Democracy is the hallmark of a civilised society. A civilised society is defined and designed by the rule of law. Equality before law is the soul of democracy and if rule of law is not adhered to then society loses its right to be called democratic and civilised. Now there are serious question marks against the fact of India still driven by the rule of law. The issue has been raised by Supreme Court judge Justice J B Pardiwala after being attacked by the troll army supporting Nupur Sharma. He said, “Personal attacks on judges for their judgement leads us to a dangerous scenario where the judges have to think about what the media thinks, rather than what the law actually says. This puts the rule of law on the burner.”
The Supreme Court bench, while hearing a petition on Nupur Sharma, the suspended spokesperson of the BJP, for clubbing of FIRs against her in different states, had made scathing remarks over her conduct in a TV debate. The court had said that she had put the “country on fire” and she should go to TV to “apologise to the nation” and she is asking for security when “she herself has become security threat”.
The court’s observations were not taken kindly by Nupur’s supporters, and abusive language was used in social media against both the judges. Derogatory hashtags like #supremekotha (roughly translating to “supreme brothel”) were run and more than 14,000 tweets were generated; most of them were abusive, a few used pictures of the judges concerned with insulting comments. The audacity of the troll army could be gauged by the fact that after Justice Pardiwala made the statement, the troll army ran a campaign to impeach both the judges with a hashtag #ImpeachErrantSCJudges with more than 64,000 tweets. If the court so desires, many of these trolls can be hauled up for contempt of court and can face jail. But Justice Pardiwala decided to raise the issue in the public domain.
The entire episode is not only a reflection of the rot which has permeated a section of the national consciousness but also the utter disregard for the Constitution, democratic institutions and rule of law. A majoritarian mindset has been minted deliberately by the Hindutva ideology and its regime which only listens to a certain kind of narrative, and anyone who dares to differ is subjected to insult, humiliation, shame, abuses, intimidation, rape and life threats.
One must remember that these were the very same judges who, a few days previously, handed down judgements which were seen and interpreted to be in favour of the ruling dispensation. Then they were hailed as champions of democracy but when their observations were not liked, the same judges were immediately painted as villains. This turnaround is dangerous. It shows that a new community of citizens has been created over a period of time for whom the rule of law is to be respected only so long as it serves their interests and favours them. No adversarial comment and disagreement is entertained, and the voice of dissent does not have a place. What is surprising is that this community of citizens has the protection of the regime whose responsibility is to protect the Constitution and uphold the rule of law.
In fact, I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that this mindset is being cultivated by the regime itself, to create its foot soldiers in order to intimidate those who dare to differ with it. And there are enough examples to show that two sets of rule of law are being practiced by the law enforcing agencies.
The attitude and the approach of the law enforcing agencies while dealing with the crime depends upon the ideology of the accused and his or her alignment with the ruling dispensation. Nupur Sharma is still roaming free and Mohd Zubair is behind bars. Nupur is accused of making derogatory comments about the Prophet which led to social disharmony, earned disrespect for India when it was asked by Muslim countries to apologise, and was suspended by the party while her colleague Naveen Jindal was expelled. Due to her hate speech a serious law and order situation was created in more than one place.
The SC judges have called her out for being solely responsible for the worsening law and order in the country. The court went so far as to say that “Others have been arrested immediately but she won’t be touched.” In fact the Delhi police have not moved an inch and have instead provided security for her. It is clear – she won’t be arrested as she belongs to the ruling party.
But Zubair won’t get the same protection because as a fact-checker he committed the mistake of exposing her folly. Zubair has been consistently and defiantly exposing members of the ruling dispensation and party card-holders, for spreading fake news, doctored videos and hate speeches on social media platforms. Any journalist should be proud of what he was doing. He was arrested for a social media post which was a screenshot of a 1983 movie, that he had tweeted in 2018, and which was brought to the notice of Delhi police in 2022 by a Twitter account which had only one follower. Zubair was not informed about this case in advance, and no notice was served. He was called for interrogation in another case in which he had protection from the High Court and during the interrogation he was told about this case and arrested. This whole episode smacks of a conspiracy so that he should not be able to avail court protection. And now he has been charged with other cases and it is being projected that he is a member of some international conspiracy.
Similarly, in 2021 stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui was arrested and sent to jail not for something he had done or said, but for something that he might have said in future. The wheels of justice don’t move with the same alacrity when Yati Narsimhanand and the so called Dharam Sansad talks about the genocide of Muslims. It takes the intervention of the court to arrest him, but then he gets bail and again spews venom against Muslims, yet still roams free and the police don’t challenge his bail in court.