New Delhi: Activists and academics gathered in Ranchi to protest on Monday (August 14) after BJP leaders on Sunday did not allow economics professor Jean Drèze to finish a lecture at an event organised by Prabhat Khabar. Drèze was talking about a recent ad campaign issued by the BJP-ruled Jharkhand government in several Hindi dailies, which misquoted Gandhi and targeted Christians religious institutions. Drèze said in printing those ads, the state government was misleading people and even inciting violence. He also brought up the increasing crime rates in Jharkhand, which he said the state government is doing nothing to curb.
In videos of the event, BJP leaders including Union minister Radha Mohan Singh, agriculture minister Randhir Singh and urban development minister C.P. Singhare are seen as getting up from their chairs and yelling at Drèze as he speaks, demanding that he be removed from the stage and apologise immediately. Organisers tried to bring the leaders under control, but the heckling and shouting continued, and the leaders refused to calm down.
In their statement after the protest in Ranchi, activists Dayamani Barla, Stan Swami, Balram, P.P. Verma and others have stated that this incident is only the latest in a string of attacks against free speech by the ruling party:
“This incidence is yet another example of the growing intolerance and attacks on people’s fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expression, assembly and movement the right to practice any occupation, the right to preserve one’s culture and even the right to life and liberty in Jharkhand and also the rest of the country.
…The protestors at Raj Bhavan demanded an apology from members and supporters of BJP for not letting Jean Drèze finish his speech and also from Prabhat Khabar for allowing the disruption of the address by one of its guests. They also demanded an apology from the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das for the issuing of the communal advertisement by his government. All newspapers that printed the advertisement must also accept their complicity in stoking communal tensions in Jharkhand. Lastly and most importantly, the state and central government needs to take criminal action without further delay against all the people who have incited violence or murdered people.”