Author: Minhaz Merchant
Date: March 8, 2017
President Pranab Mukherjee's speech in Kochi last week was twisted out of shape by the media.
Primetime news anchors, eyes glinting ominously, said the President had warned against growing intolerance.
They highlighted this part of the President's long speech: 'I do not consider a society or state to be civilised if its citizens' behaviour towards women is uncivilised.
'When we brutalise a woman, we wound the soul of our civilisation. Not only does our Constitution guarantee equal rights to women but our culture and tradition also celebrate the feminine as divine.
'Protection and safety of our women and children must be a nationwide priority. The acid test of any society is its attitude towards women and children. India should not fail this test.'
Every word of this rings true. But most sections of the media did not highlight the rest of what the President said, including: 'Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest.'
President Mukherjee was telling the protesting students of Delhi University (DU) to stop turning universities into hotbeds of anarchy.
The cabal of quasi-intellectuals though again raised the war cry: India has become intolerant; there is no room for dissent; freedom of speech is under threat; democracy is being subverted; nationalists are jingoists; nationalism is the pathway to fascism.
Students of DU, led by the Left, AAP and Congress, marched raucously against curtailment of their freedoms.
They did not realise that their march contradicted everything they were protesting against. They spoke freely against the government. They exercised all the freedoms citizens in democracies enjoy. And yet they protested angrily that India was an intolerant, unfree country. The irony escaped them entirely.
The real target of the Left-AAP-Congress protests against 'intolerance and the stifling of dissent' is the growing ascendancy of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government that threatens the established order.
For nearly 70 years, politicians, journalists, intellectuals and industrialists formed a cosy clique. They called themselves the elite. There was little dissent.
How could there be? Members of the clique, despite cosmetic ideological differences, were cut from the same cloth.
The British had gone, but their worst habits stayed: classism, snobbery, elitism.
Emergency came and went. Indira Gandhi sent thousands of journalists, activists and Opposition leaders to jail without trial.
But as one of the founder members of the crony elite, Mrs Gandhi is today regarded by some as India's best ever prime minister, not the subverter of Indian democracy during 21 months of the fascist Emergency.
As the years rolled by, governments too came and went. The BJP took office in 1998.
But Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was cut in a Nehruvian mould. He admired dynasty. He was not the man to rock the boat.
The Congress nodded in satisfaction. The crony elite was safe: out of office, but in power.
Then it all changed. The son of a mother who washed others' utensils, and of a father who sold tea, became the prime minister.
Worse, Narendra Modi had the effrorentry to mock the crony elite and especially its reigning family, the Gandhis. That was intolerable.
Students of history and media will notice that India became an intolerant society suddenly on May 16, 2014.
Not during Indira Gandhi's draconian Emergency. Not during the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. Not during the banning by Rajiv Gandhi of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. India became intolerant only after Modi became PM.
So intolerant that he allowed Arvind Kejriwal to call him a psychopath and coward without a word in recrimination.
Mullahs issued fatwas to behead Modi. They did so freely, again and again, without fear or fetter.
And yet the crony elite, furious with Modi for usurping their decades-old power, parroted the fiction that freedom in India was being threatened, dissent stifled, democracy endangered.
Large swathes of media, corrupt and intellectually lazy, amplified this fraudulent message.
They picked stray cases to prove it: first, Kanhaiya Kumar, now Gurmehar Kaur.
In Gurmehar's case, the media cynically conflated the unacceptable online abuse and threats of violence against a martyr's daughter with alarmist warnings of a general breakdown of law and order across India which of course was nonsense.
Gurmehar's case has two elements. Both need to be treated separately.
The first is online threats of rape. It doesn't matter who the culprit is (his identity is still under investigation). Online abuse and threats of violence are a criminal offence. Punish them under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
The second element in Gurmehar's case, unconnected with the first, is whether as an alleged AAP supporter she was politically motivated to target the BJP's often hopelessly witless student wing, ABVP.
But even if she was, she is only guilty of deception by not making full disclosure of her political affiliation while appearing to be apolitical during her protest.
That's not a crime. The threat to rape is.
Meanwhile, the death of Lance Naik Roy Mathew after a sting operation by a journalist for a website, designed to entrap him, shows how standards in Indian journalism have fallen.
That's what being handmaidens to a crony elite - India's 'basket of deplorables' - does to journalism: it sucks away both intelligence and integrity.