Lois Sofia-Tamilisai Soundararajan face-off: If the word 'fascist' is in your vocabulary, you are probably a terrorist
On Monday, Lois Sofia, a post-doctoral research scholar in Mathematics on a flight from Chennai to Tuticorin, raised anti-BJP slogans in the presence of the party's Tamil Nadu unit president, Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan. Could Soundararajan have handled it differently? Most certainly, yes. Politicians are expected to have a more thick skin when confronted with dissent.
Is the word 'fascist' part of your vocabulary?
If it is, you are not an "innocent" person in the BJP book. In fact, you could even be a "terrorist".
On Monday, Lois Sofia, a post-doctoral research scholar in Mathematics on a flight from Chennai to Tuticorin, raised anti-BJP slogans in the presence of the party's Tamil Nadu unit president, Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan. 28-year-old Sofia, who was on her way home from Canada, shouted "fascist BJP government down, down'' after the flight landed in Tuticorin and Soundararajan was taking out her luggage from the overhead cabin.
A verbal altercation followed thereafter at the Tuticorin airport between Sofia and BJP activists who had come to receive their leader. Sofia was arrested and sent to judicial custody for 15 days, after a formal complaint by the BJP chief with the airport police. IPC sections 505 (statements amounting to public mischief), 290 (public nuisance) and section 75 of the Tamil Nadu city police act were slapped on Sofia. She was granted bail on Tuesday.
Soundararajan later told The Indian Express that no innocent girl will use the F-word, as in fascist.
"I questioned her. She replied that she has the right to freedom of expression. She shouted that slogan and used the word 'fascist', raising her fist and all. I thought I should not ignore a terrorist so I filed a petition,'' said Soundararajan.
This brings us to the question whether it was Sofia who crossed the line or Soundararajan with her lack of tolerance.
According to the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules on handling of unruly/disruptive passengers, what Sofia committed, was a level one offence which is defined as disruptive behaviour through physical gestures and verbal harassment. It says that the incident shall be referred by the airlines to an internal committee which shall consist of a retired district and sessions judge as chairman and two representatives from a different airline and from a passenger or consumer association as members. It further says that the internal committee shall decide the period for which the passenger is to be barred from flying and pending its decision, the airline may ban for a period not exceeding ten days.
When the law is clear on the process to be followed, why did the Tamil Nadu Police jump the gun and arrest Sofia? Was it because a VIP was involved and her party was determined to prove a point?
Could Soundararajan have handled it differently? Most certainly, yes. Politicians are expected to have a more thick skin when confronted with dissent. If a mere slogan can offend you, the problem is not so much with the dissenter but with the politician. What the BJP chief decided to do is to show her political clout. And send the message that the BJP will not tolerate a word against its government.
In April, at the height of the discord over Cauvery issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was greeted during a visit to Chennai with black flags and black balloons and 'Go Back Modi' trending on social media. Should the prime minister have reacted like Soundararajan did?
This goes against what Modi has said publicly in the past that "this government should be criticised because criticism makes democracy strong". Soundararajan's behaviour is in contrast to what Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme court said last week that dissent is the safety valve of democracy and if you muzzle democracy, the pressure cooker will burst.
But examine closely and you realise that there is a pattern.
Soundararajan's colleague, Union minister of state for finance Pon Radhakrishnan on many occasions has referred to the presence of naxals, terrorists and Muslim fundamentalists in Tamil Nadu. It is the same figment of imagination that Soundararajan displays when she calls anyone who raises a slogan with a clenched fist a possible 'terrorist'. Given Sofia's background as a research scholar, it won't be long before she is branded an Urban Naxal.
In fact, a beginning has already been made. Soundararajan made a reference to Sofia's writings against the Sterlite plant in Tuticorin, indirectly suggesting that she has an anti-establishment mindset. In May this year, 13 residents of Tuticorin were shot dead by the district police when they were protesting demanding the closure of the "polluting plant''.
What Soundararajan does not realise is that the criticism was not personal or abusive but was a political statement against a party. Imprisoning anyone who goes public with a contrarian view is hardly the way a democracy is meant to function.
Has the BJP leader shot her party in the foot, at least in Tamil Nadu? If the social media is any kind of barometer to go by, Soundararajan was seen to have overreacted. Within hours, several hashtags denouncing the BJP were trending. For a party that hopes to have the lotus blossom in Tamil Nadu, for the moment, it has invited muck on to itself.
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