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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2345

After Privacy Judgement Modi Govt Must Heed Court Warning

By Tushar Charan - Syndicate Features

The unanimous judgement of a full Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court that held privacy as a fundamental right contains a warning that the government will ignore at its own peril. The attempt to alter the pluralistic character of Indian society must be given up and individuals do not have to be forced to adopt a way of life mandated by the government.

While dealing with the privacy question, the apex court touched on some of the issues that have been hotly discussed in recent days. In his part of the judgement, Justice J. Chelameswar observed: ‘I do not think that anybody would like to be told by the state as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom they should be associated with either in their personal, social or political life.’

This is a clear reference to some of the controversies that have been raging recently—‘beef’ eating, ‘Love Jihad’, gay rights and even imposition of one culture and one language (Hindi). Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, writing on his behalf and three others, including the Chief Justice, noted: ‘Privacy protects heterogeneity and recognises the plurality and diversity of our culture.’

Unfortunately, the government does not seem to be ready to read the warning signals. It remains obsessed with matters that fit into a majoritarian agenda, falsely assuming that it will make India a great power. The government’s credibility is dented by its effortless U-turns without any qualms, sometimes making outlandish and downright false claims.

Reacting to the apex court’s judgement, the Union Minister of Law and also Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, made some misleading and inappropriate observations for which he was justly ridiculed. The minister wrongly relied on the belief that public memory is short; it is, but not that short!

As someone asked on the social media, if the government all along believed in respecting individual privacy why did the apex court have to constitute a full Constitutional Bench of nine members to decide on the matter? The government could have spared the overworked court the trouble of pondering over a matter the government had already conceded.

It must be Prasad’s quaint sense of humour when asserting that no fundamental right was absolute he drew a weird analogy. You cannot go to Rashtrapati Bhawan naked to deliver a speech and say it is your right, said the lawyer minister. Is this what he or his government really thinks of privacy or fundamental rights?

The cavalier fashion in which Prasad spoke would remind many of what the BJP president, Amit Shah, had to say about the many tall promises made by Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha campaign in 2014. Shah expected the nation to take those words as ‘Jumlas’, part of the poll-time rhetoric.

It is true that politicians tend to promise the moon during election campaigns but Modi deliberately used the ‘Jumlas’ to turn the tide against the then government and win over the voters en mass. When the poll-time words of Modi began to haunt him after coming to power, Shah could think of no other way to protect Modi but to dismiss his ‘Jumlas’ as some kind of poll-time ‘banter’!

The ruling party has a dominant presence in the social media; it has played an effective role in presenting the BJP as an invincible party with the Opposition totally decimated. But when the same social media takes a dig at the government and ministers like Prasad it is time to do some course correction rather than hurling accusations at opponents and critics.

After denouncing Aadhar in the harshest ways when it was in the Opposition, the BJP as a ruling party embraced it as a long lost dear child, never tiring of singing its praise. Is it because the party discovered in Aadhar a way of snooping on the citizens? At least that is what a lot many people suspect.

The citizens’ fear could have been accepted as misplaced had the government not embarked on patently partisan politics which includes selective harassment of individuals and companies by the police and enforcement agencies and also letting lose ‘private armies’ to enforce food habits and choice of life partners.

Protests against these undesirable manifestations of power and hubris are not only looked down upon but are sought to be crushed with the help of state-backed vigilante groups or ‘Sarkari’ (pro-government) opinion-makers. That these groups enjoy state backing cannot be disputed when cases are registered against victims while the perpetrators are hailed by ministers and leaders of the ruling party.

If now it is settled that privacy is a fundamental right, the government should not wait for another court verdict to restore an air of freedom-- of one’s avocation, intellectual pursuit and the style of life. Citizens of the country are asked to prove their allegiance to the nation in many ways. If even one of the criterions fixed to judge ‘patriotism’ is not adhered to the citizen becomes ‘anti-national’ with the attendant risk of facing punishment by the law enforcing agencies or the patriotic storm troopers.

The stubbornness of the government in assuming the role of the sole arbiter of individuals’ lives appears to be related to the advent of an unrecognisable form of journalism which refuses to question the government and has happily abdicated its fundamental watchdog role. The new rules have been written in TV studios but the majority in the print media is trying to imitate the electronic media.

In the immediate future, the government can only expect good results in a sycophantic ambience.

- Asian Tribune -

Ravi Shankar Prasad  - Union Minister of Law and also Information Technology made some misleading and inappropriate observations for which he was justly ridiculed
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