Licence to Chill

The BJP moves in mysterious ways to demonstrate its commitment to free speech.

By: Editorial | Updated: September 13, 2017 11:22 am
Rajnath Singh, Kashmir, rajnath Kashmir, welcome openess, modi, modi independence speech, indian express At a time when the party in power at the Centre is being closely watched internationally for attempts to curb individual freedoms, including the freedom of speech, this is a self-goal scored with two left feet.

Last week, BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya had sprung to the defence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faced opprobrium because his Twitter handle follows trolls who celebrated the murder of Gauri Lankesh. He had said that the PM does not unfollow or block anyone on social media, on account of his commitment to the freedom of speech. But that was last week. This week, the BJP has slapped a legal notice on the historian Ramachandra Guha for an opinion article and an interview on Lankesh’s murder.

At a time when the party in power at the Centre is being closely watched internationally for attempts to curb individual freedoms, including the freedom of speech, this is a self-goal scored with two left feet.

Tactically unwise, the charge is also without merit and surely cannot stand in court. Guha only drew attention to a “climate of hate and suspicion” that has developed under the watch of the ruling dispensation. Thousands of people have voiced the same concern, and the party would turn itself into a laughing stock if it were to go after all of them, as the notice has threatened to do.

Guha did not speculate on the agency of the RSS and BJP in the killing. On the contrary, he wrote that “freelancers” may have been responsible, “emboldened by politicians, ideologues and television anchors who demonise all critics of the ruling regime as anti-national”.

Those who drafted the notice may have been aware of this deficiency, for it includes a Plan B — the tired old whine about the hurt sentiments of thousands of members of these organisations. If the allegedly injured parties file suit in three days, as the notice threatens, the matter could linger in the courts for years, and then attract a negative verdict. However, the purpose would have been served, silencing a writer by taking up his time and distracting him from his calling.

Irrespective of the merits of the case, an attack on a writer of Guha’s stature would have a chilling effect on his fraternity. But the ruling party should know that the world will be watching, and that victory in a war of attrition launched on Guha can only be pyrrhic.

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