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Mob rule taking hold

Actress latest target of increasing intolerance

New Delhi: A habitually-wayward Raksha Mantri makes a bizarre statement, demonising our neighbour as “hell”. His Cabinet colleagues and party spokesmen are embarrassed and maintain a studied silence, everyone pretends that the Raksha Mantri had not actually embarrassed the nation. But when a Congress legislator in Karnataka publicly disagrees with the Raksha Mantri’s hellish formulation, the voluble right-wing wants to slap a sedition charge on her. The ever-angry BJP activist and the ever-excitable ABVP “leader” seek to hog television time by staging protest against her “anti-national” activity. A complaint has been filed in a district court, seeking direction to the police to book the former actress for “sedition” under Section 124(a). Even if it is granted that Karnataka in recent years has become a fertile ground for extreme intolerance in the name of religion and patriotism, the rest of the country has to  sit up and take note of this creeping lynch mentality.

Bravely, Ms Ramya has refused to be cowed down by the lumpen mobs, invoking “patriotism” and threatening violence and vandalism. She deserves a salute. Disagreement with a political party or a Raksha Mantri on Pakistan or for that matter on any other issue does not — cannot — constitute “sedition”. If Pakistan was such a disagreeable, demonised place, why has the Raksha Mantri not persuaded his own government to do the very minimum: break off diplomatic relations with Islamabad; or, at least, recall our High Commissioner?

It may be that the ruling party at the Centre has zeroed in on “nationalism” as the new jumla to excite and incite its cadres and its core constituency, but it would still need to be reminded that it has a responsibility to our citizens to produce lawful governance. Mobs cannot be seen to be controlling the streets — be it the Jats in Haryana, or vigilante gau rakshaks in western Uttar Pradesh or rampaging “Pakistan-is-hell” deshbhakts. Mobs are the very anti-thesis of “development”. But if the district-level judiciary or police allows itself to be carried away by the slogan-shouting crowds, India itself would not remain for long a paradise to live, work or set up industry.

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