On psywar and sedition

And demonstrating resolve

Twenty prominent personalities have written an op-ed arguing that India cannot afford to fall victim to a psywar (linkthanks Yazad Jal).

Some stray voices in the media have been questioning, with surprising nonchalance and lack of depth, the wisdom and expediency of retaining Kashmir as a part of India. This matters not because such voices reflect any growing view in our country but because they play into the hands of enemies of the nation. Their suggestions embolden subversive forces both within and outside the country, and encourage our adversaries to entertain the hope that with a little more effort, Kashmir will secede from India.

National will is a critical component of state power. In the absence of military might, psychological warfare is the weapon of choice of a devious adversary to attempt to break national will, and to also confuse and demoralise the Indian state. No nation aspiring to become a major player in global power dynamics can afford to fall victim to such psywar.

India cannot and must not give any signal that could be misinterpreted to mean that its national resolve to preserve its unity and integrity is crumbling. [ExpressBuzz]

They end their piece calling for the Indian government, political parties and people to unequivocally signal a commitment to India’s territorial integrity.

They are right to point out the effect that a perceived weakening of Indian resolve will have in the minds of Kashmiri separatists and Pakistani strategists. As Praveen Swami’s excellent India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad describes all too clearly, India ends up suffering for the errors of judgement made by deluded Pakistani strategists who are keen to jump at the smallest sign of weakness on India’s part.

While they rightly criticise the media for giving way too much prominence to the “let Kashmir go” perspective, they could well have made these points without criticising the freedom of expression or describing views to the contrary as “seditious”. Actually winning the public debate by prevailing over pro-secessionists (and not by merely shutting them out) can send an even stronger signal to secessionists and deluded Pakistani strategists.

Three thoughts on Independence Day

On socialism, constitutionalism and curbing intolerance

For contemplation on Independence Day—on the need to expunge socialism from the Constitution in letter and spirit; on the norms of public activism; and how competitive intolerance might be reined in.

Related Links: Three thoughts on Independence Day 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 & on Republic Day 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Intolerance insurance

Markets in everything*

If the Indian government is failing to clamp down on competitive intolerance, the film and insurance industries have devised their own solution:

Politics and public sentiment, Bollywood has learned the hard way, can wind it at the box-office. With community protest increasingly becoming part of the noise accompanying a film release, the industry has decided to hedge its bets. And what better way than buying insurance cover. Most new Bollywood films are insured against everything from bans to terrorism, says producer Punkej Kharbanda, who made the controversial Matrubhoomi (A Nation without Women).

“…producers buy cover on an approximate and not actual budget,” says a trade insider. Apart from traditional cover for cast/key members, props and equipment, raw stock, negatives and extra expenses, a film producer is also protected if a movie is hit by adverse weather or if there is an illness in the family.

“Another attractive policy,” says leading Bollywood lawyer Shekhar Menon, “is the Multimedia Liability Insurance (Errors and Omissions) which protects directors from a quiver of legal claims, including those arising from defamation, libel or slander; copyright infringement (such as in the Raakesh Roshan-Ram Sampat Krazzy 4 spat or the Manoj Kumar-Shah Rukh Khan Om Shanti Om encounter); trademark infringement; invasion of privacy, plagiarism; emotion distress; negligence and even imprisonment.” [TOI]

There you go: the insurance markets may now help define the practical limits of freedom of expression.

* With due regards to Tyler Cowen who loves finding markets in everything

Your intolerance is scandalous

India’s First Amendment

A lurker on Atanu Dey’s blog pointed to two fantastic reports from TIME magazine’s archives.

May 28, 1951…Part of the Indian press, said (Nehru), is dirty, indulges in “vulgarity, indecency and falsehood.” To teach it manners, Nehru proposed an amendment to India’s constitution that would impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. He asked for power to curb the press and to punish persons and newspapers for “contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offense.” Nehru told Parliament: “It has become a matter of the deepest distress to me to see the way in which the less responsible news sheets are being conducted . . . not injuring me or this House much, but poisoning the minds of the younger generation.”

Nehru said his measure was aimed at Communist and Hindu extremist agitation. His real targets: Atom, Current, Struggle and Blitz, four Bombay-published sensational weeklies which have consistently attacked Nehru’s domestic and foreign policy, scurrilously attacked the U.S. [TIME]

In the event, parliament passed the first amendment that placed curbs on fundamental rights, including on the rights to speech and property.

June 11, 1951…A small but determined parliamentary opposition, led by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, former Minister for Industry, bitterly attacked the amendment.

Mookerjee (to Nehru): You’ve got 240 supporters in this House, but outside in the country millions are against you.

Nehru (shaking his fists) : [Your] statements are scandalous . . .

Mookerjee: Your intolerance is scandalous . . .

Nehru (shouting): Any person who says that this amendment of mine curbs the liberty of the press utters lies . . .

As Nehru explained it: “We should not only give the press freedom, but make it understand that freedom.” There was a lot of doubt whether Nehru himself understood the meaning of freedom. His excuse for requesting the law: the scurrilous outpouring of Indian scandal sheets. But as the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference pointed out: there was nothing to prevent the government from using its new powers against the legitimate press when & if it chose. [TIME]

Nehru’s followers have been consistent in following in his footsteps. Dr Mookerjee’s modern-day followers would do well to heed the position of their political-intellectual forefather.

Incitement to murder

…must be punished

There is an urgent need to crack down hard on ‘leaders’ (especially in Uttar Pradesh) who issue public calls for assassination.

In the Gurjjar stronghold of Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, Akhil Bharatiya Gurjjar Mahasabha president Chaudhary Virendra Singh has put Rs 5 crore reward on Vasundhara Raje’s head. “The Rajasthan CM is a murderer, responsible for the death of innocent activists,” said Singh. [IE]

The reporter’s next question is truly bizarre.

When asked as to who would arrange for a sum as hefty as Rs 5 crore, Singh claimed that the entire community would collect money to reward “the brave man who would behead her”. [IE]

Monumental folly

A statue to end all your troubles

A bunch of violent thugs attacked the residence of Kumar Ketkar, editor of Loksatta for writing a satirical piece criticising the Maharashtra government’s decision to engage in monumental folly. In support of Mr Ketkar’s freedom to write what he thought was right, and in support of writing what was right, here are excerpts from the English translation of his editorial.

Naturally, the government felt that having solved all the problems of the people, what remains to be done is to tell the whole world of the greatness of Shivaji. The government has decided to have more than one acre of land inside the sea acquired and filled so as to build the monument, which will attract all global tourists. All facilities will be given to the tourists. There will be a museum near the statue, artifacts of the 17th century, Shivaji’s personal effects, swords and shields and attire. There will also be directives issued by the Maharaj to his administrators on how to govern and make the people happy. Along with the museum, there will be shopping malls, selling T-shirts with Shivaji’s painting. There will be Shivaji key chains, Shivaji gift items, including cutlery.

Of course, there will be no beer bars. So obviously, there will be no dance bars, which the Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil detests so much. There will be perhaps wine, which according to the leader of NCP, Sharad Pawar, is not alcohol. So wine will be sold and served along with Coke and Pepsi and other soft drinks. There will be swadeshi McDonald’s as well as vintage Marathi vada-pau, which has been renamed by Uddhav Thackeray as ‘Shiv Vada-Pau’. There will also be ‘pani puri’ sold by the MNS activists of Raj Thackeray. No ‘bhaiyyas’ will be allowed to do business, only locals will be engaged. [IE]

Those concerned about Maharashtra and Mumbai need to explain their quiescence when the plans to revitalise Mumbai city and to turn into into an international financial centre were put in cold storage.

Having nothing much to show for its term in power, the Congress Party-led government is merely stoking up Marathi-chauvinism to distract public attention ahead the coming elections. Voters in Maharashtra should see through the trick.

Three cheers for the Delhi High Court

Its verdict should halt the tendency to use the law to flaunt competitive intolerance

Excerpts from the verdict of a single-judge bench of the Delhi High Court (Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul):

In a free and democratic society, tolerance is vital. This is true especially in large and complex societies like ours where people with varied beliefs and interests mingle..

It is very unfortunate that the works of any artist today who have tried to play around with nudity have come under scrutiny. These artists have had to face the music, making them think twice before exhibiting their work of art.

India’s new Puritanism, practised by a largely ignorant crowd in the name of Indian spiritual purity, is threatening to throw the nation back into the Pre-Renaissance era. Criminal justice system should not be used as an easy recourse to ventilate against a creative act.

Today, each painting has a story to narrate. Art to every artist is a vehicle for personal expression. An aesthetic work of art has the vigour to connect to an individual sensually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

The test for judging a work of art should be that of an ordinary man of common sense and not that of a hyper-sensitive one. Therefore looking at a piece of art from the painter’s perspective becomes very important, especially in the context of the nude.

Art and authority never had a difficult relationship, until recently…Our greatest problem today is fundamentalism, the triumph of the letter over the spirit. [IE]

Thus bench disposed off a slew of charges against M F Hussain (See Retributions). The plaintiffs will probably take their intolerance to the Supreme Court, but Justice Kaul’s judgement applies the brakes on the march of competitive intolerance. The big challenge, of course, is to make the ordinary man less hyper-sensitive. This judgement helps.

(We are trying to get hold of the full text of what looks like a very well-composed judgement.)

Update: Read Sandeep’s view, because it’s different.

The ‘Prince’ of Arcot can’t be sued

For calling himself the ‘Prince’ of Arcot

A personality, styling himself the “Prince of Arcot” was recently in the news for launching the latest salvo in the game of competitive intolerance. He played a role in getting the police to shut down an exhibition showing the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s intolerant policies against his subjects.

It was Aurangzeb who instituted the Nawabdom of ArcoSee updates below. But Mohammed Abdul Ali, an Indian citizen who calls himself a Nawab and has a website that describes him as the present “Prince of Arcot”, is in violation of the Indian constitution.

Part III. Article 18.
Abolition of titles.-
(1) No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.
[Constitution of India]

Mr Ali has violated my right to equality, a fundamental right, and your’s too, if you are an Indian citizen. He was already in violation of Article 18 before he abetted in the violation of Article 19 (freedom of expression). Retaining royal titles, shutting down those he disapproves, Mr Ali is acting as if India was still part of the Mughal empire.

But there is a prima facie case to take the case against the Nawab to the Supreme Court. It has original jurisdiction over violations of fundamental rights.

Third Update:

…Ali is the only royalty in India that’s being recognized by the government that pays for his upkeep and maintenance. [DesPardes]

Whew!

Second Update: The business of royal titles is unclear. The 1971 amendment abolished privy purses, privileges and titles of princes and their successors. But they continue to use their titles. And the Prince of Arcot is ranks as the equivalent of a minister in the Tamil Nadu cabinet. Now that flies against a lot more than equality. It must be some historical curiosity that has left us with this bizarre situation.

His Highness Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali Azim Jah, the Prince of Arcot, is the only royal in India who was not affected by the abolition of privy purses. In the order of precedence, he enjoys the rank of cabinet minister of the state of Tamil Nadu.

The Nawab hails from a family that traces its lineage back to the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khatt?b. The title ‘Prince of Arcot’, uniquely using the European style prince, was conferred on his ancestor by the British government in 1870 after the post of Nawab of the Carnatic (a title granted by the Mughal emperor) was abolished. [Wikipedia emphasis added]

Update:

The abolition of the privy purses, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and the elimination of the princely order itself, became the policy of the Congress party. After a year-long battle, this was finally achieved by an amendment to the Constitution at the end of 1971.

Although some parties have attempted to portray the constitutional changes as an abolition of the princely order, this does not appear to be the legal position. The changes merely removed official recognition of the position of “ruler”, as defined by the 1950 Constitution, and enabled the ending of privy-purse payments. The amendments did not touch upon any aspects of the treaties and engagements made during the accession of the princely states, nor did they even address the matter of rights to styles and titles. Since then, there have been a number of decisions and cases of the Supreme Court of India, where the court itself has continued to use the styles and titles enjoyed by the princes, the nobility and members of their families. Some prominent examples are: “Colonel His Highness Sawai Tej Singhji, Maharaja of Alwar vs. The Union of India & Anr.” (1978), “H.H. Sir Rama Varma vs. C.I.T.” (1994), “The Commissioner of Income-Tax, Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal vs. H.H. Maharani Usha Devi” (1998), “Commissioner of Wealth Tax vs. Prince Muffakham Jah Bahadur Chamli Jan” (2000), “Her Highness Maharani Shantidevi P. Gaikwad vs. Savjibhai Haribhai Patel & Ors.” (2001), “Union of India & Another vs. Raja Mohammed Amir Mohammad Khan” (2005). It is hard to imagine that the highest court in the land would have accepted the use of these titles had they been contrary to law. [link]

Note: The original title of this post was “Why the ‘Prince of Arcot can be sued”. Well, he can’t be sued for calling himself the ‘Prince’. And he certainly won’t be sued for complaining about the Aurangzeb show.

My op-ed in Mail Today: Free speech checks intolerance

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