By Charumati Haran:
“When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken.” – Benjamin Disraeli
India has often been called the land of diversity. Nevertheless, if there is one thing that has retained its influence in India, it is religion. So it is inevitable that religion would have links with politics. Religion both unites and divides this country and we have a painful reminder of that from the tragedies caused during the Partition. Parties, based on religion claim to be safeguarding the interests of their community. However, this is a dangerous territory. With the idea of ‘vote banks’, some politicians start treating communities as their personal inheritance or fief. They disregard the fact that their job is to represent living, breathing human beings. They callously cash in on their problems and selfishly move ahead in their career. Communal politics and incitement in particular were outlawed for a reason: They cause social unrest and are against democracy
All of the above is a backdrop to the recent case of Akbaruddin Owaisi. He is an MLA from Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen(MIM – All India council of the Union of Muslims) who allegedly made hate speeches against Hindus in the Adilabad district in December. These include threats to kill Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen. He has been booked in at least six such cases since 2005, but has escaped punishment till date. This time, cases were filed against him weeks later after the Congress government faced widespread criticism for being soft on him.
Consider another case. In 2010, a non-bailable case was registered against Varun Gandhi on the directive of the Election Commission for his controversial speech at an election rally in Pilibhit, U.P. He spent almost 3 weeks in prison for the alleged anti-Muslim hate speeches. There were strong reactions throughout the political sphere. The BJP also disassociated itself from his remarks.
Why such a striking contrast? Why was the abuse of freedom of speech dealt with so differently? There are several reasons in my opinion. The first set relates to political and systemic factors and the second relates to the younger generation.
While it is true that MIM is not a supporter of the UPA, Varun Gandhi was simply a bigger enemy. As he is a member of the Gandhi family, any strategist would love to highlight his faults and show him as completely different from the Congress Gandhi family. Whenever politics becomes a power-play of personalities, it is to the interest of competitors to discredit each other. Approaches have been different in the cases of Praveen Togadia and Bal Thackeray. As long as punishments are given through the political prism, true justice is absent.
The other point that should be considered is that the Election Commission is an autonomous body and not under the government. While state and administrative machinery can be influenced by governments, they cannot influence the EC that easily. While many argue that EC has let many incidents slide without punishment, they could hardly be expected to ignore a high-profile case like that of Varun Gandhi.
The second set of reasons relates to the younger generation. The modern generation even follows their religion on their smart phones – prayers, darshans, scriptures etc. are all available to them through the intervention of apps! Is such a modern generation likely to be impressed by Communal Rhetoric? They have not grown up with the burden of communal prejudices and have a much more detached impression of past incidents. Yet, they have grown up on tales of how the politicians are self-serving and play on communal sentiments. Many have grown disgusted with attention-seeking, regressive politicians. It has shown its strength in RTIs, peaceful protests and on the social media. Interaction between communities has increased so much that most of us would have friends from other religions. The ‘Aam janta’ is protesting on secular issues such as inflation, loss of jobs, environmental pollution and corruption.
Consider the following tweets that followed the Owaisi speech: From @FarOutAkhtar (Farhan Akhtar) “How can 2 girls be arrested in less than 24 hrs for a harmless FB post but Owaisi roams free after his blatantly communal rant?” Another one by @soniandtv was “Dont understand why the government has not asked Youtube to withdraw Owaisi speech ? Surely, this is what the IT act should be used for, not cartoons.”
In such a scenario, it can easily be understood why the media and political furore over Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speech was so much lesser: People simply do not care; they had more important things to think about. There has been no communal violence reported from Andhra Pradesh, despite his inflammatory statements. The media and political class are more focused on the Delhi gangrape case, which cuts across communities. Why give importance to the statements of a habitual hate-monger? That he deserves punishment is certain. Whether he gets it from the government or at the hands of future voters remains to be seen.