Politicians don't like free speech. What a surprise. But that they consistently take a hypocritical stand every time a political party is in the line of fire, is plain baffling.
Madhur Bhandarkar has upset the Congress for making a film on the 1975-77 Emergency that reportedly has characters inspired by Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. Over the weekend, Bhandarkar had to cancel his promotional events in both Pune and Nagpur as Congress workers staged protests outside his hotel. The filmmaker has now been given police protection following the threats he was issued.
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam has demanded the film be screened for senior party leaders to allay concerns of defamatory references to the Gandhi family. They said the film shouldn't be released before they see it.
On Sunday, Bhandarkar took to Twitter and sent a request to Rahul Gandhi. "Dear @OfficeOfRG after Pune I have 2 cancel today's PressCon at Nagpur. Do you approve this hooliganism? Can I have my Freedom of Expression?"
Needless to say, Rahul Gandhi didn't respond.
In a letter to Bhandarkar, the student wing of the Indian National Congress party, NSUI, said that the film is a 'sin' because the director is indulging in 'slandering' of the former Prime Minister. "No such crap will be taken," the letter read.
Protests before release of films that a political party doesn't approve of isn't uncommon.
Before Bhandarkar, it was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's turn to face the ire of political activists — more specifically, the Karni Sena. Earlier in January, thirty men barged into the sets of Padmavati in Jaipur, attacked director Sanjay Leela Bhansali -- dragged him by his hair, slapped him and forced them to wrap up the shoot right then. Five people were arrested and later let off.
Last year in October, Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had threatened to beat up Karan Johar and Mahesh Bhatt to stop them working with Pakistani artists. This came in the wake of Uri attacks, during which politicians gave a 48 hours ultimatum to all Pakistani actors to leave India.
Three documentaries that made the ruling party 'uneasy' were denied screening at international documentary and short film festival in Kerala last month. The films were on the JNU protests, the unrest in Kashmir and on the suicide of Rohith Vemula.
Censorship of art has a long history. And it's not limited to a political party. If something is critical of you, go ahead and protest.
The fact that Bhandarkar repeatedly said that about 70% of his film is fiction had no effect on the Congress protestors. Recently, the comedy group All India Bakchod (AIB) was threatened on social media for posting a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a snapchat dog filter. The Mumbai police also filed an FIR against them in a defamation case. AIB later deleted the tweet.
Now while this was happening, some Congress politicians took to Twitter to criticize the government for not being able to take a joke. And in the process, also attacked the comedy group for being a 'hypocrite' and a 'coward'.
On 24 March, 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, calling it 'unconstitutional'.
While the BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli called it a "landmark day for freedom of speech and expression", Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said that the Supreme Court has done the "right and appropriate thing".
You would think that if both the leading political parties in the country were opposing Section 66 A why did it even exist?
None of them were exactly ambassadors of free speech before SC struck it down.
Section 66 A that granted the state near-limitless power to prosecute anyone for posting anything 'offensive' on the net was a creation of the UPA government. The BJP, sitting in the opposition, had called the provision "draconian".
Two years later, in 2014, the BJP-led NDA government said in Parliament that Section 66A was in consonance with freedom of speech and expression and does not violate the fundamental rights of citizens.
The Indian Constitution guarantees free speech, but politicians decide what the reasonable restrictions are.