Two recent incidents of the last week give one ominous signs that there is a censorship on in this country.
The news that intelligence bureau people are enquiring into a research paper of Asoka University near Delhi clearly points to the hurdles in academic freedom. The fact that police blocked a closed door seminar, We 20, organized at the Communist party of India (Marxists) study centre in Delhi amounts to censorship of political discourse too.
Both incidents are hitherto unknown in India, however bad the political situation was so far. It is fact that open academic spaces like Jawaharlal University are getting closed as the current regime does not encourage such spaces. But making an issue out of a research paper by a junior Professor at a University is totally unheard even during the British rule. The rumblings over the research paper “Democratic backsliding of India”, at best is an academic exercise in finding truth over the often talked about manipulations behind victories of Loka Sabha candidates in 2019 elections. India is not at all new to such electoral manipulations and many such exposes have resulted in many an electoral reform shutting loopholes in our system. But this is the first time an academic paper detailing such probable manipulations have raised a storm resulting in not the writer losing his job and intelligence bureau landing at the University. In the past such exposes have resulted in governmental enquiries leading to corrective measures, as with over a billion voters across the country under various State governments can always be subjected to local pressures and manipulations. No one ever said that there is a Central scheme behind the manipulations, which the research paper is trying to detail.
It is serious matter worth a probe by Election Commission or the courts, but not definitely by the intelligence bureau, as the bureau is not mandated for it. Such enquires will only raise doubts about the facts as presented in the article which reported alleges large scale manipulations in last Lok Sabha elections.
The sudden stoppage of the We 20 seminar at Surjeet Bhavan a stone throw away from the BJP headquarters indicated yet another kind of blocks on freedom of speech. It is a fact that all public meeting in Delhi needs police permission. One can understand it as police needs to ready for any law and order situation in the capital. But does that mean a political party cannot hold a seminar in its study centre?. Whatever be the reason for stoppage of such meetings, it amounts to violation of freedom of speech and democracy, both ensured by Indian constitution. Since the police has increasingly become extended arm of the present day rulers, there is no point in blaming as there are always on “their masters service”. Hope the courts will intervene soon enough to stop such undemocratic practices sooner than later.
Both the incidents viewed together do not augur well for the democratic fabric of the country. As general elections are months away it is high time all democratic forces gives a serious thought about such incidents which on the raise and make it an agenda for the voters to respond in the best interest of democratic institutions.