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Archive for the month “October, 2017”

Does singing the national anthem mean wearing patriotism on your sleeves?

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To begin with, let’s be straight. If patriotism brews within your heart, it will gush out. It will show up in your looks, body-language, mannerism and responses. No matter whether it’s a school or a cinema, a place doesn’t change the equation. However, if you haven’t got what it takes, you’ll look out for curious excuses. It’s oxymoronic to have patriotism in your heart and not to rise for the national anthem, isn’t it?

At present, the intellectual landscape in India is rife with many such excuses over why one shouldn’t rise and sing national anthem. But, before we come to this, let’s look into the controversy. The basis of the controversy is the recent observation of the Supreme Court indicating its willingness to change it’s November 2016 order that directed all cinema halls to play national anthem before start of the show. It brings forth two opposite viewpoints around the question, ‘whether getting up and singing the national anthem should be mandatory in cinema halls or wherever it’s played?’ You listen to a loud ‘yes’ and a loud ‘no’. People are sharply divided along the line, with arguments in favour and against locking horns with each other fiercely.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court was hearing on a petition of Cinema Association against the 2016 order this Monday when Justice Chandrachud started demolishing the idea of standing in cinema halls for national anthem – “Why do people have to wear their patriotism on their sleeves…People go to a movie theatre for undiluted entertainment. Society needs that entertainment”.

Justice Chandrachud took the matter a bit farther – “In a movie theatre, people may be in shorts etc. So some one may say people are wearing shorts and showing disrespect to national anthem. Where do we then draw the line on moral policing?”

National symbols need moral policing for ensuring respect! A judge says so!!

Of course, India is not a totalitarian state where all the activities of individual’s life should be directed towards the glorification of the state, yet the judge failed to appreciate that in a land of staggering diversity like India, certain threads are required to keep us bonded. It’s important to protect, preserve and promote such threads.

Shelving the idea of repealing the order altogether, the court asked to the government, and rightly so, to legislate on the matter instead of expecting judiciary to intervene on such executive issues each time. However, standing up to the reputation of “judicial legislation”, the court hinted at doing away with the coercive element from its last year order by changing the word “shall” with “may”. Hence, if the bench goes to have its way, then, instead of mandatory, it will become optional for the cinema owners to play the national anthem before start of the movie.

The national anthem used to be played in cinema halls across India after the 1962 war but after 1975 the practice gradually faded away. However, it was Maharashtra to revive the practice again in 2002 following the efforts of one Narendra Verma of the Nationalist Congress Party, who pursued the Maharashtra government to order cinema halls to do it again. Later, Chhattisgarh also adopted this practice.

Globally, playing the national anthem before movies was prevalent in western countries especially in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Those brought up in UK during the 50s and 60s, recall that the first thing they always saw in cinemas was the national anthem, “God save the Queen.”

The question of singing national anthem is enveloped in the larger debate of freedom of individual versus the intrusive nature of state. Let me phrase the debate precisely – can a modern, progressive state intrude upon an individual’s right to choice through coercive powers? Or more precisely, can the state force a particular notion of patriotism on its subjects and direct them to respect the national symbols as per its whims?

Actually, the argument is existential for many. It’s a part of the larger debate that runs in the society through the broader divide of liberalism versus conservatism. Whether India would promote the progressive values of liberty, freedom and choice or would she eventually drift to totalitarianism? A decisive resolution of this question would settle many subsequent debates.

No nation can survive if it couldn’t enforce certain basic minimum obligations on its citizens. We call it ‘Fundamental Duties’ in our constitution. Respect for one’s national symbols and expecting all citizens to commit to it, is one such fundamental duty, which no citizen can escape. It’s necessary for instilling in the psyche of the society a sense of unity, camaraderie and belongingness.

Now, let’s come to those curious excuses. It was bemusing to see people celebrating the order. Celebrating that they no longer needed to sing Jan Gana mana.

‘Is standing up and singing the national anthem is the only way to prove one’s patriotism?’ – many growled on social media.

Well, not the only way, but it’s the most emphatic way. To show your patriotism, you need to commit yourself to many other cherished values of the nation such as, cleaning and ensuring cleanliness of the surroundings, integrity and honesty in public life, respecting public properties, following traffic rules, standing for weaker and disadvantaged sections, respecting and protecting the honour of women in society, desisting from sectarian feelings of cast, sect, regions and many more. Now, count within, how many of these do you carry with you to compensate for seeking exemption from singing the national anthem. Hmmm…hardly any! You see, singing the national anthem is easiest among the above list to learn patriotism. Proceeding to other values becomes easier.

Being a patriot is not easy. You’ve to commit a lot, sacrifice a lot. It’s not like being a consumerist-hedonist-metrosexual egoist whom no body cares. But, the society cares for the patriot in the same way the patriot cares for society.

Moreover, respecting the national symbols is a constitutional act. The fundamental duty under Article 51A(a) mandates that It shall be the duty of every citizens of India to abide by the constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem.

The next man asks  – ‘WTF this unity? Aren’t we already united?’

No sir. You aren’t. Your unity is shaky and hollow and stands tattered over years of cumulative suspicion and distrust fostered by competing ideologies of identities. But, these national symbols cut through the identities and bring us closer.

Many people viewed that forcing something down somebody’s throat even if he or she didn’t like it is unjust. They believe one must act as per one’s feelings and if someone doesn’t feel to sing the anthem from within, the state shouldn’t force.

Why! the state must force it! Patriotism is not born with us. It’s learnt. If you failed to cultivate respect for national symbols in your formative days doesn’t mean you’ll amble around disrespecting it. You need to learn it now.

Now, come to the Justice Chandrachud’s argument. “People go to a movie theatre for undiluted entertainment. Society needs that entertainment” – he argued.

Of course, Society needs it. Go and have your undiluted entertainment. But, before that, spare a fleeting 52 seconds to foster a sense of unity with those who are slogging it out in the glaciers, ravines and deserts away from their homes and families to keep India together and to give you the moments of your ‘undiluted entertainment’. Just 52 seconds, me lord, even before that entertainment actually begins. After you pass the test of this 52 seconds torture, your entertainment will begin and remain undiluted till the end. Shake your buttocks or roll over the floor laughing without dilution. After all, you’re blessed with 2 legs and a shoulder to carry the burden of uniting with the pride of India. What is missing is a little spirit. kindle it.

Secondly, the learned judge asks – ‘do we have to wear our patriotism on our sleeves?’

Among a population which takes pride in wearing its arrogance, prejudices, bigotry, egoism and hubris on its sleeves, what harm is there in wearing the lesser evil, patriotism? When a judge talks like a man-in-the-street, he mostly plays to the gallery instead of serving justice.

Moreover, We shouldn’t miss the larger symbolism of the act. Standing up and singing the song inspires, motivates and teaches others to respect it. Those who detest the idea of standing up for singing the national anthem must have been in the company of someone doing the same, in their childhood days. Orientations are shaped; negatives orientations are shaped more easily. That’s why we must watch our behavior because we’re influencing someone watching us, especially those credulous children. Set a positive example for them. Don’t play a spoiler in their lives.

Yes, when it comes to playing the anthem in cinema halls, it’s prone to misuse. At times, zealots jump to do moral policing by harassing those who carry reservations on it. In a horrible show of ‘patriotism’ in Goa this year, a couple assaulted a writer and an award-winning disability rights activist, Salil Chaturvedi, from behind who didn’t stand up for the national anthem. The couple didn’t realize that he was disabled. There have been few other cases of such violence in cinema halls. 

Now, it’s up to the state how to take proper safeguards against misuse of such provisions. Education and sensitization play the key role in making people behave as citizens. There is no point in respecting the national symbols when you’re jumping to take law in your hands. A rowdy can’t be a patriot because he’s dangerous for the society. Such instances lend credence to the fact that the nation is heading towards fascism. Hence, the government must criminalise any act of intimidation or physical violence to enforce patriotic behaviour or else we’ll be losing credibility of being a liberal democracy and society.

In the existing circumstances, the best way out of the debate is to wait for the Supreme Court to make it optional for the cinema owners to play or not to play the national anthem before start of the movies. However, even if it doesn’t happen there’s no harm in getting up, tucking away your drink under the seat and holding those half-munched popcorns in your mouth, for 52 seconds and singing aloud – “Jan Gana Mana…” before a ruffling tricolor on the screen. Mind, the child besides you is watching.

Krishnakumar@ThoughtPourri 2017

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SLAPPed by Jay Shah, why not “The Wire” is letting the event play itself out in the court?  

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(Pic Courtesy ajantanews.com)

Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. By analogy, caesar’s son must as well be above suspicion and so should be Jay Shah, the son of Amit Shah, who is now the chief of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party.

The 100-Cr criminal defamation suit filed by Jay Amit Shah against “The Wire” and its correspondent is a move to rise above that suspicion.

The recent controversy around the business activities of Jay Shah and the alleged “golden touch” that he brought to his business since 2014 when his father became the BJP chief, comes as a real shot in the arm of a huge lobby consisting of players, long baying for the blood of Narendra Modi. The lobby sniffing madly for anything incriminating against the Modi camp, suddenly got a luscious trail of wrongdoings dished on a platter when the online news portal, “The Wire” published a report titled, “The golden touch of Jay Amit Shah”.

The report, apparently done with serious research and data-mining, concluded to impute that Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, manipulated his circumstances to acquire unexplained wealth since elevation of his father as president of the BJP in 2014. The opening lines of the article conveyed its bottomline:

“The turnover of a company owned by Jay Amitbhai Shah, son of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Shah, increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and the elevation of his father to the post of party president”. The intention to implicate Amit Shah, whose rise coincided with the rise of his son’s fortunes and to ensnare even Modi in the mess was the real slant that raised the heckles of the Modi camp.

To impute the complicity of Modi in the scandal was the real take-away of the opening lines and the imputation found instant takers on both sides of the fence. The “Twimmandos” (a portmanteau of Twitter Commandos) took to their twitter guns to fire instant salvoes on the swelling Huns on the other side.

However, the real bemusing sight was to find Piyush Goyal, the Railway Minister in Modi’s cabinet, holding a press conference to defend a private individual, Jay Shah. Maybe, the Government was aware that the real targets were Amit Shah and Modi and sooner the lie is debunked the better it’s for Gujrat elections, where the Shah-Modi magic would wane should the image of the duo stands blemished. Thus, the Additional Solicitor General was given a hasty permission to defend Jay Shah in the courts. Both these decisions were compared with the reaction of Congress ministers’ during the Vadra land deal expose. The similarity was chilling. Was the Modi government cutting off its nose to spite the face? Even Arnab struggled to elicit an answer from Piyush Goyal.

Despite, similarity in reactions between the two governments, the difference between the Vadra case and the Jay Shah case can’t be overlooked. While the transactions and dealings involving Robert Vadra and DLF was a hush hush affair with scant facts available in the public domain, the Jay Shah case, by its own admission of “The Wire” and reiterated by the BJP brass, all records are in the public domain with details appearing in the filings with the Registrar of the Companies (ROC). It’s all a matter of interpretation and analysis that is the bone of contention between Shah and The Wire. 

The Congress Party, which was long ambling in the wilderness of irrelevance, suddenly got an unexpected opening to tear into Modi. Kapil Sibal rose from his hibernation to address the media and jumped down to the Modi’s throat – “He (the Prime Minister) spoke against crony capitalism. But we know he will remain silent now because the case involves Amit Shah’s son. We also know who the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate will investigate and not investigate.” Sibal has still not got over the bitterness of humiliation that he’d to suffer following his “Zero Loss” doctrine and now he found a chance to return some of it to its biggest benefactors, the BJP and Modi.

The fires were being returned with equal potency as the Modi camp dug in the past of some prominent Wire players.

However, “The Wire” which has a reputation to twist its stories to give a negative slant to everything around Narendra Modi and his government, wasn’t taken kindly by many. It was subjected to a cruel reality check.

What was missing in the din was a merit-based discussion on the facts and analysis presented by “The Wire” and to fill in the role, an article came in “Opindia.com”, an online newsportal which claims to “curate contents from various sources” and points out factual errors and analysis in various journalistic works.

The Opindia article shredded Rohini Singh’s “golden touch” argument into pieces and exposed many loopholes in the report written by her. Picking facts from the same source (return filed with the Registrar of Companies), the Opindia article suggested that “The Wire” picked certain facts suitable to its story while left many other important ones with the motive to give her story a sensational slant so that her damnation that Shah, Jr. had made a windfall gain of 16000 times, may appear credible. The Opindia revealed:

“One of the crux of the (Wire’s) article is that the turnover jumped 16000 times, hence Mr Jay Amit Shah has the “golden touch”. But would a man with the “golden touch” incur a loss of Rs 1,48,00,551 (Rs 1.48 crores)? Yes, as per the same Registrar of Companies (RoC) filings, which Singh quoted so much, this company with Rs 80.50 cr revenues, had Rs 81.99 cr as expenses, and incurred a loss of Rs 1.48 crores as soon as Modi came into power. Of course, revealing such information would puncture the entire narrative that Jay Amit Shah’s business was successful just as Modi came into power. Hence, this small piece was hidden by (Rohini) Singh (sic).”

What initially appeared as a work of serious research was instantly reduced to a piece of malafide story done by cherry picking of facts to suit to a particular narrative. Rajdeep Sardesai, in one of the best balancing act of his journalistic acrobatics, took to twitter to graciously share this article from Opindia.

Now that Jay Shah has filed a Rs. 100 crore defamatory suit over, what it claims to be a “false, derogatory and defamatory imputation”, there is a furor over the move with many putting it in the category of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public participation (SLAPP), where high net worth individuals with deep pockets file defamation suits claiming huge amount of money as damage with the intension to drag the defendant in long litigations and to discourage them or others from pursuing the matter. “The Wire” and many others claim it’s a clear case of SLAPP suit. Well, as happened in the cases of ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ and the news portal ‘Moneylife’ (of Sucheta Dalal), the courts also look into the merit of the allegation whether a lawsuit falls in the category of SLAPP and if yes, it may dismiss the same.

However, the reaction of the mainstream media to The Wire’s report was measured with many choosing to tread the path with caution. Rana Ayyub writing in the Huffingtonpost lamented, “There was an eerie silence on news channels, some focused on karva chauth, others on Muslim appeasement, the rest on pressing issues such as the Hrithik Roshan-Kangana Ranaut spat.” Taking the lawsuit as an intimidation, she was fulminating – “In an ideal world this intimidation should have led to an outrage in the media. Silence by intimidation being the last on the charter of a journalistic organization.” 

Newslaundary, too, lamented that most media houses remained confined to covering Piyush Goyal’s press conference and that’s all. 

The reason was simple. The issue in question is a highly complex legal matter where the writer had cobbled together a conclusion, joining tricky dots and alluding innuendoes that bordered upon a libellous imputation. The rest of them were wiser. They didn’t want to get caught in the act of barking up the wrong tree.

In a matter of legal complications, pick your way wisely or else you may end up being a party. Hence, no one was willing to become a party to a suit, which may drag on for years draining the defendants financially and emotionally without solutions. More so when the counsel of Jay Shah had unequivocally issued a caveat, even before publication of The Wire’s report, to Rohini Singh or to any other media organization, to not broadcast any potentially defamatory comments about his client.

Still, The Wire chose to stick to its guns and published the report. So, one is led to believe it must have solid evidences to back its claim. So, The Wire shouldn’t make a hue and cry over the 100-Cr defamation suit.

After the report was published, the caveat became even wider – “If anyone else republishes/re-broadcasts the imputations made in the said article, whether directly or indirectly, such person or entity will also be guilty of the very same criminal and/or civil liability.”

There’s a report that NDTV too had published a similar story on its site suggesting some 4000% increase in loan advances to Jay Shah, though the same was pulled in a haste, obviously because of the legal complexities surrounding such insinuations, especially when you lack crucial evidences.

Many in the media tried to take the caveat as an open threat.

However, those who take it as a threat show a complete lack of legal literacy about the Indian jurisprudence surrounding the concept of defamation, which is more popular in west than in India.

The option of defamation is available to all individuals whose reputation, in their opinion, has been violated by certain other individuals, organizations or publications. Higher the reputation, bigger the need to be exonerated. If there is a likelihood of defamation, the individual, through his counsel, reserves the right to warn any one to desist from the perceived act of transgressing his reputation. Such caveats are normal. However, a section of media, took it as a threat.

In India, Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 says that defamation can happen “by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, to make or publish any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation, of such person”.

Defamation suit can be filed under either criminal or civil law. Jay Shah, in this case has filed a criminal defamation against the writer and publishers of “The Wire”, meaning they’re confident of proving the ‘actual malice’ that will ensure criminal punishment under the law. A civil suit doesn’t provide for punishment; it simply asks the defendant to pay the plaintiff the claimed money should the latter wins the suit.

After the defamation suit, The Wire and its supporters are looking rattled.

It tried hard to enlarge the ambit of Jay Shah’s defamation suit by giving it a broader perspective through the suggestion that it’s a general onslaught on media’s freedom and on it’s ability to express itself in a free and unbridled manner.

The Wire made a passionate appeal to broaden the implication of the defamation filed against it by quoting the Sullivan case (New York Times Co. Vs Sullivan, 1960), where the New York Times won a case of defamation in Supreme Court filed by L.B. Sullivan, the Montgomery public safety commissioner, who had claimed that a report published by the newspaper tarnished the image of police department by publishing incorrect and erroneous facts of atrocities during the Civil Rights Movement in the Southern US. The jury had unanimously ruled in favour of the NYT, saying that media must be vested with sufficient freedom and liberty in the matter of reporting the conducts of public officials and minor errors in reporting events shouldn’t come in the way of conveying the larger message of truth. The judgment has become the bedrock of media freedom in many parts of the world.

As per my opinion, the Sullivan case, widely quoted in Indian jurisprudence also, is, however, not relevant in the Jay Shah defamation case, as the said judgment was made in connection with reporting the conducts of public officials and hence the same journalistic liberty and freedom is not available in the matter of reporting issues against private individuals, like Jay Shah. Secondly, the Sullivan case had set a ‘malice standard’, in which the plaintiff was burdened with the responsibility to prove that a media report carries ample malice with definite intention to tarnish his or her image. As Jay shah has filed a criminal defamation, he’ll have to prove that malice standard in order to win the suit.

M.K. Venu, one of the founding editors of The Wire, in an internal video interview with Arfa Khanum Sherwani released by the “The Wire” in episode 4 of “Hum bhi Bharat”, was frothing at the mouth at the criminal defamation suit, saying he’s no money but has a battery of lawyers to fight the case. So, what’s the problem, Mr Venu? Let the law take its course.

Well, in the same way as a publishing house carries the right to publish an investigative story, the persons affected by such a story carry the right to challenge it under the law of the land. Then, why to fulminate at the constitutional right of an individual? Rather, “The Wire” Should be happy that it got an opportunity on platter to nail the presumed lie of Jay Shah, by bringing all the facts, circumstances and documents available with it before the court in support of its report. It has got golden time to connect the missing dots and to complete the jigsaw of conspiracy for all to see. 

Let “The Wire” debunk the claim of Jay Shah or his attorneys using its battery of lawyers, including crusaders like Prashant Bhushan, who has already lapped up the matter with gusto. Why “The Wire” is jittery? Does it feel it needed more materials to build a sustainable case? Maybe, yes.

Let the matter play itself out in the court.

KrishnaKumar@ThoughtPourri 2017

 

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