Salman Rushdie yesterday Tweeted his 'disgust' at being 'lied to' by cops about the threat to his life if he came to India. While he has every right to be upset, the institution that should perhaps be most ashamed about the state of affairs is the government itself.
The Centre has now clearly given the impression that anybody can stand up and be offended, and those in power will bow down to their every demand. While the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, the freedom seems to have been snatched away from the Rushdies and the James Laines and the MF Husains, and handed over on a platter to those who protest them, using their freedoms.
Politics and religion have always gone hand-in-hand in this country, and it comes as no surprise that the uproar over Rushdie comes at a time when election season is upon us. The same Rushdie attended the same literature festival in 2007 and the Commonwealth Writers Prize awards in 2000, without incident, even though the book was banned way back in 1988.
Certainly, the state's primary duty is to protect its citizens, and avoid a law-and-order situation. We have only too often seen how a random comment can spark off violent protests in this riot-weary land. But bowing to the demands of every obscure religious leader or political opportunist is not the answer, as this would give hope to other radicals to spread their agenda for their 15 seconds of fame, and maybe even kill someone who disagrees with them.
Dissent and argument has been encouraged in this land since the Vedic ages. But using that as an excuse to stifle freedom of speech is its unfortunate modern-day manifestation.