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Home >Opinion >Time for Modi critics to just shut up

Of late, there’s been a lot of whining about the new climate of intolerance that has followed the coronation of Narendra Modi as India’s new king, or if you will, India’s new prime minister (the technical term for ‘king’ in a parliamentary democracy). This never-ending whining about the repression of dissent—almost all of it from people with a known or unknown track record of Modi-bashing—has to stop. And it has to stop now—before it becomes necessary to repress it.

Why? Because they’ve been at it since March 2002. They’ve enjoyed 12 years of non-stop, unlimited, 24x7 Modi-bashing. If they had any conscience, or even the least bit of a sense of fairness or justice, or even a sense of proportion and balance, or even a sense of patriotism and development, they would, of their own free will, and without having to be arrested or censored or intimidated or silenced permanently, spend the next 12 years praising Modi.

As a matter of fact, the average Modi supporter doesn’t even want a 12-year moratorium on anti-Modi sentiments. The next five years would do. Five years of praise to balance out 12 years of criticism—that’s a straight 58% discount. Isn’t that reasonable?

But how do Modi critics respond to such generosity? By comparing him to George Bush! Yes, that’s what a bunch of seemingly educated, mentally stable college students did in their campus magazine. It may have happened in Kunnamkulam—a place you hadn’t heard of until you heard of it—but it nevertheless crossed what has been called (unfairly, in my personal public opinion) a “dangerously low threshold of offence for the new Prime Minister".

In fact, not only did these students compare Modi with Bush, they also called him a “negative face"—a seriously wrong thing to do because a face can never be negative or positive, it can only be oily or dry. But Modi, as has been widely reported, is a man of many faces.

So the students’ magazine should have put his face among the faces of others who have many faces. Say, someone like Mystique. Or Benjamin Franklin. Or at least Ashoka, as this intelligent writer has done. But being Malayalees, it probably never even occurred to them. How could it? They gave their magazine for printing to someone named Printo.

To be fair, they did try to make up for the Bush comparison by also comparing him to Hitler, a hero of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a respected, though foreign-funded NGO of which Modi is a lifelong member. But by then the damage had already been done, and the police had no option but to teach these students some hard lessons in freedom of expression—lessons that were clearly not in their academic curriculum (something HRD minister Smriti Irani needs to think about).

But these were young students, susceptible to the impulsive foolishness of their age. What drove a naval engineer in Goa and a published author in Lucknow to misuse their freedom of expression against their own prime minister—that too on social media? Did they forget, in a fit of amnesia, that social media are public forums under public surveillance, and that Manmohan Singh is no longer the prime minister?

Speaking of the former PM, “Maun’mohan Singh" never had much use for freedom of expression. He did pretty well without it for 10 years. Why can’t Modi critics—most of whom anyway consider him less offensive to their political sensibilities than the current PM—learn from his example?

But no, their pseudo-sickular ego wouldn’t let them. They didn’t even have the graciousness to keep mum and protect the dignity of their PM when he made a genuine error during his recent visit to Bhutan. Instead they went to town on social media calling it “a national embarrassment", “shameful", etc. If they really cared about their freedom of expression—put another way, if they know what’s good for them—they would go and delete those tweets right now.

If you look at the whole thing dispassionately—without ideological blinkers—it is evident that freedom of expression is overrated, especially in a democracy like India. Till date there are no scientific studies to prove that repressing dissent is bad for either freedom of expression or economic growth.

On the contrary, countries that take a dim view of dissent in general—such as China and Singapore—have seen greater positivity both in their GDP growth as well as in the exercise of freedom of expression. So India shouldn’t waste its scarce resources trying to safeguard freedom of expression, which anyway only ends up making the argumentative Indian even more argumentative.

Also, beyond a point, criticism of Modi ceases to have a point. Its pointlessness becomes sharper when you consider that the very freedom of expression that Modi’s critics keep banging on about (without ever being bang on, so to speak) could have been—and still can be—used in far more constructive, productive, and edificatory ways.

It could be used, for instance, to raise awareness about the Hindu origins of the Vatican. It could be used to build national pride in the nuclear capabilities of ancient India. At the very least, it could be used to share inspiring stories from the life of Bal Narendra.

It is understandable if some Modi critics who wish to turn over a new leaf are not quite sure how to make an overnight transition from attacking Modi to admiring him. But they needn’t lose sleep over it—they can always take a crash course from those who have expertise in this manoeuvre.

All said and done, what’s the big deal in sacrificing a little freedom of expression if the objective is to show India’s prime minister in a positive light and make the economy grow faster? If only people voluntarily refrained from misusing their freedom of speech, there would be no need for any repression of dissent, and India could become one big happy family that agrees on everything and unites around one leader instead of disagreeing on everything and calling it democracy.

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