Friday, June 6, 2008

The Lumpenization of Power

Two separate incidents occurred over the last few days where the Press was intimidated. The profiles of the two cases are quite interesting. In the first instance, a case of sedition was filed by the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner against a journalist from the Times of India.. The provocation was a series of articles that the newspaper ran, alleging links between the city police chief and a former underworld don. As the news blew up into a major storm, the Gujarat police leadership distanced itself from the action of its own police chief in Ahmedabad, stating that the act of filing an FIR against the TOI journalists was his own independent decision.

It is a shabby display of power of the grossest kind that a policeman can independently decide to book journalists for sedition because they have written things that he did not want to hear. Would a private citizen have this kind of facility? Of course not. Even assuming that the journalists did write some thing objectionable, there is a clear conflict of interest in a situation where an aggrieved public servant instead of referring the matter to his superiors for action, chooses to file a criminal case to defend him. Besides a layman’s reading of the Indian Police Code does not indicate that Section 124 has got any thing to do with writing articles in newspapers as such.

The other case is of a type that we are of course becoming increasingly familiar with. A newspaper decides to write about an iconic figure and all manner of rage is stirred up, all in the name of “hurt sensibilities” or “a spontaneous response” by aggrieved people. In this particular instance, the Marathi newspaper “Loksatta” from the Indian Express group had editorially commented on the decision of the State government to put up a statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea- a statue that in its size, is supposed to surpass the Statue of Liberty. For his efforts, the editor had his house vandalized and copies of the newspaper were burnt at his doorstep. Incidentally the paper made had no comments at all on the persona of Shivaji or his rule – all known to be potentially inflammatory material. All that the paper had said was that the present government was trying to gain shallow political mileage by putting up statues.

An obscurantist mob and the public servant of a democratic state should have little in common with each other. But these two fringes of society Рthe State with all its lordly élan and dignity and the lumpen elements with in society with no other intellectual pretensions except the intelligence of a mob have both used power to further their own ends. The elite as in the case of the Police Commissioner dug up provisions of the law to silence opponents as in the case of the journalists or in the case of the human rights activist and doctor Binayak Sen who has been held without charges for more than a year in Chattisgarh for alleged links with Maoists. The lumpen mobsters lacked the sanitizing wand of the law and used naked displays of muscle and violence to get their way. But either way, the blatant intolerance of dissent and its suppression through any means available is despicable.

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