by Shruti Dhapola Jun 16, 2014 10:24 IST
The crackdown against those who use ‘misuse’ their freedom of speech against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues and in the latest case of arrests, it’s the state of Kerala again.
On Friday police on registered a case against the Principal and 11 students of the Sree Krishnan College at Guruvayur after its campus magazine was found to have used “objectionable and unsavoury” language against Modi, garbed in the guise of a cross-word puzzle, reports PTI.
According to TOI, 9 students were arrested on Sunday and later released on bail. The police is still trying to determine if the principal, staff advisor and a board member should also be arrested, adds the report. The students face a case under various IPC sections for concealing design to commit offence, wantonly giving provocation, punishment for defamation and printing matter known to be defamatory. So what was the offending clue? “The college magazine titled ‘Name’ had used Modi’s nickname ‘NaMo’ as a crossword clue with the purported solution ‘NAyeente MOn’ (s.. of a b….),” according to the report on TOI.
The students are members of SFI which is the student wing of the CPM and are also accused of defaming “Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, party MP Shashi Tharoor as well as spiritual leader Mata Amrithanandamayi.” It is not clear if it was just the anti-Modi ‘clue’ that sparked the arrests, or if smears against other leaders were also part of the cause. But the other parties have not protested or commented on the case as yet.
The Guruvyaur Sree Krishna temple managing committee, which runs the college, had sought an explanation from the principal in connection with the case, temple administration sources said. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its youth wing workers took out a protest march demanding action against the Principal, according to the PTI report.
The incident comes close on the heels of the arrest of the principal and six students of the Government polytechnic at Kunnamkulam. These students and the principal were arrested for adding PM Modi’s photograph in the college magazine under a list of “negative faces” along with Adolf Hitler, George W Bush, Osama bin Laden and, sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo V Prabhakaran and others. Police had charged them under various IPC sections for concealing design to commit offence, wantonly giving provocation, punishment for defamation and printing matter known to be defamatory.
Kerala police however isn’t the only one that has been acting with alarming quickness when it comes to arresting students who are suspected of posting anti-Modi content. In Karnataka, an MBA student Sayed Waqar from Bhatkal was arrested based on a complaint lodged in Belgaum district by RTI activist Jayant Mukund Tinaikar, who said he received an offensive message against Modi on 16 May on WhatsApp. The offending message: “A morphed picture showed the final rites of Modi being performed, attended by L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Baba Ramdev, Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi. It had a caption: Na Jeet Paye Jhooton Ka Sardar — Ab Ki Baar Antim Sanskar (A false leader will never win, this time it’s final rites).” Waqar was arrested under Section 505 of the IPC for issuing statements amounting to public mischief with intent to cause fear or alarm and Section 66 of the IT Act for sending offensive messages through communication service.
In Goa, police had booked a young shipping professional for a Facebook post which said that the Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi would start a holocaust in India. Devu Chodankar had written on a Facebook forum on Goa+, a popular forum with over 47,000 members, if elected to power, Modi would unleash a ‘holocaust’. He deleted his post subsequently. However, justifying his post subsequently on another popular local Facebook forum, Goa Speaks, Chodankar while apologising for his choice of words had stood by the sum of his argument, calling it his crusade against the “tyranny of fascists”.
In the Goa case, the police has “filed an FIR under Section 153(A), 295(A) of the IPC, besides Section 125 of the Representation of People Act and Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act,” and some sections are non-bailable. The police “told the court that Chodankar’s custody was being sought as his interrogation was ‘essential’ to find out if there was a greater conspiracy behind the posts,” say a Times of India report. On 15 May, the UP police arrested Amaresh Mishra, who wrote the script for the Saif Ali Khan-starrer Bullett Raja, from his Gurgaon residence for posting messages on his Twitter account (the account was closed later) for threatening to shoot Modi dead. The prompt action involved sending a seven-member team to arrest him.
The alacrity with which police is acting against those who are seen as being critical of the current Prime Minister is unnerving at many levels. To argue that there is a deeper conspiracy behind every anti-Modi message sounds hilarious and over-stretched but it is also worrisome given that many sections of the law are unclear on what could be deemed offensive. They also confirm the fear that any kind of dissent or criticism of the Modi government won’t be tolerated at all. And yes, the double standard of these arrest that can’t be ignored. While police is quick to arrest individuals who are seen as overtly critical of the PM, as the Pune techie murder case reveals they did nothing about anti-Shivaji, Bal Thackeray posts on Facebook, WhatsApp that went viral and actually caused a riot. It was only after the riots took place that the page was shut down and even now the police can’t determine who posted them since they used servers from different countries.
In this case, it was a well-planned conspiracy and the police had no clue. While there’s no denying that some of the anti-Modi messages were extreme in the kind of language that was used, the kind of invective that has been and continues to be poured on the Gandhi family, notably Sonia and Rahul, and Manmohan Singh is no less hateful. BJP member Subramanian Swamy has made a career out of inventing new insults for Sonia and Rahul, and these are mild in comparison to the works employed by the average commenter. No one is arguing that Modi is personally involved in the crackdown, but he has certainly inspired it. As the Times of India notes, there is now a clear pattern establishing a dangerously low threshold of offence for the new Prime Minister, irrespective of which party rules the state.
A growing sense that when it comes to Modi, citizens have to exercise far greater caution and self-restraint; all of which adds fuel to the fears about his allegedly authoritarian streak. “The real challenge for the Prime Minister, who is showing all signs of being a statesman, is how he tames communal forces. Moreover, it is time everyone realised that criticism of India’s policies, its past or its politicians isn’t equal to being anti-national,” Aqsa Agha, a PhD student of history in JNU told TOI.
If the new government were to condone or, worse, escalate the anti-free speech policies of the UPA – most notoriously under Kapil Sibal – that realisation may be indefinitely postponed.