The recent raids and arrests of human right activists, lawyers and writers like Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautama Navlakha, Varavar Rao, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in several cities in India is a clear indication that liberal democracy and civil liberties are on their last legs in the country, and soon we will see dissenting voices being permanently muted or dissenters put behind bars, much as it happened during Nazi rule or during the Emergency.
The present situation is only a followup to the atmosphere created for some time after Hindutva hate speeches, communal 'riots' (which were not really riots but one-sided attacks), vigilantism, the lynching of Muslims and putting fear in their minds, saffronisation of institutions, terrorisation of the media, Joseph Goebbels-style propaganda by a section of the servile and blatantly biased media (particularly some TV channels that constantly spout venom against 'anti-nationalists', 'Urban Naxals' etc) and the persecution of liberal intellectuals and activists.
We may draw an analogy with what happened in Germany after Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933.
At the time, Germany was one of the world's citadels of culture and learning, and its academicians were highly reputed everywhere. The Weimar Republic was one of the freest democracies in the world. However, all this changed very quickly. Freedom of speech was suppressed, protesters were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, the Jewish and leftist professors were sacked (many migrated for their safety) and the others quickly fell in line and became pro-Nazi to avoid the same fate.
Intellectuals can easily be silenced by showing them the fear of losing their jobs. The same is happening in India today. There is hardly any protest by professors in Indian universities and colleges against the raids and arrests of persons implicated in the Bhima Koregaon incident. The media's voice is muted and will soon reconcile itself to the situation.
The truth is that the common man in India does not really care about civil liberties or freedom of speech, and he is really concerned about feeding himself and his family. This was proved in the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. There was hardly any significant protest, and instead there were talks of the 'gains of Emergency', trains running on time etc. There were no mass demonstrations or open opposition, and the press crawled when it was only asked to bend, as LK Advani said.
The Congress defeat in the 1977 polls was not due to the suppression of liberties during Emergency, but because of nasbandi or forced sterilisation. In fact, the party did quite well in the South where nasbandi was not implemented, but was almost wiped out in the North where it was.
Intellectuals make up not more than five percent of the population of India, and it is they alone who are bothered about freedom of speech, freedom of the press and other civil liberties. But intellectuals belong to the middle class, and are accustomed to middle class comforts. Give them a threat of being deprived of these comforts and most of them will quickly cave in. This is precisely what is happening in India, albeit not as abruptly as in Nazi Germany, but in a gradual manner with creeping advances.
Intellectuals and liberals rely on rationalism. But rationalism cannot face squads of fascist goons, like the SA and SS in Nazi Germany, or the gau rakshaks and the might of the saffronised State in India. The coming Lok Sabha elections, in which no holds will be barred, including widespread use of strong-arm goons, will cap the process. The days of free speech, liberalism and free intellectualism are slowly coming to an end in India.
The author is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India
Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 10:59 AM