How hypocritical a politician can get? In India, there are no limits—certainly not for Congress leader and former Union minister P. Chidambaram. The guy who was a key player in the evil regime of Sonia Gandhi, who did everything in his capacity to implement her nefarious policies, whose government suppressed free speech—that guy is not waxing eloquent about “the essence of liberty”! Hafiz Saeed preaching Gandhian values would sound more creditable.
In a column in The Indian Express, he wrote (October 16), “Criticism—and questions—will enrich public debate. It is the essence of liberty. The events that will unfold in the weeks and months to come may prove the critic to be right or to be wrong. Even if he is proven wrong, the critic is not unpatriotic or anti-national.”
One would have expected such remarks from a great champion of freedom of expression. But Chidambaram was part of the government that introduced the draconian Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the Section was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, saying that it had a chilling effect on free speech.
Such is his duplicity that he also welcomed the scrapping of the notorious provision! In a statement, he said, “The Section was poorly drafted and was vulnerable. It was capable of being misused and, in fact, it was misused.”
Further, he said, “There could be a case of misuse of the freedom of speech. In such cases, the ordinary laws should apply and the offender should be dealt with under those laws…. If some provisions of the law have to be strengthened, that could be considered.… But Section 66A was not the answer.”
But Chidambaram, a top lawyer, needed the apex court to enlighten him about misuse. As a member of the cabinet that cleared the Section, he did not realize that it “was poorly drafted and was vulnerable”! While he was a minister, misuse didn’t bother him, for his family was a beneficiary of the misuse.
Ravi Srinivasan, a 46-year-old many running a packaging business in Pondicherry, became the first person in India to be arrested for a tweet against Chidambaram’s son, Karti Chidambaram, in November 2012. Srinivasan had tweeted that Karti had “amassed more wealth than Vadra.”
Karti responded with a police complaint. He later tweeted: “Free speech is subject to reasonable restrictions. I have a right to seek constitutional/legal remedies over defamatory/scurrilous tweets.”
Evidently, till that time it hadn’t occurred to Chidambaram Sr that “the ordinary laws should apply” to the matters related to defamatory and scurrilous tweets.
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai E. Stevenson once said, “A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.”
Chidambaram fits the bill perfectly: his government introduces a provision that suppresses free speech, he benefits from the provision, and then exalts liberty. As he did while concluding his article, “I am afraid that there are too many people out there—in political parties, in governments, in the media, in the social media—who seem determined to kill the voice of liberty.”
You are among those “too many people,” Mr. Chidambaram.