Former Union Minister P Chidambaram is shocked. As the mercury dipped in the national capital, P Chidambaram took to social media to claim that Kerala government’s order to make ‘offensive’ post on social media punishable by 5 years in prison has shocked him.
Shocked by the law made by the LDF government of Kerala making a so-called ‘offensive’ post on social media punishable by 5 years in prison— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) November 22, 2020
This shock experienced by P Chidambaram has shocked me, to put it mildly.
*Cough* Sec 66A of IT Act *cough*
It was in October 2012, when under the draconian section 66A of the IT Act the then Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son got a man arrested for “offensive” tweets against him. Local Crime Branch of CID Police in Puducherry had gone to arrest then 45-year-old Ravi, owner of a plastic packing material factory, for tweeting ‘offensive’ messages to Karti on three occasions from 2011.
Srinivasan had accused Karti of corruption. This is what Karti had tweeted in defence of getting a man arrested for accusing him of corruption.
Free speech is subject to reasonable restrictions. I have a right to seek constitutional/legal remedies over defamatory/scurrilous tweets— Karti P Chidambaram (@KartiPC) October 31, 2012
Eight years down the line, Karti is facing investigation in number of cases including money laundering and having undisclosed foreign assets.
The law was passed by P Chidambaram’s ‘zero loss‘ colleague, Kapil Sibal. Perhaps Congress leaders just did not want the aam janta to question Congress leaders and their family members over allegations of corruption.
Section 66A of IT Act came into force in 2010. Ravi’s arrest based on Karti’s complaint was one of the first incidents of arrest of someone over ‘freedom of expression’. The section was punishable for up to three years in jail over social media posts which are ‘grossly offensive or has menacing character’. Perhaps Chidambaram is shocked that Kerala government put jail time of 5 years, two years more than what they had stated.
That’s not it, though. If you posted any information you knew to be false, but posted only to cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will’, a non-bailable arrest warrant awaited you. How dare you cause someone annoyance or inconvenience over social media under non-fascist Congress rule? After all, isn’t Congress synonymous to freedom of speech?
When passing this law, Sibal had claimed he did not intend to censor social media.
Just few days after Karti got the businessman arrested, two girls in Palghar were arrested for questioning the call for Mumbai bandh on death of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s death. Again under the Section 66A of IT Act brought in by Kapil Sibal. Thackeray was head of a political outfit. In 2012, Maharashtra had a Congress-run government. Years later, his son, Uddhav Thackeray would join hands with Congress and NCP and form the government in Maharashtra.
Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested in Mumbai in September 2012, under section 66A of IT Act as well as various other provisions over allegations of ‘insulting’ the national emblem and drawing a cartoon. Speaking of cartoons, another politician who took an offence at her cartoon was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. A Jadavpur University professor was arrested in April 2012 for circulating ‘anti-Mamata’ cartoons.
And I’m not even beginning to talk about Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency and what it did to freedom of any kind. Apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree as her father, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru got poet Majrooh Sultanpuri arrested for criticism who had to spend good two years in jail.
Hence, when Congress leaders express shock at anyone ‘stifling freedom of expression’, it is nothing short of shocking.