Intolerant, Undemocratic

A Manipuri journalist, Kishore Chandra Wangkhem, has been sentenced to a year’s jail term under the National Security Act, for daring to criticize Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. He called the Chief Minister a “puppet” of the Prime Minister because the former celebrated Rani Lakshmibai’s birth anniversary in Manipur. Rani Lakshmibai is a historical character and is respected by millions across the country. Her criticism or criticizing the anniversary of her birth may be in bad taste but by no stretch of imagination can it be called “anti-national” or an act that poses a threat to national security. Historical personages are viewed differently in different ages, the assessment of the role they played may vary in different times. One may or may not agree with such assessments but to take a negative view on such a personage more than a century and a half after her death certainly does not amount to anything that can be called anti-national or a danger to national security.
Criticism and dissent are the essence of a democracy, in which even the highest is not spared. But the present dispensation shows intolerance and betrays authoritarianism in every breath. It seeks to impose a uniformity of thought and action that is incompatible with democracy. Any difference from the “official” view (which, incidentally, is never defined) on men and things immediately invites the wrath of the State on the helpless citizen. The arrest of the Manipuri journalist should be condemned and a strident demand made for his immediate release. A society which holds criticism of a chief minister or saying unkind words about him as tantamount to treason is certainly not democratic. But the present rulers have become so intolerant of criticism that they cannot think of an open society where opinions are freely aired, discussed, debated and either accepted or rejected according to the perception of the individual.
The Manipuri journalist’s arrest under the NSA is a wake-up call for all those who want India to survive and grow as a democratic country. The media fraternity should be the first to take up the cudgels for the concerned journalist because what has been done to him is an attack on the freedom of the media. If this goes unchallenged then the powers that be will be tempted to mount further attacks on the media and curb freedom of expression of the citizen. It will be the beginning of a process which will ultimately snuff out our democracy.

Friday, 21 December, 2018