Here’s the latest and most courageous piece of journalism in the new century from the most courageous journalist – Barkha Dutt. This is a tweet from the champion of free speech on January 25: “The Buck stops with the government says @SalmanRushdie to me. Hid in a room & interviewed him via video link ironically”. Hid in a room? From what? Ghosts in the video link? From spies disguised as room-boys? This is after her interview with Rushdie once the video conference with him was finally cancelled on January 24 by the hosts at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). Nobody knows whether the interview was before or after the cancellation and it is unlikely you’ll ever find out.
The police and hosts of JLF perceived a threat over the video participation of Rushdie in the event on the last day of the public event. But such is the Morongiri of some journos that they think merely interviewing someone from a hotel room through a videolink is an act of courage. There was no law against it, no ban, no threat to privacy in the hotel room. Nothing! So what was this JLF all about? On cancellation of the Rushdie show the organisers quickly put together another show: “Freedom of speech” at 3.45 pm on January 24. This was to fill in the time slot for the Rushdie session.
I am not a literary type but I thought some literary geniuses would be on that show. And indeed they were! You had Shoma Chaudhury and Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka, the Indian version of NOTW tabloid. You had Javed Akhtar a film screen writer and lyricist. There was some Salim Engineer of a muslim group and, of course, there was Rahul Bose, he can be anything and anyone from anywhere you like and for spice they added Barkha Dutt to the group. Literary geniuses! All of them discussing freedom of speech! Nothing wrong with that but what were a bunch of people who wouldn’t be classified under ‘literary’ geniuses under any circumstance doing there? And all of them were dissing one group or the other for the fiasco that was the JLF. Fact of the matter is some muslim groups protested and these courageous folk discussed all groups of Hindus and muslims to explain what freedom of speech is and the audience finally got educated.
Oh Wait! That’s not all. To add meaning to the stupid exercise Rahul Bose even read from the literary classic ‘Constitution of India’ thus: "Reasonable restrictions can be imposed in the interest of public order, security of state, decency, or morality." I come from a city where time and time again this rule of law is not upheld. It's a grey area and who decides what is moral and what is not”? No matter which city one comes from a moron remains a moron. The only other person who can match such morongiri is Suhel Seth. He suddenly discovered the glorious muslim culture that has contributed so much to this nation (elsewhere on TV). I probably don’t understand his context.
Farcical threats by groups and the state are not countered by protected speeches from a stage by a bunch of pretenders who have the ‘sponsored’ benefit and luxury of airing silly views. Such threats to freedom require countering by action. With his decision to abstain from the JLF Rushdie merely exposed himself and the others as stupid word-mongers at the event. Frankly, a 74-year old Anna Hazare showed greater courage against threats from the state than these verbal lint. And who are Shoma, Barkha, Javed, Tejpal and Rahul? All of them are state-sponsored and honoured propagandists of the govt. It is not freedom of speech that bothers them it is just that their party was being pooped by some idiots. I am no literature expert to comment on Rushdie’s writings but to his credit he did face and survive international death threats for a long time now. His freedom of movement has also been under constant threat. None of his protectors on the stage have ever faced such threats and usually these are the ones who pompously sermonise on freedoms.
There’s another small matter of importance. Rushdie wrote about Islam and Mohammad as he thought fit when many others wouldn’t have dared. His account is obviously fictional and he has the literary license of imagination as well. But what about reporting real events concerning muslims by the very journalists who talk about freedom? A few months back the entire Indian TV media blacked out a violent protest by muslims at Jangpura, a locality in Delhi, over an illegal mosque that was razed under a HC order. The logic was that the NBA (National Broadcasters Association) had advised a blackout. And who exactly is the poster boy for the media where all such muslim issues are concerned? A. Owaisi, the MP from Hyderabad. Now, this man wants a ban on Hindu processions on Ram Navami and has earlier suggested that all Indians must convert to Islam. The more the media suppresses the wrong doings of the muslim extremists the more they will be gobbled by this very evil. Every instance of wrong demands, not condemning terrorist acts and even falling prey to mischief mongers like Digvijay Singh are treated as small incidents by the media. These incidents keep churning the very threat of violence that confronted the JLF. And the media helps to promote the very threat that society faces frequently by either not reporting or condoning it through silence. It is only when their party at Jaipur was spoiled that they found a deep desire for freedom of speech.
Javed Akhtar is already a Rajya Sabha member from the Congress. So is his wife Shabana Azmi. Before long, the very journalists named in this post will be queuing up for a RS seat. Can they afford to condemn the very party at whose doorstep their future careers lie? That's the problem with these political aspirants, they cannot afford to confront their paymasters and the masters of their own future. So freedom of speech in general is a very convenient topic to discuss without holding responsible anyone who does suppress it.
Barkha’s mistaken sense of having triumphed over imaginary threats by interviewing Rushdie by “hiding” in some room is the typical nonsense that idiots and her fans will be impressed with. Sure, try telling Barkha that her self-aggrandizement was nothing more than ‘morongiri’ you are likely to be held out another threat of legal action. Unfortunately for India, she isn’t just one bad apple, there are many such in the Indian media. They are mere frogs waiting to be boiled.