‘Why shouldn’t I hold an opinion?’: Meghalaya guv Tathagata Roy on Kashmir, social media trolls and secularism
Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy’s tweets have attracted sharp and widespread criticism and even spurred debate if governors are needed
The Kashmiri Pandit issue is extremely important to understand the current debate
I think there is nothing wrong with the Indian media
The heading over Article 370 says “temporary and transient provisions”. Temporary provisions must go
Shillong: Days after the 14 February attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district, Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy relayed “an appeal from a retired colonel of the Indian Army” on Twitter asking people to not visit Kashmir or Amarnath for the next two years.
An appeal from a retired colonel of the Indian Army: Don’t visit Kashmir,don’t go to Amarnath for the next 2 years. Don’t buy articles from Kashmir emporia or Kashmiri tradesman who come every winter. Boycott everything Kashmiri.
I am inclined to agree
— Tathagata Roy (@tathagata2) February 19, 2019
The tweet immediately drew sharp reactions from several politicians and media houses, with some asking for his removal from the governor’s post. Even Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he did not agree with Roy’s tweet. In his office at Shillong’s Raj Bhawan on Monday, looking up from a printed copy of an opinion piece entitled Tathagata Roy is India’s first toxic Twitter governor, Roy said he did not wish to speak about that particular tweet anymore. Having finished a long email response to the author of the piece, he moved on from the issue by simply saying he thought the larger response to the tweet was disproportionate.
Although Roy refused to take questions on the tweet, he earlier responded to the criticism on Twitter itself by calling it “vociferously violent reactions from media and several others to my ECHOING OF a suggestion from a retired army colonel. A purely NON-VIOLENT REACTION to the killing of our soldiers by the hundreds and the driving out of 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits (sic).”
When asked about how these incidents of violence against Kashmiri Pandits 30 years ago are relevant in the current situation in Kashmir, Roy said, “The Kashmiri Pandit issue is extremely important to understand the current debate. Three-and-a-half lakh people were just given a go-by? What kind of justice is this? What kind of politics is this? This is the height of irresponsibility. On the question of taking back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) or thwarting separatists, the Kashmiri Pandits issue is of the highest importance.”
Will addressing the injustices against Kashmiri Pandits solve the problems in in the state today? “It will not solve (the problems). But it will take the situation quite a number of steps towards a solution,” the governor said. His tweet on boycotting Kashmiri tradesmen gained attention mainly because it came at a time when incidents of violence against Kashmiri students were reported in several parts of the country, a trend that the Meghalaya governor believes was inaccurately reported.
“I’m sure it is hugely exaggerated. That way, northeastern students have been hustled in north India and other places. Even if they are not physically harassed, a lot of people make fun of them. As a governor of a Northeastern province, I find it very objectionable. But nobody talks about it. But a few Kashmiri students get roughed up somewhere and they make a huge issue out of it. I think this is improper journalism,” Roy said. This episode was, however, not the first time Roy’s tweets attracted sharp and widespread criticism (and even spurred debate on whether governors are needed).
In March 2018, soon after two statues of Vladimir Lenin were demolished in Tripura following the Bharatiya Janata Party's historic win, many construed the following tweet by Roy (who was then Tripura governor) to be endorsing such destruction of public property:
What one democratically elected government can do another democratically elected government can undo. And vice versa https://t.co/Og8S1wjrJs
— Tathagata Roy (@tathagata2) March 5, 2018
“In Tripura, I simply made a very generic statement, that what one man has done another man can undo. I hadn’t said anything more specific. But the response to my tweet wasn’t proportionate. A whole lot of people think Lenin was some kind of demi god: Lenin or Marx or whosoever’s statue was brought down. Do you know what Lenin died from? He died from syphilis. You can look up European-Neurological-Journal-plus-Lenin-plus-death on the internet, you will find that he died from syphilis,” Roy said.
But what has that got to do with Tripura politics? “No, this fact is not well known. But this will detract from people’s idea of Lenin being some kind of god. In Lenin’s own country, his statues have been taken down and sold for scrap, but in the Bengali speaking part of the world, he is still considered a demi god. So, I am against that. Someone who dies from syphilis without receiving blood transfusion can’t be a god.”
Roy, who describes himself as a “right-wing Hindu socio-political thinker, writer and ideologue”, is clearly the most vocal governor in India, and does not regret it. "Holding a constitutional post does not require one to be speech and hearing-challenged,” he told Economic Times last year. So why is it that his views are, so often, considered inappropriate for someone holding his office?
“See, everyone imagines themselves to be a constitutional expert. What do you do about it? I am obliged to follow the Constitution as it is laid down therein or as it has been interpreted by a high court or the Supreme Court. If these institutions have said something about what the governor can or can’t do, I’m obliged to follow that. But I’m not obliged to follow everybody’s personal construct of the Constitution. That is what is irking a lot of people: that I hold an opinion at all. Why shouldn’t I hold an opinion?”
The governor then opined on a few issues:
On the media
Generally, I think there is nothing wrong with the Indian media, except that some of them toe the lines of political parties. Every media (organisation) has some kind of slant: I don’t find any fault with that. But brazenly following the line of a political party or trying to prop up a particular leader, or misrepresenting facts by photoshopping, for instance, is reprehensible. Some media persons do that, and that is the bad part of this. Otherwise I don’t find anything seriously wrong with the Indian media.
On fact-checking websites
Oh, they are good, they are good. Alt News and Snopes.com, these are good ones. But they (pieces in such fact-checking websites) are not written by God. So, there is bound to be partisanship on these platforms and there is bound to be distortion of news. But so long as you have more sources and so long as you can find out different versions of stories, and so long as you have the liberty to come out and clarify what you intended to say over social media, the truth is more likely to emerge. The tyranny of the mainstream media which was prevailing until social media came into view was much worse than what we have today. So, we have improved in our quest for truth.
How do you respond to the opposition to your tweets? Do you find some of the trolling disturbing?
There are several possibilities. One is that if they are arguing sensibly, you can engage with them. If they are not sensible, you can refuse to engage with them. And if they are abusive, you can block them. That is what I do, habitually.
On Indian politics
I don’t think it has come to a particular low today. See, politics is said to come down to a low when it gets mixed with violence. Right now, in politics, there isn’t much violence. For instance, I have seen what kind of violence, threatening of voters — what used to be called scientific rigging — used to go on in West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It’s not happening now. In West Bengal, it’s still there, but it’s not as bad as (it was) under the Left front.
On Article 370
The heading over Article 370 says “temporary and transient provisions”. Temporary provisions must go, they must be temporary.
On sedition laws
Anything under the sun can be misused. That is no reason why it should be done away with. A human brain can be misused, does it mean that the brain should be taken out? Misuse should be prevented by the will of the people. But there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the section. I can be hammer and tongs against the government, but I can’t be against the Indian State. If I am, the sedition law will come into action, as it has in the past.
As the interview wound down, Roy shared a short excerpt of his response to Kaveree Bamzai, the author of Tathagata Roy is India’s first toxic Twitter governor:
“… I am not an Islamophobe either, although I had a right to be one, having seen the driving out of a crore of Hindus from East Pakistan and Bangladesh, among which members of my extended family were also there. I am just, if I can coin a term, virulently anti-anti-Hindu.”
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