For the nth time, in its reaction to the petition challenging criminal defamation, the Bharatiya Janata Party has proved that it is the saffron version of the Congress. Ironically, the petition was filed by senior party leader Subramanian Swamy, who is trying to smash the chains make by Gandhi, Nehru & Co. in the last 100 years.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have joined forces with Swamy, though the intentions of these two are doubtful. In the case of Rahul, it is a strange situation: prominent lawyer and pro-Congress Parliamentarian K.T.S. Tulsi stands for status quo, which is consistent with the grand old party’s illiberal stand. The strangeness arises from Rahul’s position in his party; he practically owns the party because of his pedigree, while few in the BJP heed to Swamy. As for Kejriwal, nobody knows what he stands for, thanks to his egregious mendacity.
We should also never lose sight of the fact that both Rahul and Kejriwal have fought against liberty. Rahul’s sidekick, Meenakshi Natarajan, in 2012 tried to muzzle the media by introducing a private member’s Bill; it was withdrawn only because of the hue and cry made by vigilant journalists. And two months ago, Kejriwal instructed his officials to sue media houses for reporting anything that damaged his reputation. Whatever the intentions of Rahul and Kejriwal, though, their inclusion in the petition is indeed a welcome development.
What is unwelcome, indeed shameless, is the BJP’s stand in the court. The government has told the Supreme Court that criminal defamation should continue as the defamer in our country may be too poor to compensate the victim. This is a new use of poverty: hitherto it has been used by our political masters to increase the size and scope of state and, therefore, their own powers; now they want to use poverty to continue a niggardly legal provision to keep people of India in shackles. Does the government want to punish the poor lest they get uppity?
“The government said that since there was no mechanism to censor the Internet from within, online defamation could only be adequately countered by retaining defamation as a criminal offence. A person would be charged with criminal defamation only if his speech had no social utility or added nothing to the value of public discourse and debate,” The Hindu reported on July 13.
How they long for Section 66A! And it is the same dispensation that focuses so much on Digital India, social media, et al. The same dispensation prides itself on the ancient Hindu ethos and traditions but actually has no regard for the national motto, Satyameva Jayate (Truth Alone Triumphs), which was taken from the ancient Hindu scripture Mundaka Upanishad. For truth is not a defence in criminal defamation; as per the provisions of Section 499, the accused has not only to prove that whatever they said was true but also that what he said was “for the public good.”
As Swamy pointed out in the court, “Truth is not a complete defence [in criminal defamation]… In a country which has Satyameva Jayate as its motto, this is ironic.”
Ironic and tragic.