Perception is important in politics. Thanks to a concerted effort by the leftist-intellectual cabal that usually dominates the debate, especially in the English media, the perception that free speech is under attack under the Modi Government has gained wide currency. Even covenanted members of the corporate world, who are otherwise well-disposed towards the Prime Minister, have felt obliged to express concern about the alleged atmosphere of intolerance building up in the country. Apparently, the vicious propaganda unleashed by the leftist historians, writers, artistes, etc., has persuaded them to sound a note of caution. Their concerns must be taken on board. Indeed, thanks to the English media, even a section of the western press has bought into the scary story. This is wrong, but not unexpected. There is an ingrained bias against home-spun rulers who are happy conversing in regional Indian languages and prefer to eat with their hands. It is a cultural thing.
Now, the reach and influence of the urban-centric English media might be very limited, but its capacity to begin the conversation, to set the agenda, as it were, is disproportionately high. Therefore, it will be unwise to ignore the concerns of the English media. The present ruling dispensation does not have very many westernised intellectuals on its side. The Congress as the ruling party for decades naturally attracted lots of them. A mutually beneficial arrangement assured that while in power the party granted them fellowships, foreign junkets, official sinecures, etc. and the later returned the favour by rooting for it openly. It is notable that the party indulged in the broad daylight loot of the public purse for the longest period since the founding of the Republic, but the Romila Thapars and the Irfan Habibs had not a word to say to the rulers. Given that every penny that went into the private pockets of Congress leaders somehow was an assault on the poor and the hungry, the unconcern of the public intellectuals was shocking. Nor did the defenders of our democratic freedom open their mouths when young boys and girls were killed in cold blood in the name of fighting Naxalism in West Bengal or the Khalistanis in Punjab.
Those now whipping up a campaign against the Modi Government, pegging it on a stray killing in Dadri, and the horrendous murder of a rationalist in Karnataka, were tongue-tied when the hand of a college professor was chopped off by Islamic fundamentalists in Kerala which was then, as now, ruled by the Congress-led United Front Alliance. The professor was accused of blasphemy for having posed what to every sane person appeared an innocuous question about Prophet Mohammed. Indeed, one does not recall the intellectual class getting all het up when repeated attacks took place on the Dalits in Haryana when both the State and the Centre were under the Congress. Not did these saviours of the Republic find their collective conscience pricked when following the death of Balasaheb Thackeray two girls, hardly out of their teens, were picked up by the Maharashtra police late in the night for mildly questioning the need for a holiday on his funeral. The State then was ruled by the Congress, and in Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan it had a western-educated leader. Not one intellectual had bothered to come forward and protest the grotesque excess of the police.
Therefore, the point that there is a clear bias behind the concerted and well-organised campaign against the Modi Government cannot be easily countered. By nature, intellectuals, writers, artistes, etc., tend to be the most individualistic people who are not easily herded under one roof. The fact that they met in the national capital on Sunday to pass a resolution against the Government underlined their anxiety to pay back their patrons who are now out in the cold. It is notable that as part of a strategy, the Congress Party has decided to march to the Rashtrapati Bhawan to present a memorandum against the Government. On his part, President Pranab Mukherjee might not want the impression to grow that his words are fuelling the motivated campaign of the leftist-intellectual cabal. Playing to the gallery is indeed the bona fide business of the political class but persons holding high constitutional office must carefully weigh the impact of each word, and its likely use and abuse, lest they too get sucked into an unnecessary controversy. It does not require much intelligence to fathom the real reason why there is such a hue and cry being made by these so-called intellectuals. The objective is to influence the voter in the on-going poll in Bihar. Once the last vote is cast in Bihar, you will find the charade of award-returnees and other noise-makers coming to an abrupt end.