Updated: July 5, 2019 12:22:06 am
The allegations of plagiarism against Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra with regard to her maiden speech in Parliament are puerile. Moitra’s speech is not a piece of literature or a research paper to which originality is sacrosanct. She made a political speech in which she used some arguments to establish a premise. That her arguments were borrowed neither weakens her premise nor delegitimises it.
For the uninitiated, Moitra mounted a spirited attack on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government in her speech in Parliament on June 25. She argued that fascism was on the rise in India under PM Modi’s reign and listed seven points to substantiate her argument.
It wasn’t the first time the Modi government was called fascist. It wasn’t the first time issues such as a rise in nationalism, an increase in hate crimes, subjugation of the media, and disdain for intellectuals were raised in Parliament. Yet, Moitra’s sharp articulation of these points along with her gutsy call — that her voice of dissent be defended against that of “professional hecklers” — inside Parliament, caught people’s attention.
Two days later, some eager beaver found a 2017 article published by the US-based Washington Monthly that cited a poster in the US Holocaust Museum that had listed 12 early signs of fascism in a country. Indeed, Moitra had picked seven of her points from this poster. Post this discovery, Moitra’s detractors went on a rampage, alleging her speech was plagiarised and called it an unprecedented incident in the history of Parliament.
While the allegations of plagiarism do seem like a desperate attempt to discredit a bright and young MP, who definitely stood out in the midst of a largely dull and weak Opposition, there is a fundamental problem with her speech.
There is nothing in Moitra’s entire oration that would seem out of place if it were to be repeated, as it is, in the West Bengal Assembly against her current political mentor and Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee.
From using the state’s entire administrative machinery as an extension of her party to perpetrating a culture of sub-nationalism, from complete intolerance to dissent to calls for extreme revenge against rivals, from attacks on artists and cultural organisations to sustained political violence, the numerous chit fund scams, and, Banerjee’s alleged patronage to those behind the scams — all these would qualify as signs of fascism, as listed in the poster in the Holocaust Museum that Moitra took inspiration from for her speech.
The most ironic among these was Moitra’s forceful accusation with regard to the subjugation or the controlling of mass media by “one man”, a reference to Modi, in the country. She comes from a state that can be a textbook case in how the media is used to serve politics. The Rose Valley and Saradha scams in West Bengal, which have financial fraud and diverse news businesses at their core, are instances of a dangerous nexus between corporate power, media and the state.
It is the stark similarities — between what Moitra described as the signs of fascism in Modi’s India and Banerjee’s West Bengal — that make her speech puzzling and beg the question: Why would Moitra let out a war cry against Modi’s fascism and remain a flag bearer of Banerjee’s brand of politics when, inherently, the two are the same?
It is her selective condemnation that makes her speech dishonest and hurts the spirit of dissent she invoked in Parliament. Raising dissent when convenient is unprincipled opportunism.
Also, it can’t be her case that only the robber with the bigger heist be hanged. If robbery is a crime, then big or small don’t matter.
Moitra, however, was unerring in claiming the space the Opposition has got inside the current Parliament. To borrow her words, the totality of the mandate the BJP has in the House does demand that the Opposition’s right to speak and be heard are unconditionally defended.
At the same time, the Opposition needs more than well-structured speeches to defend its space. A professionally brilliant speech invoking ideal political principles might tug at the mind-strings of those who get easily taken in by attributes such as clear articulation and a polished persona — add to that, impeccable English. But it won’t cut ice with those whose world is more real and removed from ideal philosophies.
If Parliament is not a space for professional hecklers, it shouldn’t become a refuge for professional orators either.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist
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