The constitution gives the people inalienable rights, the most precious of which is the right of dissent. Just when dissent or resistance becomes “anti- national” is not for the politicians, policemen and sundry Hindutva outfits to decide.
The fact that we have a bombastic, and some may say boorish, defence minister is common knowledge. Manohar Parrikar’s bouts of verbal excess are now fairly well known. But the latest instance – where he apparently referred to the Aamir Khan “patriotism” controversy – has the elements of the sinister as well.
Speaking at a book release function on Saturday, Parrikar said that “anyone speaking against the country must be taught a lesson the same way that an ‘actor’ and an ‘online trading company’ were.”
To quote the entire paragraph as it appeared in the Indian Express report:
“Actorne jeva hey kela, thehva jya company la toh advertise karat hota… online trading company hoti. Aple log thoda jaste hoshar ahet. Mala mahite ahey there was a team which was working on this… They were telling people you order and return it… The company should learn a lesson, they had to pull out his advertisement… (When the actor did this… then the company which he was endorsing was… an online trading company. Some of our people are very smart, I know. There was a team which was working on this. They were telling people you order and return it… The company should learn a lesson, they had to pull his advertisement).”
Parrikar did not name Khan nor Snapdeal, of which the actor was brand ambassador. But the November 2015 incident and Snapdeal not renewing its contract with Khan are too well known for there to be any ambiguity about who Parrikar was referring to.
He also took an oblique swipe at JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, saying that “such people who speak against the country need to be taught a lesson by the people of this country”.
After the controversy erupted, Parrikar on Sunday declared that he was not referring to anyone specific, going on to add that although he was not opposed “to the freedom of expression” he “feels that country is supreme.”
No stranger to a blunder
Parrikar’s verbal gaffes have now become a legend. Just two months ago he claimed that the Indian army did not get the respect it deserves because for “40-50 years , we have not fought a war.” Egregiously he added that he was not advocating a war, but that “because we haven’t fought a war, the importance of the army in our minds has dwindled”.
A war, it was said, was too important a matter to be left to the generals. So, across the world, it became the norm that the best military was that which remained firmly under the command of the civil authority, otherwise known as politicians. But Parrikar’s swagger has turned the logic upside down. In Kashmir, where even the generals say that there is a limit to what the military can achieve, having, in any case, brought down the militancy to a near zero status, Parrikar was ready a while back for an eye-for-eye tooth-for-tooth battle, declaring that “kaante se kaanta nikaala jata hai” (A thorn can only be taken out by another thorn).
Returning from the US last year, he expressed his readiness to get the Indian military to fight ISIS, were the UN Security Council to pass a resolution.
And once, he even accused an unnamed former prime minister of compromising the nation’s security.
Surely, such a serious charge should not have been made in passing and if Parrikar knows about a former prime minister compromising national security, he should inform the relevant authorities because such an act counts among the highest levels of treason.
The citizen is supreme
There are important issues that come from Parrikar’s most recent statement, regardless of his clarification. First, that the attack on Khan and Snapdeal were executed by a ‘troll army’, which used this kind of cyber attack to teach them a lesson. That India’s defence minister is privy to this information and has done little about it is alarming. Parrikar should not complain when Chinese cyber armies run amuck on his ministry’s computers.
Second, is Parrikar arrogating to himself or to his parivar the right to decide who is to be condemned for speaking against the nation? If so, he betrays lamentable ignorance and also his oath as an MP and union minister. The union of India most certainly does not belong to either Parrikar or to the Sangh parivar entities. Indeed they, if you recall, had opposed its formation.
Third, Parrikar is wrong in saying that the nation is supreme. The physical nation is just land, rivers, lakes, trees and shrubs. It is the people who give it the character that it has and they are supreme.
Their supremacy is not something abstract, but laid out in a compact called the constitution of India. As a consequence of avowing this document, the people get inalienable rights, the most precious of which is the right of dissent. Just when dissent or resistance becomes “anti- national” is not for the politicians, policemen and sundry Hindutva outfits to decide, but for the courts of the land, who do so through the due process of law that springs from the constitution.
It is, of course, well known that the curriculum of our IITs, which produced a Manohar Parrikar, is seriously deficient in teaching these political science basics. But surely, the politician Parrikar should have by now learnt these things, considering he has taken a solemn oath to protect the constitution and has been given the important charge of being the union minister of defence.
By himself, we all know that Parrikar is a fairly decent and well-meaning man who is the victim of a half-baked educational system, which results in half-baked words, ideas and actions. Parrikar is not unaware of the problem; recall last year he had promised to take a six-month break from making comments before the media.
But what is more worrisome are his revelation of the organised nature of the effort to stifle dissent in this country. We all know that some rationalists were killed in Maharashtra and Karnataka allegedly by a splinter Hindutva group; in New Delhi, JNU dissenters were physically attacked in the very premises of a high court, again allegedly by some wayward individuals; and gau rakshaks are already patrolling the heartland to tackle those who have a different dietary preferences.
Now, however, we are getting a hint that things may actually be more organised, since it turns out that the alleged anti-nationals were being taken down by a secret cyber team, presumably with links to the Sangh parivar. Tomorrow such teams could actually be tasked to physically take down so-called liberals and “sickulars”, all in the name of nation.
The writer is a distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation.