It is difficult to assume that there is any person in the whole world who has not faced abuse and/or some kind of defamation innumerable times. If each person chose to file case on this issue, even asked for compensation as well as punishment for allegedly guilty person, it wouldn’t be surprising if imprisonment landed majority behind bars. Perhaps, lesser would be outside prison if the logic spelling a two-year imprisonment and disqualification as a legislator for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was exercised in all these cases. Chances of employed becoming jobless would also prevail. But this as observation indicates isn’t really the rule of the game, socially, politically, economically as well as diplomatically.
In United States, rarely has any resident of the White House not faced harsh criticism from common people and the media. At times, the Presidents have also been mocked at in demonstrations. Rather than get involved in legal proceedings against their critics, usually they have let these be silenced in due course of time. The American President is assumed to be the most powerful person in the world. The million dollar question is his apparently mild approach on this front. Elementarily speaking, popularity accompanying power as well as influence is naturally expected to be accompanied by at least some negative criticism from rivals and sections of common people. This unwritten rule prevails in greater part of the world and is not confined to politics.
Greater the power, popularity and/or reach of any person- whether a politician, sports-person, film-star or from any field- more is likely to be negative criticism from his/her rivals, critics and/or in general. Against this backdrop, if Narendra Modi was not the Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world, chances of his facing criticism from any section, including his opponents would have been practically non-existent. When leaders and/or their supporters exercise the strategy of silencing their rivals a little excessively, apparently it also suggests their being extra-concerned about latter’s criticism regarding them a bit too strongly. Or it may also be suggestive of their being perhaps a little fearful of their opponents’ political cards being exercised more strongly than expected by them.
Where defamation is concerned, time and again, not just individuals but practically whole communities belonging to specific classes, castes, religions and other sections have faced this. United States, India and other countries – whether democratic or not – continue to suffer from this ailment to this day. The tendency prevails in US to use terms such as Islamic terrorism, Hindu terrorism and so forth, whenever a Muslim or Hindu, respectively is allegedly accused of indulging in violence. For what an individual or few individuals indulge, their entire religious community is labelled as terrorist. The same may be said about the ease with each persons of colour- whether Black or Brown- are “punished” without their alleged offences being investigated into. Media headlines in the West have literally screamed out lashing at Islamic, Hindu and/or Black terrorism quite often. Clearly, these are suggestive of their “defaming” whole communities for what only a few individuals indulged in. Of course, those using these terms erred. But surely, irrespective of this error, this really doesn’t imply that all Muslims, Hindus and others in all parts of world have really been defamed in this process? And if some believe this, they should think again.
In India, reports regarding places of worship of certain, particularly minorities being defamed, individuals from these sections, backward classes and similar such communities being discriminated against to the point of being killed, women being molested and so forth keep flashing in outlets of media. As political steam picks up owing to approaching elections at different levels, certain politicians, as reports indicate, apparently do not refrain from targeting the largest minority community in India as anti-national elements. Irrespective of who indulges in such negative political jargon, clearly this amounts to questioning national identity of Indian Muslims and/or defaming their status as Indian citizens and religious identity. Politicians and right-winged extremists indulging in such rhetoric probably need to learn more about principles of Indian secularism as laid out in the country’s Constitution and adhered to by majority of Indians. In this context, the point to be noted is that an Indian Muslim doesn’t lose his/her national and religious identity irrespective of however aggressive the defamatory comments lashing at them be. The same may be said about Indian Christians and other sections subject to defamation as well as discrimination at various levels. Defamation being referred to here is not confined to verbal level, but as suggested earlier includes violence, communal rioting, etc.
Since defamation has hit headlines nowadays, it would be relevant to pay some attention to its indulgence for political gains, particularly targeting minorities to gain votes of majority community by propagating “religious” vibes.
Here, it is also pertinent to draw attention to chaos that Parliament has recently witnessed with members of government asking Rahul Gandhi to apologise. This was strongly suggestive of their accusing Rahul, apparently defaming him, without giving him opportunity to explain.
With respect to Rahul Gandhi being disqualified as a legislator for having allegedly defamed “Modi,” do all those who use the surname – Modi, really feel that they all have been defamed? Modi-surname is also used by Parsi community. And if Prime Minister Modi’s supporters hold the view that a few comments allegedly made by Rahul can really defame the former, they probably need to seriously deliberate on the credibility of this stand. Hardly a ripple was created in political circles, media world and probably grassroots, when Rahul allegedly made these comments compared to impact that the same is having now. This has certainly helped Rahul grab headlines in international and national circles, taking a lead against PM Modi. In addition, it has set the stage for opposition parties to unite in perhaps a greater manner than probably envisaged by BJP. The stage has also been probably set for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to signal her entry into Lok Sabha. With Rahul being disqualified, it wouldn’t be surprising, if she is selected as the Congress candidate to contest bypolls from Wayanad, Kerala. Usage of defamation-card against Rahul certainly has more limitations than apparently being envisaged by its supporters!
Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).