Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TOI's breast beatings

Here They Go Again

Competitive identity politics in Mumbai has taken yet another ugly turn. In the process, it has chipped away, again, at India's liberal, democratic foundations.

When activists claiming allegiance to the Shivsangram Sangathana - which has links with the NCP - vandalised the house of Loksatta editor, Kumar Ketkar, on Thursday, it was our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression that was under assault, along with the life and property of Ketkar and his wife.

Vinayak Mehte, a former NCP MLC, claimed his organisation was upset by an editorial written by Ketkar, which had criticised the Maharashtra government's decision to erect a statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea.

Anyone who has read the editorial will see that it simply did not denigrate the great Maratha warrior. What it did was ask whether such a project was necessary when the state had so many pressing problems - including farmer suicides and malnutrition - facing it. {Can't it be argued that why can't Mr Ketkar write about "pressing problems" and focus on them instead of going after the statue of C. Shivaji Maharaj?}

It's a valid question, and as a journalist Ketkar has the right to raise it. Indeed, any other citizen could have asked the same. Freedom of expression is every Indian's fundamental right.

However, such questioning in Maharashtra seems to be an invitation to trouble, especially if Shivaji figures in the equation. We know that the Shiv Sena links pride in the warrior and his heritage to Marathi asmita and sets its cadre amok, especially in Mumbai, whenever it decides this pride has been offended in a book, a movie or elsewhere.

Successive administrations of other political dispensations, instead of countering this regressive brand of politics, have adopted it.

Though the NCP and the Congress do not speak the language of Bal Thackeray or Raj Thackeray - at least officially - they are in effect doing so by merely watching instead of coming down hard on the violent mobs. Four years ago, it was the Congress government that banned historian James Laine's book on Shivaji and an NCP-backed organisation that ransacked Bhandarkar Institute in Pune.

In their crude attempts to gain political capital by presenting themselves as protectors of Shivaji's legacy, political parties in Maharashtra are impoverishing India's liberal tradition.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Gujarat, freedom of the press is under attack as well, for different reasons. Angered by investigative reports against him by this newspaper, Ahmedabad's police chief O P Mathur - instead of suing for defamation - pressed sedition charges. {Shri OP Mathur should have labelled TOI jholawallas as treasonous bast*rds, which TOI is, and given them a sound beating, who cares for the evidence. TOI does it again and again, it is just a matter of time when the tables are turned against these delusional and retarded TOI jholawallas.}

This is a dangerous move. It could have damaging consequences for not just journalists but all citizens. Freedom of expression, which includes the freedom of the press, is vital to a healthy democracy, which protects individual and collective rights.

Increasingly, in one way or another, we seem to be fighting a losing battle {You will lose, no doubt in my mind, because satyameva jayate, truth always wins} against those who have little regard or respect for the liberal values on which this nation was founded.

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