The recent incident in JNU, in which students shouted slogans calling for the destruction of India, brings to question the very fabric of our Constitution. Maybe it's time to write a new one. Agreed that India is a democratic country that believes in the freedom of speech, but does it mean that we have to tolerate slogans that ask for "Bharat ki barbadi"? This is not the first such incident in recent memory that has forced us to evaluate our constitutional basics. Whether you see them as spontaneous events or as somehow engineered for political gains in 2019, the last few months have been downright unpleasant. Believe it or not, India is at war, a war does not involve weapons but words, principles and beliefs about what is right or wrong.
Spearheaded by 22-year Hardik Patel, who single-handedly took Gujarat politics by storm, the Patidar Movement saw thousands join hands against the government with slogans such as "Jai Sardar, Jai Patidar" in their demand for OBC status.
India is a democratic country that believes in the freedom of speech, but does it mean that we have to tolerate slogans that ask for "Bharat ki barbadi"?
In fact, the movement was so intense that Section 144 was imposed in cities such as Surat, Mehsana, Ahmedabad and Rajkot. Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel had to call military support to put an end to riots. While the situation in Gujarat was termed as unconstitutional on the grounds that people were not allowed to register their protest, others took pot-shots at PM Narendra Modi citing the failure of Gujarat model. Finally, Hardik Patel was arrested in Rajkot by the Gujarat government on charges that he insulted India by inverting the national flag and using anti-nationalist language in front of crowds.
Call it an unfortunate aberration or a ploy to derail BJP-led NDA to win Bihar, a Muslim man was lynched because he was rumoured to have stored beef in his home in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. Soon, politicians were flocking to his house to offer their condolences even as they slammed the BJP government for promoting intolerance towards minorities. This was during the time when various states had supported a ban on beef, resulting in protests from other quarters. The Dadri incident caused a lot of vitriol towards Modi and his government, with the anger fuelled by the Prime Minister's silence on the matter. This attitude coupled with the strength of the Mahagathbandhan made the BJP-led NDA face the bitter truth during the Bihar elections.
Bollywood's entry into the intolerance debate
After the Dadri incident and Bihar elections, Bollywood star Aamir Khan said during a public event that his wife thought of moving out from India because of increasing intolerance in the county. This attracted a lot of heat on social media. Things got so bad that Khan lost both popular support and advertising endorsements. He was allegedly removed as the brand ambassador of Incredible India and Snapdeal. Things got so bad for him that he had to clarify his stance through an open letter. A handful of politicians even asked him to shift to countries like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar also made similar comments and had to face the music from politicians as well as angry social media users. This was the time when the line dividing the freedom of speech and insulting the nation was erased.
Suicide of Rohith Vemula
The suicide of Rohith Vemula brought BJP's HRD Minister Smriti Irani under fire. Rohith, a Dalit student of Hyderabad University, had allegedly been suspended from the hostel for engaging in activities that the MHRD had dubbed as "anti-national". In the aftermath, much like the Dadri incident, politicians like Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi swooped in to express their sympathies and gain political mileage. When PM Narendra Modi came to address students in Hyderabad, he was welcomed with black flags and slogans such as "Justice for Rohith." Students in pockets of Delhi and Mumbai also marched across the city demanding justice for the student.