The sedition complaint against actor-politician Divya Spandana aka Ramya for a supposed pro-Pak remark is not only a great assault on liberty; it also tells us that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s sanctimoniousness and intolerance have touched the nadir. If you torment somebody for saying that “Pakistan is not hell, people there are like us,” you are little better than the most notorious jihadists in that country.
Ramya is mistaken. Pakistanis, or most of them, may or may not be like us, but their country is in deep trouble and living there is indeed a hellish experience for anybody who cherishes freedom, plurality, and peace. But whether or not it is hell is anyway beside the point; the issue here is simple: does Ramya, or anybody else, have the right to say she wants to say? After all, as George Orwell wrote, freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. That includes saying things which are factually incorrect, wrongly analyzed, offensive or even blasphemous to some people; the only restriction can be harm to others.
The BJP leaders who are railing against Ramya are actually a slur on their own party, as its founder president, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, fought a valiant but unsuccessful battle against the First Amendment to the Constitution, the Amendment that curtailed the right to the freedom of expression. I am quite sure, though, that these leaders are not even aware of this fact. So, the party’s Karnataka president Prahlad Joshi said, “The Congress party has been supporting anti-nationals for many years. They supported Yakub Memon and Afzal Guru, too. Ramya can go to Pakistan with her beloved leaders Rahul Gandhi and Digvijaya Singh.”
BJP state general secretary and legislator C.T. Ravi tweeted, “Those who believe that Pakistan is actually heaven should take next available flight to be warmly welcome by Terrorists, Rapists & Mullahs.”
Accusing somebody of treason just because they express the opinions BJP leaders don’t approve of smacks of crudeness, pettiness, and intolerance. What kind of mindset equates an entire political party traitorous for the odious views of some of its leaders? And which thesaurus informs BJP leaders that ‘not hell’ is synonymous with ‘heaven’? As Orwell enlightened us on another occasion, politics and language can corrupt each other.
Ramya has refused to be cowed down by the BJP’s intimidatory tactics. “I could easily say sorry but I need to stand by my statement,” she said. She issued a statement, saying, “The reason I had provoked the ire of self-proclaimed ‘nationalists’ in saffron was that I had disagreed with Defence Minister Parrikar’s pronouncement that going to Pakistan is akin to a visit to hell. I had just returned from a visit to Islamabad and can safely report that what I found was not hell but a country that is home to people just like us, who happen, sadly, to be ruled by a regime that does not inspire confidence.”
She also said that “what is needed is the building of enduring bridges with our neighbors that will pave the way to a better world and a better future.” Her view is incorrect but in a democracy one also has the right to hold wrong views.
It is also heartening to notice that her party, the Congress, has stood by her. It rightly pointed out that if the same yardstick is applied to all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and senior BJP leader L.K. Advani also face sedition charges; for all the three BJP worthies have expressed desire to have better ties with Pakistan.
Perhaps even uglier than the BJP’s jihad against liberty is its avowal of ostentatious nationalism—raucous sloganeering, pretentious chest-thumping, gaudy symbolism, incessantly talking about the glories of India. All this amid almost complete inaction to better the nation’s defence and security—no ‘surgical strikes’ at terror camps in Pakistan, no firm talk with China which keeps threatening us and hurting our interests, no police reforms to improve the law and order situation generally. As in economic policy, the emphasis here too is on incrementalism.
Maybe loud nationalism is just a ruse to cover up the lack of real action.
This also makes most BJP leaders look like fake nationalists. Those who love their country do not scream at the top of their lungs, they strive. Just as O.P. Jaisha did: deprived even of water by the officials sent by the great nationalist government to Rio, she did not stop till she finished the race; despite knowing that her endeavor won’t win her any medal, she risked her life. Lest her country’s name gets smeared, for not completing a race is considered ignominious.
Hers is real patriotism. One hopes that the BJP’s sanctimonious leaders learn a lesson from the Keralite athlete.