Recalling the night of 24/25 June 1975 the inimitable Piloo Modi quipped that “Fascism had come knocking on his door” as the police detained Opposition leaders to raise the curtain on Indira Gandhi&’s notorious Emergency. We can only wonder how that most liberal of political leaders would have led the applause for the Delhi High Court “knocking out” another attempt at Fascist-authoritarianism by upholding the right to dissent. While the government may appeal against the verdict that slammed it for preventing Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from addressing a British parliamentary panel, the observations of Justice Rajiv Shakhder will “stand” for all-time — cherished by millions to whom “freedom” is more than “just another word for nothing left to lose”.
For the court has gone far beyond the specific shameful act of intolerance in denying Pillai her right to make her case, and emphasised the “basics” of democratic functioning. Critically so at a point in time when intolerance of all kinds is spreading, and the conveniently-tagged “fringe elements” appear to have been permitted to use the electoral mandate of 2014 as license to shove their “agenda” down everybody&’s throat. Stating that the right of free speech and expression “necessarily includes the right to criticise and dissent”, Justice Shakdher, in a 39-page order, said: “Criticism, by an individual, may not be palatable; even so, it cannot be muzzled.
Many civil right activists believe that they have the right, as citizens, to bring to the notice of the state the incongruity in the developmental policies of the state. The state may not accept the views of the civil right activists, but that by itself, cannot be a good enough reason to do away with dissent.” That is just a brief selection from the court&’s order that was studded with those proverbial pearls of wisdom. They were words well spoken: for while we do not necessarily endorse all that “activists” say — the hysteria of some of them also reeks of intolerance and tunnel-vision — the government of the day must be prevented from silencing what it does not like to hear.
Obviously there was no immediate sarkari reaction but its narrow-minded acolytes were quick to regurgitate the charge of NGOs receiving foreign financial assistance conspiring to work against “national interests”, thwarting economic development and progress, as well as arguments on the same silly line that India&’s Daughter was aimed at blocking tourist traffic to this country… All of which add up to displaying a “third world” inferiority complex. To list various examples of spreading intolerance would serve only a limited purpose, better that the netas be consistently reminded that only one panel of the Tricolour is saffron-coloured.