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How Shashi Tharoor helped expose Congress’s hypocrisy on freedom of expression

Freedom of expression in general terms means that every individual has a right to hold opinions without interference. This “interference” in most cases is either imposed by the state or is a form of a legal recourse taken up by aggrieved parties who have been at the receiving end of this “freedom of expression”.

This whole debate on Freedom of expression, was revived again recently after the release of Tamil movie, Mersal. This movie starring a certain Actor named Joseph Vijay instantly became controversial.

As per reports, the BJP was miffed with the movie’s portrayal of schemes like GST, Digital India etc, hence wanted a few scenes removed from the movie. The party also alleged that the movie had got some basic facts wrong about these schemes. Apart from the BJP, the Tamil Nadu Government Doctors Association had accused the movie of portraying doctors in a bad light.

While the BJP was in the process of trying to discredit the movie, the Congress party decided to take political advantage of the situation by taking the moral high ground when it comes to freedom of expression.

First Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi came out to ask that no interference be made in Mersal. Inspired by that, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor took things further and claimed that Congress stands for freedom of expression, whether in power or not:

Tharoor as a result, set himself and the Congress up for a spectacular self goal. Soon, scientist and political commentator Anand Ranganathan came out with an idea to list out the various staggering violations of “freedom of expression” which have taken place while the Congress was in power and in most cases, have been imposed consciously by the Congress itself for various reasons including muzzling criticism of the party, its leaders and its policies. He was later also helped by various twitter users. Here are a few such instances:

  • All began when India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to move the 1st amendment to the Indian constitution in 1951, which as per clause 2 of article 19, imposed “reasonable restrictions” on free speech on grounds like – in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court or in relation to incitement of an offence. As pointed out in this article, these grounds are pretty broad and limit this freedom of expression substantially.
  • This lack of freedom of expression was also visible when poet and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri was arrested and spent a year in jail for writing a poem critical Nehru.
  • The Indira Gandhi government after imposing Emergency in 1975 imposed censorship of press during that period.
  • This emergency period also saw movies like Aandhi getting banned and all the prints of a satirical movie “Kissa Kursi Ka” were burned by Samjay Gandhi’s goons.
  • Even songs of legendary singer Kishore Kumar were banned from Doordarshan and All India Radio as he had refused to perform during a Congress rally.
  • Rajiv Gandhi also had a penchant for brutally muzzling ‘Freedom of Expression. He banned the import of Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses.
  • Rajiv Gandhi also reportedly sought to enact a Postal Bill which would have allowed for the interception and censorship of letters. Later President Zail Singh refused to sign the bill into a law.
  • Such regulations against freedom of expression by the Congress have also been seen in this millennium. In 2012 the UPA government blocked access to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and also blocked access to an anti-Islam film.
  • Kapil Sibal the former IT minister was also seen openly calling for a ban on “hateful content” generating on websites.
  • This stifling of freedom of expression has also been seen in Congress ruled states. In Karnataka people were arrested for defaming Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, for creating his fake twitter handle and for allegedly posting derogatory comments about Tipu Sultan.
  • Even a out of power Congress party has seen intimidating filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar for making a movie named Indu Sarkar based on Emergency. This intimidation included Congress hooligans disrupting his movie’s screening and he as a result later called out Rahul Gandhi’s hypocrisy on the subject of freedom of expression.

It would be rather amusing, if the Congress Party’s grandstanding wasn’t so tragic. One wonders if Congress fashions its campaigns upon the assumption that the collective IQ of the citizenry is rather low and perhaps their memory extremely short lived. Twitter however, reminded the ‘Grand Old Party’ that before they attempt to educate people with their #KnowYourLegacy campaign, the party and its leaders need to remind themselves of their violent and abysmal tryst with the constitutional principle of freedom of expression.

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