Sibal’s Censorship-Agenda

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the attempt made by Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to consider censoring certain social networking sites has given a new boost to anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare and his team members. This was reflected at the token fast undertaken by Hazare last Sunday (December 11) at Jantar Mantar. The Anna-team lashed out at the government, including Sibal stating that his censorship-agenda aimed to “control their anti-corruption movement.” Irrespective of whether Sibal’s “censorship” –move takes off or not, it has certainly provided his and his party’s rivals sufficient political ammunition to target the government with.

Undeniably, Sibal’s move has not been received favourably in most circles, even though he has gone overboard to justify the need to censor “dangerous material” from some networking sites. In Sibal’s view, if the material he views as dangerous is not blocked, it can incite communal violence across the country. As evident, his censorship-plan has been viewed differently by others. The Anna-team, for instance, regards it as Sibal’s move to check their anti-corruption movement. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to analyse Sibal’s censorship-agenda from his perspective.

If Sibal does go ahead with censorship agenda, would it really contribute to check communal violence in India? Considering the controversial debate ignited by Sibal considering such a policy, one is tempted to deliberate on whether it can turn out to be counter-productive? It may incite those opposed to Sibal’s moves to become more active in promoting their agenda through Internet, as seems to be intention of Hazare-team. This also raises the question, whether Sibal’s agenda will prove to be effective in actually censoring “dangerous” material? Besides, even if Sibal succeeds to an extent, is there any guarantee that this move would check and prevent other means of communication from provoking violence? Also, it is pertinent to focus on whether Sibal’s censorship-motive is seriously directed towards banning “dangerous material” that can provoke communal violence across the country?

The last point demands evidence of “dangerous material” that has actually contributed to provoking communal violence or has the potential to do so in the coming days. Undeniably, the recent years have been marked by a new importance gained by these websites. The same period, however, has not been witness to any one or more incidents of communal violence being provoked and/or spreading across the country. Before networking sites had gained importance in India, the major incidents of communal violence had been provoked by elements based in the country and their using other means of communication. This point is supported by Gujarat-carnage as well as nation-wide riots provoked during 1990s over Ayodhya-issue and demolition of Babri Masjid.

Ironically, Sibal’s comments suggest a parallel increase in dangerous material on websites and risk of communal violence in the country. This point, as indicated earlier, stands defeated by virtual non-existence of such a link. Besides, rather than wait for a censorship-policy to be activated, the Indian government should start giving greater importance to taking legal action against those promoting dangerous material and also the ones who are being influenced by the same.

It may be noted, Sibal has also voiced India’s inability to check elements and their dangerous intentions, if they are based outside India. In other words, even if the Indian government goes ahead with blocking dangerous material from certain networking sites, the country cannot take action against the ones who may continue to indulge in these activities from outside the country. This implies, the external elements would retain option of using other networking tools or means of communication, including fax and telephone to continue with their communal designs. Even if Sibal succeeds in activating his censorship-agenda, it does not guarantee a check on spread of dangerous material which may provoke communal violence across the country. 

Irrespective of who is responsible for using dangerous material to create communal chaos in the country, the Indian government remains legally committed to control, check and prevent the same from assuming the nature of communal violence across the nation or even in few places.  There is no denying that some extremist elements with a strong communal prejudice are still on the look out for opportunities to incite riots against minorities in India. The recent past has, however, been witness to common people adopting a passive approach to these elements’ intentions. This also means that they no longer retain the influence, which they earlier had, to provoke mobs to stage of communal frenzy. In other words, whether these elements use Internet or other means of communication, their impact is dependent on whether the Indian public choose to be influenced by them or not.

The last point may also be made about Sibal’s actual intention being to block criticism of the government on the Internet, though he has talked more about censoring dangerous material that can engulf the nation in a stage of communal violence. A substantial percentage of the list of “dangerous material,” the government is keen on being censored, reportedly includes government criticism. Whether Sibal’s censorship-agenda is directed towards preventing criticism of government or to check provocation of communal violence, either ways, it is time that it is understood that the Indian public is too smart to be fooled by his intentions or the ones “propagated” through the Internet. 

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Sibal’s Censorship-Agenda

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the attempt made by Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to consider censoring certain social networking sites has given a new boost to anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare and his team members. This was reflected at the token fast undertaken by Hazare last Sunday (December 11) at Jantar Mantar. The Anna-team lashed out at the government, including Sibal stating that his censorship-agenda aimed to “control their anti-corruption movement.” Irrespective of whether Sibal’s “censorship” –move takes off or not, it has certainly provided his and his party’s rivals sufficient political ammunition to target the government with.

Undeniably, Sibal’s move has not been received favourably in most circles, even though he has gone overboard to justify the need to censor “dangerous material” from some networking sites. In Sibal’s view, if the material he views as dangerous is not blocked, it can incite communal violence across the country. As evident, his censorship-plan has been viewed differently by others. The Anna-team, for instance, regards it as Sibal’s move to check their anti-corruption movement. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to analyse Sibal’s censorship-agenda from his perspective.

If Sibal does go ahead with censorship agenda, would it really contribute to check communal violence in India? Considering the controversial debate ignited by Sibal considering such a policy, one is tempted to deliberate on whether it can turn out to be counter-productive? It may incite those opposed to Sibal’s moves to become more active in promoting their agenda through Internet, as seems to be intention of Hazare-team. This also raises the question, whether Sibal’s agenda will prove to be effective in actually censoring “dangerous” material? Besides, even if Sibal succeeds to an extent, is there any guarantee that this move would check and prevent other means of communication from provoking violence? Also, it is pertinent to focus on whether Sibal’s censorship-motive is seriously directed towards banning “dangerous material” that can provoke communal violence across the country?

The last point demands evidence of “dangerous material” that has actually contributed to provoking communal violence or has the potential to do so in the coming days. Undeniably, the recent years have been marked by a new importance gained by these websites. The same period, however, has not been witness to any one or more incidents of communal violence being provoked and/or spreading across the country. Before networking sites had gained importance in India, the major incidents of communal violence had been provoked by elements based in the country and their using other means of communication. This point is supported by Gujarat-carnage as well as nation-wide riots provoked during 1990s over Ayodhya-issue and demolition of Babri Masjid.

Ironically, Sibal’s comments suggest a parallel increase in dangerous material on websites and risk of communal violence in the country. This point, as indicated earlier, stands defeated by virtual non-existence of such a link. Besides, rather than wait for a censorship-policy to be activated, the Indian government should start giving greater importance to taking legal action against those promoting dangerous material and also the ones who are being influenced by the same.

It may be noted, Sibal has also voiced India’s inability to check elements and their dangerous intentions, if they are based outside India. In other words, even if the Indian government goes ahead with blocking dangerous material from certain networking sites, the country cannot take action against the ones who may continue to indulge in these activities from outside the country. This implies, the external elements would retain option of using other networking tools or means of communication, including fax and telephone to continue with their communal designs. Even if Sibal succeeds in activating his censorship-agenda, it does not guarantee a check on spread of dangerous material which may provoke communal violence across the country. 

Irrespective of who is responsible for using dangerous material to create communal chaos in the country, the Indian government remains legally committed to control, check and prevent the same from assuming the nature of communal violence across the nation or even in few places.  There is no denying that some extremist elements with a strong communal prejudice are still on the look out for opportunities to incite riots against minorities in India. The recent past has, however, been witness to common people adopting a passive approach to these elements’ intentions. This also means that they no longer retain the influence, which they earlier had, to provoke mobs to stage of communal frenzy. In other words, whether these elements use Internet or other means of communication, their impact is dependent on whether the Indian public choose to be influenced by them or not.

The last point may also be made about Sibal’s actual intention being to block criticism of the government on the Internet, though he has talked more about censoring dangerous material that can engulf the nation in a stage of communal violence. A substantial percentage of the list of “dangerous material,” the government is keen on being censored, reportedly includes government criticism. Whether Sibal’s censorship-agenda is directed towards preventing criticism of government or to check provocation of communal violence, either ways, it is time that it is understood that the Indian public is too smart to be fooled by his intentions or the ones “propagated” through the Internet. 

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Hazare-Drama, Sangh Parivar’s Support Exposed!

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI:  In bits and pieces, the real stories linked with Anna Hazare’s 13-day fast and his supporters’ political background are gradually being revealed. Sources indicate that it was only a political game-show, including the fast, with corruption-issue deliberately selected to attract attention and target the central government. Medically, a person even half of Hazare’s age cannot be on fast for almost a fortnight and yet remain active enough to address the supporters almost daily. The secret behind Hazare remaining almost “fit” has nothing to do with his marital status, that of a bachelor. In reality, he was regularly kept on a liquid diet, particularly glucose. This “news” was deliberately not leaked even by people aware about it as it would have punctured the hype being raised about Hazare’s “fast” before his “mission” was at least partly accomplished.

The real support for 13-day show at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan came from members of saffron brigade and groups associated with them. They were, for instance, taking care of cooking and providing food and drinks to people visiting Ramlila Maidan. In fact, free supply of eatables at the grounds prompted a percentage of visitors to be there and enjoy the food as a part of their picnic.

Though support of saffron brigade for Hazare’s was known as an open secret all along, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) maintained a studied silence on this till the 13-day drama lasted. Now, the BJP and other wings of saffron brigade have openly revealed that their members were the key factions behind Hazare’s movement. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) chief Ashok Singhal has openly asserted that his group was in involved in Hazare’s movement against corruption. He said: “Members of the Dharma Yatra Mahasangh, a wing of the VHP, had opened stalls at Ramlila Maidan to offer food to over 20,000 people every day.”

Interestingly, while Arvind Kejriwal – key member of Hazare team – has expressed “shock” at Singhal’s claims, he has also accepted being unaware of whether the persons taking care of food stalls belonged to any extremist group or not. “I’m quite surprised, I’m shocked. It’s wrong, rather mischievous on Singhal’s part to say such thing. He should not indulge in these things,” Kejriwal said. At the same time, he acknowledged: “Six-seven organizations set up food stalls. They demanded space (at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan) and we gave them. I don’t know if one of them belonged to any political groups.”

With the drama over, now, critics are also deliberating on the similarity between slogans used by supporters at Ramlila Maidan and members of Sangh Parivar. The slogan that has prompted many critics to question secular credentials of key supporters of Hazare-drama is “Vande Matram.”

Having succeeded in attracting attention of people, the Congress-led government and the media, the BJP now plans to gain political mileage from Anna-movement in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the state which is scheduled for assembly elections in less than a year from now. Elaborating on this, a BJP leader said: “The reports of our various wings being with Anna’s movements are true. The movement was a huge success against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.” Earlier, the party was not sure of the movement’s popularity. “Confident,” after success in Delhi, the BJP plans to take forward Anna’s movement in UP, according to Vinay Bahadur Pathak, UP unit’s party spokesperson. With the public sentiment strongly against corruption, Pathak said: “As the Congress at the center and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in UP are openly involved in various acts of corruption, we can certainly use the movement to our advantage.”

The BJP has planned two major yatras (processions) in UP, which will be flagged off from Mathura and Varanasi on October 13. They will culminate in Lucknow on November 21 after traversing most parts of the state. “A week before the main yatra reaches a particular assembly constituency, the local units of the party will start smaller yatras. Since we will hold rallies in each assembly constituency, the smaller yatras will ensure the presence of a large number of people there,” Pathak said.  The BJP has also planned 350 small yatras in UP, said the party vice-president, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. He is in-charge of assembly election management in UP.

Gradually, non-BJP leaders have also started speaking loudly about Sangh Parivar’s backing of Hazare-drama. In words of Lok Janshakti Party president, Ram Vilas Paswan: “Former RSS ideologue Govindacharya and leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have themselves been claiming that the crowd that had gathered at the Ram Lila Maidan comprised Sangh Parivar volunteers.” At the same time, he clarified that this does not imply all supporters of Hazare’s anti-corruption movement are members of Sangh Parivar.

With BJP’s political standing in UP a dismal affair at present, the party is apparently banking on the Anna-wave to turn the political tide in its favor during the coming assembly elections. It is as yet too early to state whether BJP’s Anna-chant will succeed in UP or not. Nevertheless, as the party leaders are revealing their intentions, it is becoming clearer that the 13-day drama at Ramlila Maidan was a part of their political strategy with an eye on UP polls. The BJP and Sangh Parivar are all set to politically cash on this line of action, through yatras, for electoral gains in UP assembly elections!

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Hazare-Team: Dictatorial & Undemocratic?

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Whom do social activist Anna Hazare and members of his team really represent? The seating capacity at Ramlila Maidan, the public ground selected by his team to display their protest against corruption and demand for a legislation, that is Lokpal bill, is approximately 50,000. Though there have been reports of people displaying their support in different parts of country, numerically except in Delhi and Mumbai, they have not crossed or even touched the number 1,00,000. In context of India being home to 1.21 billion, Hazare’s supporters do not represent a significant percentage of the country’s population, statistically. Nevertheless, the fact that Hazare’s protest dominates the media-news, including the headlines cannot be ignored. Statistics suggest that there is a major gap between what is being projected by the media and the actual story. Even if the number of Hazare’s supporters across the country adds up to several millions, they do not constitute even five percent of the nation’s population. In other words, it is as yet too early to accord Hazare the stature of a national leader even though media-hype gives this impression. The same is suggested by reports of numerous people donning caps and T-shirts with the slogan, “I am Anna.” Statistically, they don’t represent the entire country.

Understandably, the country’s citizens -including Hazare- have the freedom and right to raise their voice and also protest against what they feel disturbed by. In fact, it is the democratic duty of each and every citizen to display his/her stand against problems or evils they feel concerned about. There is no denying that corruption is one of the many problems, the Indian citizens are aggrieved about. At the same time, democratically speaking, while Hazare and his team have the right and duty to make suggestions regarding corrective measures and legislation, they cannot “dictate” their demands to an elected government. The course that Hazare-team gives the impression of taking, going on hunger-strike, organizing marches, planning “sit-in” demonstrations outside legislators’ residences and other such activities, is not in keeping with the democratic and socialist spirit of the Indian Constitution. Rather, considering that an elected government is in power and the country has measures available to enact new laws and amend old ones to ensure effective anti-corruption legislation, the Hazare-team is expected to be duty -bound to respect the country’s Constitution.

Politically, socially, constitutionally and even statistically, the Hazare-team is not representative of any segment or institution of the country to have the authority to dictate its terms to an elected government. In fact, if an elected government yields to this group, it would not only be abuse of the country’s constitutional system but also be bad precedence, which must not be permitted to take roots. It cannot be ignored that India is home to many religions, with most marked by a pronounced caste-system. The ethnic division in the Indian society is also responsible for emergence of numerous political parties. Can Hazare-team be held as representative of all the Indian socio-political groups? No. And therein lies the fear. Howsoever strongly Hazare-team may raise voice against corruption and even threaten the elected government with more demonstrations, their “strength” rests more on hype raised about them than actual issues. Corruption is not the only issue bothering Indian society. Have they talked of assuring action against female infanticide, dowry-deaths, the sufferings faced by Indian minorities- including Muslims, Christians and Hindus belonging to lower castes? Hardly.

Please note Hazare’s words: “If you (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) cannot get the bill, I ask you to leave the chair.” Legally and ethically, it is not appropriate for any authority to dictate such terms to an elected leader. Even the country’s President is not legally authorized to dismiss the Prime Minister till he and his party lose support in the Parliament. Against this backdrop, one is prompted to raise the question as to what has led the Hazare-team to assume their role as greater than that of the country’s elected government and the Constitution? Legally and ethically, it is more like a blot on country’s political image than suggestive of Hazare-team heading for a second freedom struggle. The latter may have carried some relevance if India was not a free country.

Not surprisingly, Muslims in general seem fairly critical of Hazare-team’s course of action. Questioning its “democratic legitimacy,” they fear that it may lead to communal polarization and encourage extremist Hindu leaders to gather crowds to pursue their anti-Muslim agenda. “The Anna Hazare phenomenon is leading us to the rejection of representative democracy itself. The movement is an upper-caste uprising against India’s political democracy. That apart, vesting so much power in the Lokpal, a non-elected person, could lead to a dangerous situation,” according to Dalit columnist Chandrabhan Prasad. In the opinion of Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalit-Bahujan thinker, “The Anna movement is an anti-social justice, manuvadi movement. The Dalits, tribals, OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and minorities have nothing to do with it. We oppose it.”

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