Mr Thackeray’s actions are an opportunity to understand how competitive intolerance might be defeated
Excerpts from my op-ed piece in today’s Mail Today:
The state itself —and increasingly under the UPA government — has, in addition to caving in to intolerance, frequently indulged in unnecessary conscience-keeping that is at once laughable and abominable.
Raj Thackeray obviously knows this. His recent invective against “North Indians” living in Maharashtra is only the latest escalation in a grand arms race being played out across the length and breadth of the country. If the political system rewards those who mobilise people along parochial lines, the popular media obfuscates divide-and-rule politics by wrapping it in the language of vote-banks, secularism and social justice. So the juggernaut of competitive intolerance rolls on, unchecked.
So doesn’t this mean that we need curbs on freedom of speech? Couldn’t much of the violence been prevented if Raj Thackeray’s party magazine had simply been banned and television news channels censored?
Not quite. Newspaper reports and incessant coverage by television channels only brought the drama into our drawing rooms. But the banning of its house publication would not have deterred Mr Thackeray’s sena in its mission, for the action channel for political mobilisation and street violence works independently.
On the contrary, laws abridging freedom of speech have created incentives for the political use of intolerance.
Faced with a choice between taking “action” against an offending writer or facing down a mob of rioters, it is likely that a rational government official — from district magistrate to home minister — will choose the former. It works this way because the government official has the choice.
This choice offers those charged with maintaining law and order a convenient escape route. The Maharashtra state government, for instance, could pretend to be taking “action” by arresting Mr Thackeray and Abu Azmi for their incendiary speeches, after the damage had been done.
The only way to maintain law and order is to bring the violent to justice. But after the drama of Mr Thackeray’s arrest, the Maharashtra state government is unlikely to pursue the task of going after the thugs and their local leaders with any seriousness.
The upshot is that doing away with restraints to freedom of expression is not merely a matter of principle. Because those restraints often come at the cost of leaving criminals unpunished, getting rid of them is a practical necessity. [Mail Today JPG]
Update: Download the original essay in PDF form
4 thoughts on “My op-ed in Mail Today: Free speech checks intolerance”
Raj Thackeray and his men had the tacit backing of the Congress, NCP and communists. The calculation here was that elevating his profile would help to divide Sena vote, and so poor north Indians be damned.
i don’t think so. everyone was initially afraid to arrest him rightaway lest he turn into a political martyr in the cause of Marathi regional pride.perhaps that was also what he was looking forward to. it was quite prudent on the part of the government to wait and watch carefully and plan its next step. and that has worked he has hanged himself with the long rope provided to him by proving himself to be a bigot and a hot head during the last one week.so much so that even his own uncle the senior thackeray himself has gone on record against him.
Nitin – If up to me, I would have your essay published in every Indian newspaper, particularly the vernaculars.
Free Speech can check intolerance, can it check deliberate Cong tactics
In Raj, Cong saw an answer to Pawar
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