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Liberals want to save only Prashant Bhushan, not everyone’s free speech rights

Free speech is an issue of rights. The moment you say that so and so person deserves free speech because of their supposed ’eminence,’ it’s all over. You are trying to make free speech a privilege for a chosen few.

Since the 2014 election, the liberal teacup has raged with so many storms that you might have forgotten most of them already. One of the earliest and most instructive was one that raged in Jan 2015 over the post of Chair of the CBFC, popularly known as the censor board.

At the time, the sitting Chairperson Leela Samson had resigned. And as with almost anyone appointed by Modi government, liberals had a problem with her successor. Their objection: that the new Censor Board Chief was suppressing freedom of expression.

The irony is thick on that one. He is the chief of the censor board. Of course he would suppress freedom of expression. Isn’t that his job? So what’s the objection about?

Liberals never objected to the censor board as a concept. They merely objected to who was wielding the power to carry out the censorship. Once you go there, you lose all moral high ground. You are no longer arguing for freedom of expression. You just want your friends to control what can be said.

In the last few days, India’s liberals have picked up a new cause. This time they are upset that lawyer Prashant Bhushan has been found guilty of contempt of court. Now, this is a Supreme Court judgement and Modi government has literally no control over it. But liberal outrage stopped making sense a long time ago. I am sure they will feed this Supreme Court judgement into the same fact-free narrative of “intolerance” since 2014.

There is an obvious parallel here with the liberal outrage in the CBFC case from 2015. They are not objecting to contempt of court as a concept. They have no interest in free speech. I see them signing petitions, filling out open letters and crying online about Prashant Bhushan. They are crying about their privileged friend, not free speech rights for all.

Have you seen any liberals demanding that contempt of court provisions should be abolished in the interest of free speech for all?


Instead, what we have seen is XYZ number of eminent persons signing petitions that Prashant Bhushan should not be punished.

The first one is a principled stand. The second one is pure hypocrisy. It is a bunch of self appointed ’eminent’ people demanding special treatment for their ’eminent’ friend. Because he is ’eminent.’

Free speech is an issue of rights. The moment you say that so and so person deserves free speech because of their supposed ’eminence,’ it’s all over. You are trying to make free speech a privilege for a chosen few. And that’s the most undemocratic you can get.

In fact, I have a message even for the handful of liberals who have come out and requested the court to reconsider the laws on contempt. For the ones who have taken the principled stand. I would say they should stay out of this particular case. For same sort of reason as they say justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

If you are taking a principled stand, you must demonstrate that by taking it up when a common citizen of India is in the dock. Right now it looks like your conscience has woken up because someone from the high and mighty of this country is in trouble.

You should not just have a conscience. You must be seen to have a conscience.

So stop worrying and crying for someone who can so well take care of himself. Take up the cause of someone who does not have 5000 sympathizers among the Indian elite.

The Indian elite is also on trial here, accused of contempt for ordinary people. So far, as a common citizen of India, I find them guilty as charged.

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Abhishek Banerjeehttps://dynastycrooks.wordpress.com/
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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