The court was categorical in its response — while registering its disapproval of the statement by Mr Khera
The timely and resolute intervention of the Supreme Court to prevent the incarceration of Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera for cases registered against him over his comment that was critical of the Prime Minister has spared our blushes seeing as we call ourselves the oldest democracy in the world.
The court was categorical in its response — while registering its disapproval of the statement by Mr Khera, reminding him that a certain decorum needs to be maintained in public discourse, it held that the charges against him were unmaintainable and directed the magistrate to grant him bail. It also issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh and Assam governments to submit their opinions on Mr Khera’s appeal to club the various first information reports filed against him in these states.
As admitted by Mr Khera’s lawyer in the court, and the Chief Justice himself suggests, Mr Khera’s comment leaves a bad taste in the mouth. He and his party may believe that the government favoured a particular corporate but they should realise that making disparaging remarks against an elected PM is not the way to advance their argument against policies made or administrative actions taken or not taken by his government. As a political party in the Opposition, the Congress’ job is to explain and expose misdeeds of the government before the people. This is precisely why lowering the standard of discourse cannot be a part of its project.
That said, one cannot lose sight of how the BJP government at the Centre is using legal provisions to silence its critics. The Supreme Court was last year forced to suspend the operation of the Raj-era sedition law, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, after it was seen being repeated invoked against dissenters. The Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation have, meanwhile, rendered themselves to be puppets in the hands of the establishment.
One condemnable tactic of the ruling party and its constituents is that organisations cause multiple FIRs to be filed against their opponents in various courts across the country. This is a gross abuse of jurisprudence. It is not the first time that the Supreme Court has stepped in to pre-empt this mode of harassment of citizens. The court must now consider putting in place a foolproof mechanism to end this once and for all as not all those in the dock can afford the services of top-notch lawyers.
The leaders of the BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, must know very well how the government sought to muzzle Opposition voices in the country during the Emergency and how the people of India punished it at the first opportunity.
It cannot be overemphasised that democracy is all about dialogue and debate, and that people from all over the political spectrum must be shown a way to participate in these exercises just so that it may be successful and even when they speak words that the rulers may not like to hear. The BJP is a beneficiary of the same democratic process and hence it is its duty not to let this right be trampled upon.