Hate speech is not free speech

Delhi Jan 29, 2020, 02.34 PM(IST) Written By: Kartikeya Sharma

Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma Photograph:( ANI )

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The right to defend one’s idea should not end up vilifying the other community.

Hate speech is not free speech and the right to defend one’s idea should not end up vilifying the other community. The statements which came from Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur and Delhi MP Jag Parvesh Chandra were a classic example of hate speech for the electoral end. 

The only thing that happened was that both of them were dropped from campaigning in Delhi following the order of the Election Commission of India (ECI ) as star campaigners of the BJP.

Parvesh Chandra othered Muslims and accused them as predatory whereas Anurag Thakur allowed people to chant 'death to traitors'. Both of them indulged in hate speech which portrayed minorities as anti-national and unreliable.

These steps are cosmetic and do not hide the basic thinking within the party which is premised around othering Muslims and marking protests as illegitimate. This ugliness further draws strength from Leftist response which has failed to absorb resurgence of nationalism in daily life. It ends up vilifying institutions like the Army or the state in general. 

Such politics pushes people to take a stand on silly controversies which are not related to bread and butter issues. The silence of senior BJP leaders on such issues is a repetition of the narrative leading to the demolition of Babri Mosque. The seniors remained silent on verbal poison while junior leaders lampooned anything and anyone they liked. The progression of this politics has happened with the marriage of idea of aggressive Hinduism with liberal use of sedition laws.

A school in Karnataka has recently been booked under sedition laws by the BJP state government because the play enacted by the students portrayed Narendra Modi in a bad light. Question is, since when it has become a crime in the country to charge a politician? Wasn’t’ Rajiv Gandhi accused of corruption? Wasn’t Nehru accused of dereliction of duty after losing war with China? Wasn’t Narasimha Rao blamed for the demolition of Babri Masjid? Wasn’t Vajpayee blamed for disastrous Kargil and Kandahar episode and not to forget inaction during Gujarat riots? Wasn’t Advani blamed for Parliament attack? Wasn’t Manmohan Singh vilified and attacked after tragic Mumbai terror attack? All these leaders were attacked and abused personally but not once anyone thought at that point of time that one may get booked under the sedition law for attacking the leadership of the country.

Ironically, it is being argued that since it works for the BJP electorally, it is good to go. Like Shamshan and Kabristan worked for BJP in 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The debate does not address the issue of right and wrong in politics but what works or not. This approach can work in short-run, but will have disastrous consequences in long.

It has emboldened people to break codes of decency in public life and made it cool for people at large to talk in terms of communities which is so tragic because the first Lok Sabha election was fought against the very issues. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru campaigned on the issue of secularism and spoke against regionalism, linguistic politics, casteism and communalism. It was perhaps the only election which was fought on the vision of Constitution drafted by the founding father of the young nation.

 After 70 years, India continues to wrestle with the idea of nationhood. It has become so contested that it has started to tear India’s social fabric apart. It's time that the vision of the Constitution is not sacrificed at the altar of electoral politics. BJP’s othering of Muslims for an electoral reason and hard Left’s irresponsible response on cultural and religious issues has torn India’s Centre apart. It is forcing people to take sides on stupid issues. It is pushing the boundary of civil conduct in public life. The politics is getting subservient to the social media echo chamber and it has started to impact the Indian economy too.

It cannot be expected of BJP to arrest othering of 18 crore people in India. Party is too trapped in the logic of electoral politics to create a new consensus. Congress is to adrift and still ideologically unclear on basic issues of economy and cultural politics.

The balance must be regained by the civil society itself which has acquired the capacity to create public opinion. The public cannot be held hostage to hate speech in the name of free speech which is vitiating political discourse on a daily basis.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)