As the citizenship canker permeates the system from Assam to Karnataka via West Bengal, Delhi and Lucknow, Thursday’s detention of the noted historian, Ramachandra Guha, in Bengaluru has blighted the democratic praxis that propelled the Bharatiya Janata Party government to power both in Karnataka and at the Centre.
Amidst the high-voltage pursuit of the citizenship agenda by the party, the fundamental rights of free speech and expression have been trashed by the entity that holds up the established order, i.e. the police in Bengaluru. Mr Guha was barred from concluding his interaction with the media in the supposedly progressive city’s Town Hall area. Will a few questions get to be asked and answered? What was the provocation? What was his offence that warranted police action? Isn’t the biographer entitled to an opinion on governance? And does that opinion have to echo the BJP’s perception? Answers to such fundamental queries may not be forthcoming for some time yet.
The bare facts would suggest that the police, obviously on orders from on high, had acted with malice aforethought. As it turned out, Mahatma Gandhi’s biographer was surrounded by five policemen who dragged him by the hand towards a bus, and without allowing him to complete his statement.
Thus did the State muffle the voice of dissent at the threshold. The historian’s reaction is a searing indictment of the functioning of the police ~ “I feel sorry for the police,” he said. “They are acting on the advice of their colonial masters. They are paranoid. Our Home minister will not dare to allow a peaceful protest.”
Indeed, the tendency to bar peaceful protests is the thread that binds Bengaluru to Lucknow and Delhi. In the immediate perspective, the born-again Chief Minister, BS Yeddiyurappa, owes an explanation for Mr Guha’s detention. He has conveyed a resounding message to the government on his release from detention ~ “Everyone should stand up. The entrepreneurs of Bengaluru should stand up. We are here to assert our democratic rights.”
Seventy-two years after freedom was won, the deepest tragedy must be that democracy and its certitudes are at a discount in the India of 2019. This is doubtless the fineprint of the detention inflicted on Mr Guha and a section of the Opposition on Thursday. A striking feature in the aftermath of this muffling of a contrarian opinion was the stout defiance of prohibitory orders by hundreds of men and women, young and old, in the vicinity of Bengaluru’s Town Hall. The parable to be drawn must be that citizens have confronted the police. At the end of the day, the police had egg on its face over Mr Guha’s arrest. This police lawlessness through remote control must end.