No Country For Free Speech?

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Writer and scholar Sudheendra Kulkarni was targeted by Shiv Sena workers in Mumbai after his insistence to carry through with Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book launch in the city. Sudheendra Kulkarni was “gheraoed outside his residence" and his face and neck blackened with oil paint. So what does such an action say about India as a democracy?

On the #IndiaHangout panel to discuss the issue of #freespeech were noted journalist Minhaz Merchant, political analyst Ratan Sharda, Satish Mishra, who is with the Observer Research Foundation and Tuhin Sinha, Author & Columnist.

How do we define a protest?

Minhaz Merchant says when noted columnists like Ruchir Joshi or an opposition party leader like Lalu Prasad can target the Prime Minister without facing any action then free speech exists. However when a political party takes their protest to the extent of harming someone physically then this space is being encroached upon. This is violence in the garb of protest.

To this Ratan Sharda, who is a political analyst responded with questioning the premise of Sudheendra Kulkarni’s function. He said, “ Why is an Indian promoting the commercial interest of Pakistanis. Kasuri’s visit to India is not for a peace mission so Shiv Sena has the right to protest but the method is wrong.

Does the reason for the protest justify the manner or the method?

Satish Mishra, a Senior Fellow, at the same Observer Research Foundation to which Sudheendra Kulkarni belongs, noted that the Shiv Sena’s protest tacitly says that everyone else who does not protest against Kasuri’s book launch is anti-national. He also questioned the end-result of such a protest saying, “What kind of national interest is being served by taking such a step by Shiv Sainiks?”

Minhaz Merchant added to this argument saying the right to protest exists because India is a democracy but our law does not allow for violence in the name of democratic protest.” Merchant points out that because Kasuri was the Foreign Minister in the Musharraf government and hence complicit in Pakistan’s actions against India – the protest (peacefully done) should be directed at him.

Kasuri was allowed into the country by Indian govt, so who should be the target of protests?

Ratan Sharda points out that as Kasuri held an important portfolio in a government that was anti-India, Kasuri should not have been let into the country. But now that Kasuri was in the country it becomes the onus of the government to provide him full security and hence people like Sudheendra Kulkarni become targets.

Author and columnist Tuhin Sinha said that the protest should be made on intellectual terms because at the end of the day the event was a book launch. He suggested that, “Kasuri’s book and his arguments should be looked into and if need be challenged.

What kind of society are we living in?

Minhaz Merchant says that India is largely a good society but with lumpen elements. 80% of the populace can be categorized as liberals, and 20% as right-wingers. However, when the right-wingers belonging to the majority elements feel that they are not being taken care of or are being disrespected they express themselves in the ways employed by Shiv Sainiks.

To watch the full discussion, click on the video above.

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