Innocent till proven guilty is an inviolable principle of the Indian justice system. Those supporting the government action against Kanhaiya Kumar ignore this basic tenet of law in their hurry to dole out certificates of patriotism and to segregate nationalists from the anti-nationals in their private courts.
Perhaps, in their hurry to label others anti-national, they do not mind being anti-humanity, whose very survival would be threatened if lynch mobs were to be let loose on people merely on the basis of an accusation.
Those advocating strict punishment for Kanhaiya, president of the JNU students' union, have put out many arguments, including the demand for spanking the students for their crime, an advice BJP legislator OP Sharma and his thugs seem to have taken seriously.
But, amidst the swirl of noises, one argument that needs serious deconstruction is this: That we have been too tolerant of intolerance and the government is right in taking action against those who indulged in "anti-national" activities .
This position has been outlined cogently in a piece by Jaideep Prabhu for Firstpost. "Perhaps the only thing more vexatious than the farce being enacted on the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are the columns in defence of the rabble-rousers. Despite several videos surfacing that clearly show slogans not only expressing sympathy for a man, Indian courts , including the apex one , have repeatedly declared a terrorist but also calling for the Balkanisation and destruction of India, the Indian chatterati have rushed to lambast the government for taking excessive measures against the rabble-rousers," Prabhu writes.
This is a valid argument, at least in principle. Even if the law does not consider such hooliganism, slogan-shouting and "anti-nationalism" as seditious, it is morally reprehensible to condone it. As citizens of this country, we are entitled to several rights, but we are also expected to perform certain duties. And, I reiterate, we may be legally allowed to get away with such freedom of speech, but it would be difficult to escape the charge that it is immoral to denigrate one's own country.
But, the problem with this argument is that it ends up negating itself in Kanhaiya's case. Yes, there may be a lot of videos floating around showing a lot of slogan shouting in the JNU campus. But, which one of them shows Kanhaiya raising anti-India slogans or threatening India's barbadi? So, why target him? Is it just because, as the argument goes, he was at a meeting where some unidentified persons shouted anti-India slogans?
Yes, by all means take action according to the law of the land against those who were behind the slogans, hang them for sedition if the law permits that. But, why brand Kanhaiya an anti-national, a deshdrohi, ironically, on the basis of the "several videos" that do not indict him?
Or, is it because somebody tweeted solid evidence from a fake account irrefutable evidence of Kanhaiya's guilt?
The government's cheerleaders are, of course, guilty of double-speak. Though they want us to applaud the government for its swift action on the basis of "adequate video" evidence, their heart doesn't bleed for the "more-than adequate" evidence against the goons who attacked journalists and students in the premises of a court, in the presence of cops.
Did somebody, for instance, ask, why the police have not made a single arrest when these thugs have been boasting about their hooliganism on TV, claiming they could have killed people if a bandook was available?
If shouting slogans is tantamount to sedition, isn't an admission of murderous rage tantamount to homicide? If students can be panned for subsisting on public money, can somebody tell us how is the public money being put to good use by legislators like OP Sharma?
Should his parents pat his derriere for being such a sanskari MLA?
The truth is that there is a lot of obfuscation happening, facts are being twisted with vacuous jargon added to words like majoritarianism, collective conscience and nationalism.
Take for instance the liberal use of the word rabble-rousers? In the JNU case, who exactly is the rabble-rouser? Is it Kanhaiya? If yes, how? Are the ones who protesting his arrest the rabble-rousers? If yes, why?
Or, are the ones who are trying to brand an entire university anti-national because some unidentified persons and fringe elements shouted nasty slogans and argued in favour of a hanged terrorist, the real rabble-rousers? If the fringe is the core, what does that make the BJP when its patriots like Sakshi Maharaj want Nathuram Godse to be called a patriot, or refuse to end their kar seva for a temple even when the case is pending in the courts? Saugandh Ram ki khaate hain, remember?
Finally, here is some food for thought for those who denounce the liberal values of the West and its stable democracies and see Singapore and Malaysia as role-models for a democracy.
Writing in The Indian Express, eminent lawyer Fali S Nariman argues that being anti-national is not a crime and certainly not sedition. But he also narrates an anecdote, fans of the Singapore/Malaysia-model of democracy should do well to remember.
"At a conference held some years ago in Kuala Lumpur, a prominent retired judge of the Court of Appeal of Malaysia said to a crowded hall of 500 delegates (at the International Bar Association conference held there): “Our written constitution guarantees freedom of speech” (loud applause). He then paused, and went on to frankly say: “but it does not guarantee freedom after speech.”
Is this where we are headed?