Reverse Swing: My ‘anti-national’ brother

A respected journalist is gagged by goons on a university campus.

Written by Tunku Varadarajan | Updated: January 24, 2016 8:46 am
Journalist siddharth Varadarajan Journalist siddharth Varadarajan

How free is India? The country boasts of its democracy, often with reason. India’s record of regular elections is enviable, especially when one considers its political and linguistic diversity, the size of its population, and its shameful levels of education. We can all agree that the country gets the formal mechanics of democracy right — against heavy odds.

What India tends to get wrong — sometimes horribly so — are the organic details of democracy, the questions of individual choice and freedom, of tolerance and non-violent co-existence, that separate truly democratic societies from those that fall short. Freedom of speech has never been India’s forte. Public expression is often silenced by groups that disagree with its content and threaten violence in response. They do so secure in the belief that the State will usually hustle the speaker off the podium (literally or metaphorically) to maintain public order, rather than corral and castigate the disruptors of speech.

Also read: Threats to journalist an attack on freedom of expression: Editors Guild

In India, the mob has a veto on speech; and an example of this veto occurred on January 20 at Allahabad University, when bully-boys from the ABVP — the Baby-BJP on campus — forced the cancellation of a speech by my brother, Siddharth Varadarajan, on ‘Democracy, Media and Freedom of Expression’. (Siddharth, editor of The Hindu before being ousted in a squalid internal putsch, is now founding editor of The Wire.)

It’s hard not to chuckle over the irony of a lecture on free speech being silenced by unruly dissenters. One chuckles, also, over the ABVP leaders’ descriptions of leftist Siddharth as ‘anti-national’ and ‘communal’ — the latter because of its incongruity, given the saffron source of the utterance; and the former because of the bizarre phenomenon of hyper-nationalist student protests. Whatever happened to the days when idealistic kids protested against nationalism, not at its behest?

The ABVP’s actions are part of an unlovely trend in which anyone who’s not inclined to paint the rosiest picture of India is deemed unpatriotic. Witness the ideological lynching of Aamir Khan recently, when the actor had the temerity to suggest that all isn’t perfect in this Motherland of ours.

Siddharth had been invited to speak by the Allahabad University Student Union, and while on campus, he was forced to seek shelter in the vice-chancellor’s office for 30 minutes while an ABVP mob raged outside. The Baby BJP-ers weren’t there to debate: “We had planned to paint the faces of Varadarajan and the event organisers and throw shoes and eggs at them. But we decided against it because a physical attack would have given them more publicity. We gheraoed the V-C’s office,” said ABVP vice-president Vikrant Singh, unembarrassed, to this newspaper.
Also read: ABVP gheraos V-C’s office, cops escort journalist Siddharth Varadarajan out of Allahabad University campus

“I was taken aback,” Siddharth told me, “when the thick-set mustachioed university security guards implored me not to try to leave the V-C’s office by myself, saying the ABVP guys are capable of anything — ‘Kuchh bhi kar sakte hain’ —and that they would not be able to guarantee my safety.” So he was a hostage.

There is another irony here, as Siddharth points out to me. Arun Jaitley, India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister, is a former ABVP leader. “I am surprised,” Siddharth said, “at his silence over the hounding of a journalist, an editor — someone he used to have no hesitation calling when he was in the Opposition in order to understand arguments I was making, for example, on the need for a tougher nuclear liability law.”

I await Mr Jaitley’s response — as Information Minister — and his reaction to the mob-censorship of his erstwhile student party.

The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He tweets @tunkuv

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  1. J
    Jai Kumar
    Jan 24, 2016 at 6:27 pm
    As much as I know all student parties have never allowed free speech, so what is new.
    Reply
    1. A
      Aap
      Jan 24, 2016 at 5:16 am
      Freedom of speech doesn't mean you abuse anyone or any culture. It is infact misjudgment of consequences for a cheap publicity hidden behind so called freedom of expression.
      Reply
      1. B
        Bhartiya
        Jan 24, 2016 at 4:13 pm
        Are u a paedophile like Moh Mad ? No then ur religion is gone. World has started to pound it and we will do it here. Go and remember paedophile
        Reply
        1. B
          Bhartiya
          Jan 24, 2016 at 4:24 am
          How come Bha dva brothers claim journalism? And to add icing over it, Mad arc h0d brother claim patriotism. Then they sure have family culture of being pi MP of their family females. Till such people don't get their due joota thappad and laat, they will vomit lies Thye got from their mothers womb
          Reply
          1. G
            Gnani
            Jan 24, 2016 at 9:15 am
            Reject all pseudo secular journalists who really serve for the Con Party and Italian mafia, and spread venom against the democratically elected government. Did this newspaper carry any story in the same style when Yoga Guru Ram Dev was heckled by JNU left wing supporting students, when he was invited for a talk at the University?
            Reply
            1. B
              Butcher.bugger.Modi
              Jan 24, 2016 at 11:52 am
              All Brahmin Varmints Parishad(ABVP) goons will change their religion if situation demands. First the bugger Modi should be ousted.
              Reply
              1. K
                KrishnaBhagawan
                Jan 24, 2016 at 10:20 am
                " " " " " metro.co.uk/2015/11/13/modinotwelcome-heres-why-brits-are-not-happy-about-the-indian-pm-being-in-the-uk-5497995/ "
                Reply
                1. K
                  KrishnaBhagawan
                  Jan 24, 2016 at 10:18 am
                  " " " " " "
                  Reply
                  1. T
                    TIHAEwale
                    Jan 24, 2016 at 2:50 pm
                    Arun Jaitley cannot stand for justice as we have seen his role as DDCA President when he silently endorsed the illegalities of Srini, LaMo, Sharad , Shashank and other swindlers
                    Reply
                    1. I
                      It
                      Jan 24, 2016 at 11:55 am
                      Arun Jaitely STOLE MONEY FROM DDCA AND USEDVTHAT FOR TERRIR ACTIVITUES IF ABVP. ARREST ARUN JAITELY FOR INSTIGATING TERRORISM!! ARUN JAITELY IS ANOTHER STATE TERRORIST!
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        K SHESHU
                        Jan 24, 2016 at 6:45 am
                        Same journalists, when euologise the government for its policies -whether good or bad - will be received with highest honours. As long as a journalist is a lobbist to the Centre or State, he is trouble-free, but when he starts questioning the unforeseen troubles surround him.
                        Reply
                        1. K
                          Krishna
                          Jan 24, 2016 at 5:36 am
                          Siddharth Varadarajan is a serial offender and his activities have been conflicting th National interests if not blatantly anti national... Time has come to revisit the freedom of expression bcz it has been repeatedly used by some to hide behind for their self interests
                          Reply
                          1. A
                            akash
                            Mar 30, 2016 at 6:15 pm
                            If they did, you would be supporting them too. Lets face it, folks like you are why the Mughals and orted m murders committed so many crimes and have been whitewashed. People like Tunku and his brother are hypocrites who engage in historical negationism of the worst kind and pick merely on Hindus egged on by folks like you, who have made a mockery out of secularism and even ensured that centrists like me are disgusted with the state of affairs.
                            Reply
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                              akash
                              Mar 30, 2016 at 6:20 pm
                              Typical hinduphobic caste baiting from the usual "secular peaceful" folks.. next, we saw what happened in Brussels too.. your lot are exposing yourselves.
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                akash
                                Mar 30, 2016 at 6:18 pm
                                Why waste time on the blinkered hinduphobic views of leftists like you who engage in non stop hate speech against hindus.
                                Reply
                                1. A
                                  akash
                                  Mar 30, 2016 at 6:19 pm
                                  Yeah, yeah we see how leftists like you reacted after the JNU saga. You hid beneath your beds. And anyhow your lot are murdering people as Maoists. 75% of India loathes your lot and more and more are seeing through it. Communism will vanish from India and so will the left.
                                  Reply
                                  1. A
                                    akash
                                    Mar 30, 2016 at 6:17 pm
                                    You don't speak for all of India either. And its best you emigrate to stan before threatening others over their political ideology.
                                    Reply
                                    1. A
                                      anirudh
                                      Jan 24, 2016 at 2:41 pm
                                      I am secular I hate ABVP goons and their ideology I do not agree with their views They are moral criminals They are misguided youth who even don't know what they are saying.They often loose in discussions and resort to violence Need of the hour is to just condemn their rhetorics and give answers in their language ,no other option is left because this government will appease them
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                                        Arindam Chakrabarty
                                        Jan 24, 2016 at 4:08 am
                                        Tunkus whining about FOE seems tad hypocritical when we know that Leftist are master at hounding of their opponent without caring two hoots their FOE. Recent examples is the sustained campaign by these torch bearers of double standards : 1 uninviting of Modi at Harvard in 2013 2 not allowing Swami to speak in Cambridge in 2014 3 Traitor like begging to Obama to deny USA visa to Modi There are countless other examples of stifling of democratic rights eg terror campaign in West Bengal from 1980 to 2005 by CPM govt. Compared to above what Vardarajan experienced is nothing.
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                                          Ashutosh
                                          Jan 24, 2016 at 2:04 pm
                                          What I learned from SECULAR politics - 1 - Terror has no religion but Suicide has caste. 2- Gaza is in India but Kashmir is on Neptune. 3- Bull sport is Animal cruelty but slaughtering is Freedom.
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                                            Anand Sunkanpally
                                            Jan 25, 2016 at 2:27 am
                                            Debate "Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate." ~Hubert Humphrey "It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it." ~Joseph Joubert "For in the absence of debate unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion. By a kind of Greshams law the more rational is overcome by the less rational, and the opinions that will prevail will be those which are held most ardently by those with the most pionate will. For that reason the freedom to speak can never be maintained merely by objecting to interference with the liberty of the press, of printing, of broadcasting, of the screen. It can be maintained only by promoting debate." ~Walter Lippmann ...Keeping available information hidden is an element of fascism in my view (if you really want to bring Mr. Hitler into the equation)"...
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