New Delhi: Bollywood actress and critic of the ruling BJP-led Central government Swara Bhasker has now found herself at the centre of a possible contempt petition.
In the latest instalment of increasing attempts to gag free speech – especially comments which are critical of Hindutva and the sustained cowering of democratic institutions – a petition has been filed before the Attorney General of India (AGI) to seek sanction to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against the actor.
Interestingly, one of the petitioners is Mehak Maheswari – the complainant in the Prashant Bhushan case. The petition has been filed by advocates Anuj Saxena, Prakash Sharma and Maheswari on the behalf of one Usha Shetty. Their plea invokes Section 15 of the Contempts of Courts Act, 1971 read with Rule 3 of Contempt proceedings of the Supreme Court, 1975 to press the AGI to seek action against Bhasker.
They allege that Bhasker scandalised the court by claiming that “courts are not sure if they believe in the constitution” while addressing a gathering called ‘Artists Against Communalism’ during the peak of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in Mumbai in February 2020.
The petition says that one of Bhasker’s statements in her speech was particularly incriminating. “We are living in a country where the SC states in a judgement demolition of Babri Masjid was unlawful, and in the same judgement rewards the same people who brought down the mosque,” Bhasker had said while referring to the Supreme Court’s judgement to grant ownership rights of the disputed land at Ayodhya to the Hindu parties involved in the case last year.
“…We are now in a situation where our courts are not sure whether they believe in the constitution or not,” she continued.
In this regard, the petition claimed, “The alleged contemnor (Bhaskar) statements intends to incite feeling of no-confidence amongst the public with respect to the proceedings of the Hon’ble Court and integrity of the Hon’ble Judges of the Apex Court of India.”
It also alleges that Bhasker’s criticisms were not only “cheap” publicity stunts but a deliberate attempt to encourage people to revolt against the Supreme Court.
Curiously, what Bhasker said had been written by multiple columnists and commentators in the spirit of democratic discussions. While the Supreme Court itself has been silent on the criticism, for activists such as Maheswari to interpret it as contemptuous of the court appears more like political vendetta than any real concern for constitutional or democratic values.
While judgements have been criticised several times in the past, pro-government activists have become particularly eager to seek legal action against any such criticism over the last few years. The larger thrust of Bhasker’s speech was about the decline of democratic values and secular practice under the current BJP-led regime. That very culture of decline is what has come to hound her now.