There are times when silence is not an option. The growing McCarthyism over Kashmir should worry all Indians who cherish their freedom of speech and expression.
The bogey of nationalism -- raised not long ago over the events at the Jawaharlal Nehru University -- is again being raised to create false binaries of those who are with Indians and those who are with the jihadis in Pakistan.
To silence critics and create red herrings over inconvenient truths, self-proclaimed guardians of national interest are calling for critics of the Indian government's policies in Kashmir to be silenced, tried, jailed. Since such calls are being made through loud screaming on national television, they have the potential to cause much more damage, even incite violence.
As we see the events in Turkey, as we note the persecution of dissenters in Bangladesh, as we count the number of journalists silenced in Pakistan, we need to speak up before we begin to look like those countries.
A section of the media is doing the government's bidding by diverting attention from the government's poor handling of terrorism and public unrest in Kashmir, by diverting focus on "pseudo-liberals". The community of Indian liberals, already shrunk and threatened, is a sad target. Liberals are not responsible for Burhan Wani taking to the gun, or for the people of Kashmir rising up to hail and mourn a 22-year-old militant.
A section of the media is doing the government's bidding by diverting attention from the government's poor handling of terrorism and public unrest in Kashmir, by diverting focus on "pseudo-liberals".
It's an old trick in the book: question the government and be discredited as anti-national. This is exactly what Indira Gandhi did. Accuse the dissenters of being one with foreign powers: for Indira Gandhi it was the United States, today it is good old Pakistan. If you so much as question the pellets blinding youth in Kashmir, you are with Pakistan. If you ask why the government isn't talking to separatists, you are with Pakistan. If you ask why the BJP-PDP alliance government is asking separatists to help quell the unrest, you are with Pakistan.
"They have no right to speak," screams the TV demagogue, taking political and intellectual disagreement across the Lakshman Rekha of fundamental rights.
Since you are with Pakistan, since you are the voice of Hafiz Saeed, you must be put in jail, and you certainly have no right to speak and comment on anything whatsoever. That right is being monopolised by television demagogues spreading hate for the ratings game.
We know where this narrative leads to. We have seen the Emergency of Indira Gandhi. It is not alarmist to say we could head that way.
We know where this narrative leads to. We have seen the Emergency of Indira Gandhi. It is not alarmist to say we could head that way. Unless we stem the madness of labelling all dissent as anti-national, we could soon be heading that way again. It is also not new that a section of the media plays collaborator in joining forces to murder democracy. This happened in the Emergency, too. Eminent names such as Khushwant Singh were justifying the suspension of democracy.
Attacking liberals for the government's failure in Kashmir is the creation of a blatant straw-man—a dangerous one. The space for debate and dialogue is being shrunk, and once the liberals are silenced with the excuse of national security, the path would be clear for an undeclared emergency.
Before he became prime minister, Narendra Modi had promised replying Pakistan in "its own language". He and his supporters, on Twitter and television alike, had complained India was a soft state. They were aghast at Chinese incursions into Indian territory. They cried hoarse when India held talks with Pakistan.
Today when prime minister Narendra Modi is talking to Pakistan, unable to give any reply "in its own language", unable to do anything about daring terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur and Pathankot, found asleep as Chinese troops enter Uttarakhand, our nationalist media has decided to turn on the liberals. To hide the truth that the Indian state under Modi looks pretty much the same as it did under Manmohan, the government's poodles want to put liberals in jail.
Discrediting sections of the media who are not using their platforms for such McCarthyism, is a form of censorship. What we are seeing from some TV studios are virtually a threat: seal your lips or else.
For now, it is only legislators of the Delhi Assembly who are being put in jail over one excuse or another. As the mainstream narrative shifts more and more to blaming everyone except the government, the day is not far when our jails will have more political prisoners that we could count. The state of democracy in Kashmir might spread to the rest of the country.
The nation wants to know, the nation wants to kowtow before the leader, the nation wants the silence of those who don't sing along the song of national security. It is time we told the TV studio in no uncertain terms: you are not the nation.