Why are politicians scared of political satire?

Four years ago, when Aamir Khan claimed that India was becoming increasingly intolerant, his comment polarised India along political lines. The Congress, having received a drubbing at the hands of the BJP, joined the chorus of support while the moderates in the ruling party cried foul and the firebrands came down on him like a ton of bricks.

This was in 2015 and four years later, there have been enough instances to suggest that intolerance has come home to roost. Today, lampooning a political leader is riskier than crossing the Delhi-Gurugram highway blindfolded during peak traffic!

In fact, the first one off the blocks to state that criticism was welcome was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sadly, his words did not always match the actions. Of course, one could argue whether such instances were orchestrated from the PMO or were the result of overzealous officials going berserk to target the citizenry, who merely wanted to raise a few laughs at the expense of their leaders. Isn’t this what we call political satire?

How many of us recall the October 2016 case of Mudassir Rana of Sardana in Uttar Pradesh who received visitors from the police station, hours after he posted a meme on BJP leaders on his Facebook page? That the leaders’ heads were photoshopped on to the trunk of demon king Ravana was the ostensible crime that Rana had committed. The cops weren’t laughing!

Now, cut to 2019 and election time. A BJP leader in the Howrah district of Bengal was arrested for superimposing a picture of Mamata Banerjee on to the image of Priyanka Chopra taken at the Met Gala in New York. The reason: For distributing sexually explicit material and causing defamation! 

Of course, it is not as if things went south post the 2014 general elections. Two years before, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi faced sedition charges for posting the Parliament as a toilet while two Thane school girls were arrested for a Facebook post criticising the Shiv Sena. A Bengal professor got into trouble for forwarding an email that lampooned ‘Didi’ while a student in Uttar Pradesh was arrested for mocking SP leader Azam Khan. So much for tolerance!

Most recently, the case of Kamal Haasan comes to the fore. The actor, who floated a political party some months ago, commented on Hindu terror and finds himself in the eye of the storm. Maybe it was premeditated in order to gain political brownie points, but how could a state minister ask for the actor’s tongue to be cut? How can an opinion be right or wrong?

And political satire is just an opinion. We can agree or disagree with it, but to act against someone for sharing it suggests heightened paranoia that manifests as intolerance and clamps down on every naysayer to the political class. Is it even legal to do so?

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, says that it is a cognizable offence to “cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device.” But didn’t the Supreme Court strike down this section in 2015?

That being the case, how is it that politicians of all hues continue to curtail free speech?

The modus operandi is quite simple:

And all political parties are aware of this simple logic. Else how could an entire nation have been kept under the baton of Emergency by a leader who feared an electoral loss?

So, Aamir Khan was probably off the mark. Intolerance isn’t a state of mind, it is a weapon of choice in organised political battles and has been so since time immemorial.

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