The public at large has been very critical of the lumpen brigade of the BJP in Gujarat threatening theatre owners and cinema-goers who dare to show any inclination to see Aamir Khan’s latest film. And all this because the actor has shown concern for the oustees of Narmada Dam project.
But the response of the main political parties, both Congress and BJP, is very disturbing. One is amazed that any political party can be so shame-faced as to say that what is being done by one of its wings in Gujarat is of no concern to it. What kind of political party does it pretend to be, if the various units in the State are free to act in any manner, without the Central leadership owning up to the responsibility?
That the BJP should behave in such a manner is understandable because of its past record, but that the Congress should take the same stand shows how principled politics has gone out of the window in our country. I should have thought that all the political parties would have joined the NGOs in Gujarat in taking a firm stand against this action of the BJP youth brigade.
People are very much concerned with the Narmada project and any person who even out of compassion supports the oustees’ case (even though he has not said anything about the viability of the project) is taking a risk. Frankly, many of us do not buy the empty slogan of `Right to Development’ by Narendra Modi and his minions. We fully endorse the anguished cry of the oustees. Bureaucratic decisions are made without prior consultation with the affected parties and disadvantaged sections. The refrain is that a price has to be paid for development. There is no answer as to why the sacrifice must always be made by the disadvantaged and the tribals, and the benefits go only to the politically and monetarily powerful.
There is also the larger issue of the fundamental right to free speech involved here. It is well settled that expression by means of motion pictures is an exercise of the right of freedom of speech. The BJP cannot force its view on others who have a different view. Of course, it is open to anyone to take a different view but to indulge in action causing danger to physical safety is not permitted.
As a matter of fact, the Government of Gujarat would put itself seriously in danger of being taken over, if it persists in its silence and does not take active steps to ensure safety to the theatre owners if they decide to open their theatres to this picture. There is nothing to suggest that the picture has any objectionable scenes. It has complied with law and has got its sanction from the concerned authorities.
In the words of the Supreme Court, if groups like Gujarat are permitted to threaten force, it would be tantamount to negation of the rule of law and a surrender to blackmail and intimidation. The Supreme Court has categorically held that in such circumstances, it is the duty of the State to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed by the State. The State cannot plead its inability to handle the hostile audience problem. It is it’s obligatory duty to prevent violence and protect the freedom of expression.
If the State of Gujarat pleads its inability to control it, it obviously means a failure of the Constitutional machinery, as the State has a duty under Article 355 to ensure that the Government is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
Now, if the actions of the lumpen BJP youth continues and the threat, violence, and intimidation against the theatre owners and the safety of the cinema goers cannot be assured by the Government of Gujarat by giving due protection, a situation must be deemed to have arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
In such a situation, there would be no other option for the President of India but to dismiss the Government of Gujarat and to assume to himself all the functions of the Government of the State under Article 356 of the Constitution. To allow the current situation to continue in Gujarat poses a great danger to democracy and may be the first unrecognized step towards an era of intolerance and encouragement to neo fascist tendency of certain political parties.
Let us not forget that these activities of the Gujarat youth pose a danger to the Indian Constitution and State. As a matter of fact, the law is so clear that courts have even held that power under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure cannot be used to curtail the rights of citizens, merely because the applicant apprehends breach of peace or inconvenience or nuisance. Thus, no party can be interdicted for doing an act in the exercise of his Constitutional rights on the grounds that goons of BJP youth will break-up the cinema halls and interfere with the exercise of the right of individuals to see the film.
The matter is too urgent and must compel all political parties to sit down and stop the vulgar dance of death and goondaism going on in Gujarat, in the name of poor starving peasants being deprived of water.
One wishes the BJP youth would read the report of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, who has opined that the water available at the current dam height is being used only up to 10 to 25 per cent, because of the failure of the Modi government to construct the connecting links which could carry water to the starving areas of the State.
No country can prosper if open expression of speech is suppressed. As the Supreme Court has said, “…one of the basic values of a free society to which we are wedded under our Constitution, is that there must be freedom, not only for the thought that we cherish, but also for the thought that we hate…”