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Modi govt vs Priya Pillai: Insanity of the 'doodh mein makkhi' theory

For a government whose leader was recently roundly criticized for his ‘ahankar’, the performance put on by its lawyers in the Delhi High Court was astonishingly tone-deaf.

Defending the decision to pull Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai off a plane, Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain made a series of statements that ought to be the stuff of political satire – the kind spoofing a tinpot dictatorship a la Woody Allen’s Bananas, perhaps. The tone was high-handed and the substance derisive, to say the least. Worse, Jain’s arguments reflected an alarming lack of understanding of the very nature of democracy and free speech.

Let’s start with the reason why Pillai was unceremoniously grounded, ie “she had plans to testify on the alleged violations of forest rights of indigenous tribal people in the Mahan coal block area.” So is speaking out against perceived human rights violations now a crime? Well, apparently so, if you plan to do it on foreign soil.

“The government said it has no objection to Pillai expressing her opinion on the issue in India and it would permit Pillai to travel abroad if she gave an undertaking that she would not go abroad to express such opinions,” reports Mint.

 Modi govt vs Priya Pillai: Insanity of the doodh mein makkhi theory

Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai. Agencies

So Pillai could have freely called a press conference in Delhi to bring attention to her cause, even testified in the Indian parliament if required. But the moment she decided to share her views in front of a UK parliamentary group, then those same remarks become ‘anti-national.’ Following this logic, it is not what you say that is treasonous but where you say it.

This may sound preposterous to the average citizen, but hey, Jain was only too eager to explain the method in this government madness, as Indian Express reports.

“We are at least two decades behind advanced countries in the energy sector. The advanced countries may not be interested in our advancement,” Jain argued. Okay, but where does Pillai fit into this foreign ‘plot’ to keep us backward and literally powerless? You, dear reader, have quite forgotten about the ‘global cascading effect’, a little known phenomenon that can transform one presentation in front of a bunch of British MPs – known in popular parlance as a ‘doodh mein makhi’ -- into a weapon of mass destruction.

As Jain pointed out, “To destroy something, you don’t need a bomb. You feed somebody distorted speech and the human mind will do the rest.”

If your mind isn’t quite able to connect such widely spaced dots, the affidavit submitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs offers a handy guide:

“There are indications that the UK parliament’s APPG report on tribal peoples will use Priya Parameswaran Pillai’s testimony to rate India at a low level, leaving Indian open to a potential sanction regime… Unlike at the United Nations, these reports by US, UK and EP do not provide opportunity to the Government of India or the local Embassy/High Commission to record their opinion and are heavily biased against the targeted country.”

Before you know it, Pillai’s “one sided view” will become “gospel truth” and poor Bharat Mata will be cast down into the ranks of global pariahs, forced to rub shoulders with the grubby likes of Iran, Russia and North Korea.

Please note, however, such catastrophic consequences are unlikely if the same information is presented to the same MPs over Skype – which is exactly what Pillai did without any government interference back in January.

Apparently, the ‘global cascading effect’ is location-sensitive. Hence, the Modi sarkar continues to insist that Pillai sign an undertaking promising that she will not speak about the human rights violations before she is free to travel.

One can make endless fun of the government’s Red Queen-like capriciousness, but the jokes begin to wear thin when we recognise why the words ‘mad’ and ‘dictator’ go so well together. The arbitrary and unpredictable use of power is the essence of dictatorship. That our government can so willfully and ludicrously wield power is no laughing matter, after all.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2015 10:22:07 IST

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