I haven’t read any book by Chetan Bhagat for the simple reason that no one has gifted me any of his books. I have no intention of buying one either. Well, I’ve made my “position” on the issue clear and I doubt I would bother reading highly intellectual stuff. That should satisfy Arnab Goswami. “You are either with this absurdity that is going on or against it”. What’s your position? That is the challenge Justice Arnab throws up to panelists over the Salman Rushdie issue and many other issues. (What is really wrong with this man?) Somewhere in the middle of Arnab’s 90 minute Newshour (January 23) on TimesNow Chetan Bhagat asked the most important question on the show: “Why are lunatics on the Newshour"? Arnab quickly responded by stating there are no lunatics on the Newshour, just honourable men and women. Er.. with the exception of one. And that is Arnab himself. To call him a moderator of debates would be exceptionally charitable. He out-screams and shuts out every panellist, his arms fly all over and the number of times he asks someone to “take a position” I wonder if he wouldn’t be better off discussing the Kama Sutra instead of the Rushdie issue. It’s hard to blame Arnab alone for being the lunatic. He is one among many loonies in the media. What Arnab does not appreciate is that the Govt of India has indeed taken a position on the issue; that of “lunatics”.
Here’s what the TOI writes in an editorial called “Stop the hate” about religious zealots in Kashmir: “For the past few weeks, a Christian priest and foreign NGOs have been targeted for seeking to persuade Muslim youth to give up their faith in return for liquor, women and money. One priest, Pastor Chander Mani Khanna, had to appear before a sharia court to defend himself against charges of proselytization ……The state government has remained on the sidelines when it should have ensured protection to the victims of the hate campaign”. That’s funny! Since when has concern for victims of hate been a priority for the Govt? Mind you, the piece talks about frivolous evidence and govt inaction but it doesn’t wonder why a sharia court is in operation in the first place. Forget govt protection against religious zealots, what is currently evident is that the govt itself is the zealot. Also, entities TOI refers to as ‘victims’ in Kashmir are happily practicing the same trade in many other states in India where Hindus instead of Muslims are their prey. It is just that other states do not have sharia courts yet.
From the time the Rushdie controversy erupted the centre and the Rajasthan govt have kept muslim passions played up and electoral points are scored in UP and elsewhere. As the final instalment in their plan they even cooked up stories of paid assassins out to kill Rushdie. The Mumbai police have even denied the existence of any such plot or assassins. Even if that were to be true one has to wonder why no suspects were rounded up in the face of such strong intelligence. Interestingly, dealing with the victim is what Rushdie explained in his letter to Rajiv Gandhi on his book being banned. Firstpost has reproduced that letter (excerpts):
“This really is astounding. It is as though, having identified an innocent person as a likely target for assault by muggers or rapists, you were to put that person in jail for protection. This is no way, Mr Gandhi, for a free society to behave ….. I deeply resent my book being used as a political football; what should matter to you more than my resentment is that you come out of this looking not only Philistine and anti-democratic but opportunistic.” Has anything changed since that time in 1988? Nothing! Instead, the zealots in the govt have only gotten worse in their opportunistic football.
In all of this the biggest and most evil misuse is that of the police force. It has become another football in the whole episode and will continue to be misused. Abhinav Kumar, apparently a very disturbed IPS officer, writes about the police tragedy thus in the DNA:
“What then accounts for this equally remarkable and consistent display of cowardice by our police forces? Speaking from some experience, all it would have taken for Rushdie to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival was for a senior police officer in Jaipur to reassure the organisers and Rushdie of their support and issue a stern warning to all those threatening violence and take suitable preventive measures. Instead, we are told the local police leaned on the organisers to ask Rushdie to stay away and allegedly backed it up by encouraging rumours of paid assassins being dispatched from Mumbai, something the Mumbai police denied. What is beyond doubt is that the top leadership of Rajasthan police preferred to stay silent and the forces of bigotry and obscurantism had a field day. Ask any senior officer and they have a stock answer. ‘Our first priority is to maintain law and order.’ Even if it means turning a blind eye to illegal behaviour by gangs of goons paying lip service to some extreme ideology on the right or left of the political spectrum, or promoting some bigoted vision of ethnic pride or religious hatred? What is the point of maintaining such law and order? Contrast this apathy with the alacrity with which the police will respond if one tries to shout slogans or show a black flag at a rally featuring any of our political bigwigs. Regarded as a major ‘breach of security’ and a grave professional lapse, the offender will be quickly rounded up and made to feel the full force of the law, often quite literally while the police officers on duty may well face disciplinary action for this ‘dereliction’ of duty”. Sure, along with the goons in govt and on TV, the police forces have also become lunatics.
As of now not only has Salman Rushdie withdrawn from the Jaipur Litfest but also the video conferencing has been called off by the organisers as the Rajasthan police once again feared a “law and order” situation. But for the mullahs in the govt opportunity always knocks twice. This time, American comedian Jay Leno is the focus of affection. Leno cracks some poor joke about the ‘Golden Temple’ being a summer house for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and our govt wants an apology from him. Comedians in the US lampoon every politician and every religion and the US First amendment protects their free speech. It’s nothing new. One can understand Sikhs protesting as a group but why does it need the govt to interfere? Well, in all the noise about Rushdie, Muslims and UP elections it is quite easy to forget there are elections in Punjab too and such an opportunity to stand up for Sikh sentiments is truly a gift for the govt.
As for the media, in the last stages of the Jaipur event they were mostly on stage giving political speeches. And why not? Most of their nightly debates are laced with their own political persuasions and theatre rather than any concern for real issues. Rajdeep Sardesai tweets: “Sikhs target Jay Leno, Hindus Husain, Muslims Rushdie. Guess we are 'sensitive' people after all!” Well, well Rajdeep might like to wonder which one issues regular death threats though. And here’s the thing about Rajdeep; he conveniently forgets his own community which Ashok Malik explains in an article “Playing with fire” in the TOI and I quote: “State sensitivity to street sentiment reached such ridiculous levels that when Da Vinci Code was released in 2006, Priyaranjan Das Munshi, then the information and broadcasting minister, held back the film from cinemas till he had reviewed it in the company of Catholic priests”. That’s the bias that rules the head of lunatics in the media as well.
There are certain issues that are simply not debatable or negotiable. But you can trust the media to reduce such issues to a farce through their mindless debates. Entering India and participating in events by a PIO is neither debatable nor negotiable. The protesting lunatics were not so visible on TV screens. But the ones emboldening the govt in suppressing such freedoms are the lunatics in the media who kill issues with mindless debates.