Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who was arrested on charges of sedition for his anti-corruption cartoons, has been given his Fifteen Minutes of Fame. And he’s milking it for what they’re worth.
Trivedi, who arrived in Kanpur on Sunday enroute to his home in Shuklaganj in Unnao district for the first time since his arrest last week, was received at the Kanpur railway station by his parents and a throng of supporters, PTI reports. He was then evidently taken on a procession to his hometown, a reflection of how the ham-handed action in arresting him on a private complaint has turned a mediocre cartoonist into an instant celebrity.
Trivedi, 25, was arrested under IPC Section 124 (sedition), Section 66 A of Information Technology Act and Section 2 of Prevention of Insults to Nation Honour Act. He was released after the Bombay High Court granted him bail.
Talking to newspersons at the railway station, Trivedi said he would continue to draw cartoons that raised the issue of corruption. And for those who felt that his cartoons were perhaps lacking in sophistication, and were perhaps a little too shrill, Trivedi had a stark message. His cartoons, he said, would now spew even more venom.
Channelling public anger against corruption, Trivedi said, somewhat grandiosely, that his mission henceforth would be to root out corruption from the country.
Trivedi noted that anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare had said it was a blessing to go to jail for the sake of one’s country. “I went to jail to remove corruption from the country and hence there was no reason to repent or be afraid,” he said.
The freelancer has been accused of putting up banners mocking the Constitution during a rally of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare late last year and posting the cartoons on his website. Trivedi was arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by a member of Republican Party of India.
The arrest of Aseem Trivedi was, of course, a colossal error on the part of the police officials and politicians in Maharashtra. It has justifiably initiated a debate on the merits of repealing the sedition law. But just as much of a tragedy is that the arrest has given a handle for a two-bit cartoonist, whose art lines are far from sophisticated and his understanding of complex constitutional issues is at best sketchy, to channel public anger against corruption to project himself into the public consciousness even further.
For sure, anyone can join in the anti-corruption fight – and Trivedi, on the grouds of his arrest, is more welcome than most, having already paid a price for his public stand. But his promise to unleash even more venomous cartoons is somewhat disquieting, and seems calculated only to test the limits of free speech for self-aggrandisement.
What the anti-corruption battle needs is keen minds and thoughtful responses, not cartoonists who cater to the lowest common denominator of public taste by mindlessly milking public anger by taking liberties with national symbols.
Trivedi deserved every ounce of the public support he received following his arrest on sedition charges. But his promise to inflict even more of the same venomous cartoons appears to misread the spirit of the support he received. The support was as much directed at the perception that the government does nothing to tame corruption, but goes after even the feeblest voice of protest. To take it as a licence for his tendentious cartoons is utter folly.
A protestor who hurls foul-mouthed invectives may get attention in the short term, but it is not a good way to win adherents to the larger cause of fighting corruption. Trivedi’s work thus far, while revealing his justifiable rage against corruption, are the pictorial equivalent of such invective. They stoke rage, but are fruitless beyond that. Perhaps it might be more prudent for Trivedi to acquire a little more nuance in his ideas for cartoons. That way, he may make a more meaningful contribution on the margins to raising public awareness about corruption. Else, Trivedi risks becoming a coarse caricature of himself – and we know how bad that would look…