Arun Jaitley, perhaps one of the sharpest people in the BJP, seems to have developed selective amnesia. On Tuesday, he tweeted about the autocratic, dictator-like qualities of Mamata Banerjee, whose party members had a BJP worker arrested in Bengal for putting up a morphed image of Banerjee.
Many people were upset over Priyanka Sharma’s arrest, like Arun Jaitley, because they claimed it was an attack on the freedom of expression. Frankly, I’m torn about how to feel about this situation since my face has also been superimposed on bikini-clad women. It doesn’t feel good. People should acknowledge that morphing images of a person is not just humour. It is, in fact, a legitimate form of shaming and bullying someone. How does one ascertain how much and what kind of “expressing” comes under freedom of expression and at what point does it cross over to cyberbullying and outraging a person’s modesty?
But we’re not discussing that today. We are discussing Arun Jaitley’s bouts of forgetfulness.
Behind the bar
Arun Jaitley was quick to call out Mamata Banerjee for not being able to have a good laugh at herself in that Mad Hatter-ish outfit.
Considering Arun Jaitley’s deep desire to safeguard the humour, wit and sarcasm in India’s political discourse, which frankly is at an all-time low, I think it’s a good time to show why no one is finding anything funny these days.
Two years ago, a 23-year-old man was arrested in Uttar Pradesh because he shared the picture of an Adityanath-lookalike, which was anyway circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp. The picture wasn’t even created by him but he spent 42 days in jail for it. Where is the ‘grow a funny bone’ advice for your own party, Arun Jaitley? It’s also not a mere coincidence that this man’s name was Rahat Khan.
Similarly, a 16-year-old boy in Meerut couldn’t help but post on Facebook that he did not like Atal Bihari Vajpayee because of his role in the Babri Masjid demolition. He wrote this on the day Vajpayee died. Three days later, 15 policemen came to arrest him at 3 am in the morning. A day after that, the boy surrendered.
Congratulations are due to the BJP dispensation for pursuing such “hardened criminals” with a battery of cops but somehow running short of police back-up when inspector Subodh Kumar went to manage a frantic and murderous mob baying for blood in the name of gauraksha.
It’s also not a surprise that this 16-year-old boy’s name was Aleem Ahmad and he and his family are now called “gaddar” in their village. The entire fear psychosis of “Bharat Tere Tukde Honge” that Arun Jaitley has also talked about actually begins like this.
What’s laughable is that a man called Arif Malik of Saharanpur was arrested for criticising Atal Bihari Vajpayee who he had not even named in his Facebook post. What should have left Arun Jaitley in splits is that Malik’s friends: Arif, Rihan, Hasnain, Ali, Anees also had FIRs lodged against them for commenting and agreeing with his post.
While an educated man like Arun Jaitley should focus on teaching young India on how to ask significant questions to their political representatives, a 19-year-old boy – Zakir Ali Tyagi – from Muzaffarnagar was arrested because he asked Adityanath about the 28 criminal cases against the Uttar Pradesh chief minister in a Facebook post, that too because Adityanath, soon after becoming the CM, had claimed that he will end the ‘Goonda Raj’ in UP.
Humour in an autocracy
What’s telling is that in most of these cases, these young men were arrested under sections like sedition (Section 124A) as well as deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings (Section 295A). Since when did discussing politicians become the same thing as inciting religious feelings? Criticising a politician by no way means criticising the nation. Gone are the days when India was Indira and Indira was India. Neither Narendra Modi nor Adityanath is “India”.
Jaitley also needs to introspect on how the BJP has different yardsticks for measuring the same situations. For example, Nirmala Sitharaman is of the opinion that Nathuram Godse was an assassin and not a terrorist. So, is it just a question of the number of people you kill and not the ideology of hate?
They point out that the opposition is stooping low by calling PM Modi ‘chor’ but will not toe the line of ‘sabhyata’ and ‘sanskaar’ when party members call leaders like Mayawati “worse than a eunuch” or call Sonia Gandhi a “jersey cow” or “vishkanya”. For this very “chor” meme, an FIR has been lodged against Divya Spandana. Why didn’t anyone from the BJP have a ‘sense of humour’ then?
Intolerance towards accepting criticism and an obsession with criticising others has made political stalwarts look like hypocrites in the eyes of young India.
When a young 18-year-old boy, S. Thirumurugan of Tamil Nadu, was arrested for defending the movie Mersal that criticised PM Modi’s GST, do you really think that the youth will take the BJP’s call for freedom of expression seriously? The party alienates the very young voters who it had invited to be a part of Digital India. No one is spared. Not even a Modi supporter like Krishna Sanna Thamma Naik, an auto-rickshaw driver from Karnataka. Naik was arrested because a member of a WhatsApp group he created shared a morphed picture of PM Modi. He disagrees with the morphed picture, but still asks why was he arrested and not those who shared or created it?
Doling out advice is easy. However, practicing what you preach is tough.
The BJP has ensured that “humour”, “wit” and “sarcasm”, when aimed at them, are put behind bars. Indeed, these qualities have no place in autocracies.
The author is a political observer and writer.