicts them for the offence thus demonizing the Muslim community by giving out the impression that all Muslims were terrorists and bomb throwers.

Secondly, Justice Katju felt that the media was deflecting the concentration of the masses from the main problems of the nation which were socio-economic in nature. He said that some news channels were busy airing cricket all the time as if cricket was the problem of the country. He said that in the erstwhile Roman Empire, the emperors used to say, “If you can’t provide the masses bread, give them circuses.” Similarly in India, Justice Katju said, “If you can’t provide the masses bread, give them cricket” as cricket was like an ‘opium of the masses’.

Thirdly, Justice Katju said that the media was responsible for promoting superstitions and casteism in the country through reckless programs. He said that a large number of astrology shows which were being aired in the morning gave testimony to this fact. He described astrology as ‘humbug’. He said that India was going through the age of transition from being an ‘agricultural-feudal society’ to an ‘industrialized one’ and described this transition period in the words of the great poet Firaq as ‘Gunaho ki ghadi’ ie ‘Age of sins’ and a very painful period. He said that the Indian media should play a far more proactive role in promoting good values among people as the European Press did during the Age of Enlightenment. Katju said that the electronic media just like the print media should be brought under the ambit of the Press Council of India and the PCI should be given more teeth ie the power to levy fines on media organizations for propagating yellow journalism, to reduce the sanction of government advertising to those media outlets who were not following the set media standards and ethics and to cancel the licenses of those firms who were bent upon repeating the same mistakes.

Justice Katju’s announcement was met by a very hostile reception as he was heavily condemned and castigated by large sections of the media. He was described as a ‘Congress’ stooge who was taking all these initiatives on behalf of the government to throttle the growth of the ‘Anna Agitation’. Others stated that since there were already media self regulating bodies like the BEA and NBA, there was no need to bring the electronic media under the purview of the PCI as it would compromise on the autonomy of the media.  The most apt response to this argument was fielded by Justice Katju himself when he said, “Experience has shown that the claim of the broadcast media for self regulation was futile and meaningless because self regulation was an oxymoron.”  Justice Katju cited the examples of bodies like the Bar Council of India and the Medical Council of India.  He said that though these organizations were there to safeguard the interests of the lawyers and doctors, respectively but their existence did not mean that the government had no right to look into the proper functioning of the judiciary and the healthcare sector.  He said that if they also start sloganeering under the name of ‘self-regulation’ then there was no need for making any laws in the nation now as everybody was capable of governance through self. Katju said, “Regulation is different from control. In control, there is no freedom, but it is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest.”

In order to understand this stalemate, we need to first realize that Freedom of Speech and Expression is one of the foremost fundamental rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. For democracy to flourish eternally, it is imperative that this particular right is upheld under all circumstances. However, due to contradictory or rather due to lack of clear cut comprehension of this liberty, the society has run into humongous amounts of turpitude which has resulted into colossal commotion, chaotic conditions and conniving controversies. The fundamental approach with which this fundamental right is approached needs to be rectified.

The Constitution of India grants all its citizens the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution but the factor that needs to be kept into perspective over here is that this isn’t an absolute right. As citizens we were bestowed with numerous path-breaking and game-changing liberties but none of those liberties were what can be referred to as “absolute liberties”. All freedoms guaranteed to us are judicially enforceable but none of them are absolute in nature. The Constitution-makers acted with a lot of caution while weaving the Constitution. They ensured fundamental filtration of freedoms before their execution. Most of the pivotal rights which we’ve been guaranteed come with a set of riders and this was done intentionally so as to avoid confrontation. Freedom of Speech and Expression too comes along with a medley of riders or limitations. These riders include that the right of free speech shouldn’t be utilized to promote communal disharmony and hurt religious sentiments, shouldn’t go against public decency and morality, shouldn’t compromise the security and sovereignty of the state, must not affect friendly foreign relations with other countries and shouldn’t amount to contempt of court.

Amidst all this chaos, I failed to realize as to why was the Government being so heavily criticized for enforcing upon the constitution and the laws made therein. The argument that the government would use PCI as a tool to subvert media’s independence is flawed to core since there are already many such institutions whose role is that of a watchdog plus the PCI already has the print media under its ambit. It is merely asking for an institutional revival through strengthening of its arms and elongation of its purview. We now even have the proposal of establishing national judicial commissions which would look into the problems within the judiciary. I personally feel that this scepticism concerning government regulation on the media should be shunned as even the judiciary which has to have the highest amount of autonomy will now be scrutinized by the national judicial commission. The people who are opposing this move on account of absolutionsim in relation to free speech need to realize that absolute free speech is a utopian dream. The First Amendment to the United States’ Constitution quite clearly stated that the Congress would make no law which would abridge the Freedom of the Speech or of the Press but then too in the case of Schenck vs the United States in 1919, Justice Oliver Holmes Jr of the US Supreme Court held that speech which was dangerous and misleading could be curtailed. His judgment popularized the phrase ‘shouting fire in a crowded theatre’ (the actual phrase was falsely shouting fire in a crowded theatre) and is seen upon as the first permissible limitation on the First Amendment. On the basis of all these laws and past anecdotes, I personally hold the viewpoint that it is both constitutional and wise of the government to regulate the media.    

Bal Thackeray’s Death wont end His Politics of Hate

The Hindu Hriday Samrat of the Shiva Sena has surely perished but the divisive politics of regional and religious chauvinism which he bred and propounded for decades will undoubtedly be carried forth by the Shiv Sainiks in the times to come. My conscience and my commitment to secularism, equality and non discrimination as well as the allegiance which I have towards the Indian Constitution do not allow me to praise the now-dead tyrant.

It’s true that Bal Thackeray was a mass leader and his fierce oratorical skills were something which no leader in Maharashtra could compete with but the fact of the matter is that all radical leaders be it Adolf Hitler or Ayatollah Khomeini have always had the ability to pump in a kind of madness within the hearts and minds of their followers through an intensely provocative and controversial propaganda paradigm and this was the very art which Bal Thackeray had mastered. Bal Thackeray was one of the finest examples of the fascist brigade of the right wing in India. His politics was intrinsically drenched into supremacism, jingoism, xenophobia, regionalism and Islamophobia. In the 80’s, he appealed to the police to assist the Hindu Maha Sangh in saving the country from the Muslims whom he described as ‘cancerous’, during the 90’s his party was involved in the demolition of Babri Mosque and later on he was himself accused of inciting communal riots in Mumbai. In the same decade the Election Commission barred him from contesting elections but this did not deter Thackeray from spewing venomous propaganda and unleashing a massive hate campaign against Muslims and Non Maharashtrians.

Thackeray went to the extent of promoting Hindu terrorism and said that it was the only way to counter Muslim terrorism. He appealed for the formation of Hindu suicide bombing squads to save India and Hindus. His jingoism was displayed best when one of his party members dug up the pitch at Wankhede Stadium to prevent the Pakistani Cricket team from playing against India on Marathi soil. Through his party mouthpiece Saamna, he often attacked national jewels like Sachin Tendulkar and Abul Kalam. It was due to his stubborn leadership that Shiv Sainiks were regularly in the news for vandalizing and torching public property and the party cadre incessantly attacked youngsters on occasions like V-Day, media persons as well as migrants from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh whom the Shiv Sainiks saw as a burden on Mumbai and Maharashtra. Thackeray even led a very long campaign for changing the name of the city which he ruled through terror and intimidation. For him, the word Bombay was inappropriate as it was a Portuguese invention. Bal Thackeray maintained a love-hate relationship with the Indian Film industry. As he was a propagandist, he used film stars to his benefit by attacking them when necessary and praising them when required. Publically, he staunchly criticized the dynasty politics of the Gandhi’s but his hypocrisy was clearly brought forth when his evident nepotism towards his son Uddhav led to Raj Thackeray’s parting of ways from the Shiv Sena. I consider myself an agnostic theist but as a whole I am a believer and I strongly feel that if there is a God then Bal Thackeray would have to do a lot of explaining to him if he is to attain heaven. I am firm in my belief that such tainted leaders should not be granted the grand honour of a state funeral because in such circumstances, people like Thackeray end up as heroes and are lionized and immortalized in popular folklore which serves as a sort of endorsement of their racialistic ideology. People might consider this write-up of mine to be a bit uncharitable to the now deceased soul but I can only say that there can be no objectivity between secularism and fascism.

Has the failure of the 2G Spectrum laid to rest all the controversy?

The 2G spectrum auction might have ended up as a failure but the government’s stand on the issue is far from being vindicated. Firstly, the failure of the auction has definitely dampened the notional loss figure of the CAG which pegged the amount at Rs 1,76,000 crore but there has been a significant development to make note of as 22 licenses which were recently auctioned via bidding fetched the public exchequer a total of Rs 9,400 crore whereas earlier, all the 122 licenses which were allocated through first come, first serve basis fetched the government only Rs 9,200 crore.

Secondly, the controversy is far from being laid to rest as many of the curative petitions of those firms who played by the rules during the earlier held allocation process are still lying with the Supreme Court and the apex court is yet to adjudicate on the matter. It’s very much possible that those firms might have intentionally stayed away from the bidding process as they expect the Supreme Court to provide them with relief. It’ll be interesting to observe the moves of these firms in case the Supreme Court rejects their curative petitions. Will they then jump in the bidding fray or will they abstain?

Thirdly, in the case of the review petition filed by the Government, although the Supreme Court had ruled that auctioning wasn’t the sole possible way of selling scarce public resources but then we still don’t have a very precise and clear cut idea as to what constitutes larger public gain in such matters. We still need to ponder over what is of more value to us. Is public welfare subservient to revenue maximization or it’s the other way round. Fourthly and most importantly, the fact of the matter is that in this particular case we can only go by notional articulations and analogies. A lot of time has went by and it’s nearly impossible to predict as to how would the firms have reacted had the 2G spectrum been auctioned instead of being allocated in the first place. In order to objectively access the government’s erstwhile policy of ‘first come, first serve’ we need to go back in time and evaluate the telecom sector’s performance since 2007 by scrutinizing the effect which the previous policy had on tele-density, customer services and industrial gain.