Political Illiberalism in India – From Restaurant Bill to Amartya Sen’s Comment


BJP MP Chandan Mitra suggested stripping Amartya Sen of his Bharat Ratna after the latter criticized Narendra Modi. (Outlook India)

The essence of a democratic society lies in its ability of accommodating dissent. But the entire political class in India has developed such a politically illiberal and intolerant style of functioning that it has become impossible for them to bear with criticism. Even constructive opinions given by party insiders with the intention of helping the political outfit are viewed as signs of a possible coup or revolt. In such a scenario, the only thing which reigns supreme is party line coupled with parliamentary whips. The recent controversies involving a restaurant bill printed by a popular eatery in Mumbai and reactions to Amarta Sen’s comments about Narendra Modi have only indicated strengthening of political bigotry in India.

This week about 30-35 workers of Congress’s youth wing attacked and forced the shutting down of an eatery in Mumbai. The reason why the eatery attracted such wrath from the Congress party was because of the presence of a message critical of the UPA government on the eatery’s printed bill receipt. The message read, “As per UPA Government, eating money (2G, Coal, CWG Scam) is a necessity and eating food in an AC restaurant a luxury.” If Congress men considered the message to be defamatory, they could have got legal reprisal by taking the matter to court. No party or institution can take the law in its hands. Goons who function as party workers cannot enforce upon closure of shops by means of brute strength. If such a thing happens then it only exposes the gangster-like fascist tendencies of a family party where various sycophants vie with one another to charm the first family by clamping down on anything which may annoy their leaders.

Similarly, the Bhartiya Janata Party’s Chandan Mitra exhibited the worst form of political bigotry when he suggested that the next NDA Government should strip Amartya Sen of his Bharat Ratna. Mitra’s comments on Twitter were in retaliation to Amartya Sen’s observations about BJP’s poster boy Narendra Modi. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen recently stated that he did not wish to see Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister since he had not done enough to make the minorities feel secure in his state. Sen also disapproved of Modi’s model of development by citing the dismal performance of Gujarat on social indicators despite its corporate friendly environment and infrastructural progress. By suggesting something as radical as Mitra did, is the BJP trying to tell all the intellectuals and academicians that their opposition to Narendra Modi would lead to them being stripped off of all their honours and achievements. Vajpayee’s NDA did not bestow any favour upon Amrtya Sen by awarding him the Bharat Ratna. It was his hard work which earned him this title. Being a true gentleman, Amartya Sen has even offered to return the Bharat Ratna if Vajpayee asks him to do so. This needless controversy has pitted Chandan Mitra in the league of those whom CNN-IBN anchor Sagarika Ghose called “Internet Hindus”, a group of intellectually corrupt Hindutva fascists whose shameless activism is best visible when they go on abusing anyone and everyone who comes in the way of Modi, Hindutva and BJP.

Political intolerance isn’t relegated to the top two national parties in India. Regional satraps and regional parties also have a similar attitude. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused a college student of being a Maoist and walked out of a television talk show when she was asked about a barbaric rape incident in Bengal. Samajwadi Party disowned its leader Shahid Siddiqui after his interview of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was published in a leading Urdu newspaper. SP went to the extent of stating that he was not even a party-man, a contention which Shahid Siddiqui labelled as a “joke” since he claimed that he joined the SP in the presence of party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party also expelled its MP Vijay Bahadur Singh from the party after its leader openly defended Narendra Modi’s controversial remarks.

This kind of rigidity and stiffness would be more suitable to a dictatorial society than a democratic one. Intra-party democracy and the liberty to criticise one’s own party are as essential in a democracy as the rule of law is. Those parties who muzzle upon dissent and silence opposition by means of goonda-ism do not possess the right to call themselves public representatives. After all, democracy is all about disagreeing without being in disagreement.


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