Seeking an explanation from a member of parliament for critiquing the government is nothing but an effort to silence free speech in the country, says CPI(M) MP John Brittas, who was summoned by the Rajya Sabha chairman over an opinion piece written by him for a national daily.
Brittas was served a summons over the piece he wrote for The Indian Express after a BJP leader complained to Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar, calling it “seditious” conduct. The piece was critical of Home Minister Amit Shah.
Brittas met Dhankhar, who is also the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, in person and explained his position. Now, he has been asked to give the explanation in writing.
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“The article was published in February, and I came to know that a BJP leader had filed a complaint with the Rajya Sabha chairman’s office, pleading that a sedition case be slapped on me. I received a notice from the Rajya Sabha secretariat last week, instructing me to meet Dhankhar. I was really perplexed at getting such a notice, as I have not heard of such a practice. Although I verbally explained the circumstances that led me to write the article, I was again asked to submit a written statement. Then, I demanded a copy of the complaint, as I have to prepare a detailed reply for it. We do not know about the ramifications, as this is the first time such an incident has taken place in our country,” Brittas told The Federal.
“This is censorship”
“I was using my democratic right and my standing as a member of the parliament to write that article in response to the Union home minister’s attempt to sow discord among communities in a state like Kerala, which is renowned for its social cohesion and communal harmony. It was composed responsibly and with good intentions. I was reminding Amit Shah of his constitutional responsibilities. The responsibility of the Opposition is to be critical of those in power. A free and independent media must also do it.
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“This is censorship. They are using every office available to them to crush any opposition and are targeting the entire media of the country, too, by taking me on. Now, the media will think twice before publishing anything critical of the Union government. In that sense, this is not against John Brittas the person or the MP, but against free press itself.
“I was reminding the Union home minister that his remark was against Section 153 A of the IPC. I continue to hold that viewpoint. The IPC must be a concern for those in positions of power. When commenting on communities, people, or regions, leaders and ministers must exercise responsibility. Why did the Union home minister deem Karnataka safe and Kerala unsafe?” Brittas argued.
What Amit Shah said
Speaking at a BJP meeting in Mangalore, bordering Kasaragod in northern Kerala, in February, Home Minister Amit Shah made an indirect jab at the Left Front government of Kerala by asserting that the BJP in Karnataka had protected the state from anti-nationals. “Kerala is in your neighbourhood. I don’t want to say anything more,” Shah told the gathering.
Also read: Karnataka: Amit Shah’s use of Kerala as ‘bad example’ draws criticism
In his opinion piece titled ‘Perils of Propaganda’ published in The Indian Express, Brittas came down heavily on Shah for his remarks against Kerala.
“Shah’s periodic outbursts targeting Kerala are proof of his desperation as well as his attempt to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra and rewind this country to a past with the Manu Smriti replacing the Constitution. Kerala has tirelessly resisted his party’s designs. It is an irony that his party colleagues have launched a contrived outreach scheme to lure Muslims and Christians into their fold. Incidentally, Shah had earlier threatened to pull down the Left government in Kerala,” read his article.
Brittas has been a journalist for decades and is one of the prominent voices of the Left in the Rajya Sabha.