Politicians getting pricky about criticism is not new.
I just wrote about media freedom, and so it should appear strange that I am almost immediately blogging about the need to criticize politicians ! Both aspects of freedom need to be understood, and there is no need to defend or offend anyone when it comes to freedom per se.
So, when the feisty and popular Chief Minister of the West Bengal State of India ordered the arrest of two individuals (one of them a Professor and the other a 75-year old man) because they forwarded an email containing a cartoon lampooning her, she crossed the frontiers of democracy and individual freedom. Her name is now so popular in the social networking world, her police would have to arrest thousands of internet-savvy Indians around India and the world (I am not one of them, of course, except that I am posting a blog, NOT containing the cartoon in question or saying anything that is offensive against the Chief Minister !).
It is obvious that in today’s highly networked world of intelligent folks, it is critical to maintain an image that is not sullied by what appears to be anti-democratic actions. It is not enough if the vote bank is satisfied, it is possible to bring down elected politicians if they do not conform to the tenets of democratic principles, on which basis they were elected to office in the first place.
Earlier, there were attempts to control the cyber world by the esteemed Minister Kapil Sibal, on the lines of what the Communist China does on a daily basis. He quickly saw the point that he was not getting any kind of support even from within his own government or his own party, for that kind of control (which incidentally does not exist in the broadcast world of TV and news media anyway in India). Given the path of liberal democracy that India has adopted, it is imperative that India maintains the laissez faire attitude towards expression of views contrary to its views, policies, or even ideals. If India tries to impose control on thoughts, or even as simple as forwarding of others’ emails as has happened in this case of West Bengal, the situation would quickly escalate making the politician the laughing stock across the country.
The Chief Minister is a highly intelligent individual, who has managed to displace the Communist Party from power after 35 long years in the State of West Bengal during which that state suffered from lack of industrialization. People migrated in droves from that state to all over the world. Now the people have elected the new party and it should ensure that its success at the polls is not frittered away.
I am sure that the cases against the individuals concerned under the Information Technology Act would be withdrawn and the party in power in that state would reprimand its cadres who beat up the professor. There is no way that the concerned individuals can ever be successfully prosecuted in India. They did not cause any harm to the reputation of the image of the Chief Minister.
Let the cartoon rest in peace !
15th April 2012