(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 28, 2013
Heckling As Violence
proposition of political philosophy is
being propounded in
This is an entirely home-grown proposition. The other day at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral many turned up along the route, where the cortege passed, to boo her and pass angry comments against her. They were, by the new-found Indian definition, using violence against a dead person, which is even more reprehensible than against a living one, and that too a person who had been the longest-serving prime minister of Britain in the twentieth century and whose iconic status in the Tory pantheon was comparable only to that of the war-time prime minister Winston Churchill. And yet there are no reports of any arrests being made of those who booed Thatcher, any demands for apologies, or any inquiry committees to find out who the hecklers were. The British, including even the British Tories, obviously do not consider heckling as violence.
And even this
home-grown proposition is of very
recent vintage, no more perhaps than a couple of weeks.
After all, in this
country itself when Indira Gandhi had come back to power
after the brief period
of Janata Party rule, her visit to
with the present situation. The
finance minister of
But in any case
it is not the manhandling that
is being cited as evidence of violence, which would have
been a defensible
proposition. The heckling of the chief minister is also
being thrown in as an
instance of violence and is even being given pride of
place in the list of
violent acts perpetrated by the demonstrators. It is not
only the TMC cadres,
but a host of others from the governor of
So exercised has the governor been that, not content with blaming unruly demonstrators, or criticising the incapacity of the leaders present in situ to enforce restraint on the demonstrators, he has even demanded an apology from the Politburo of the CPI(M) on the grounds that it was a pre-planned attack and “democratic centralism” entailed that the PB should own responsibility for each and every action of its front organisations. By the governor’s logic, which underlies his claim that it was a pre-planned action, the demonstrators knew beforehand that Mamata Banerjee and Amit Mitra would reject the police suggestion to use another route which had been planned for their entry to Yojana Bhawan; that the demonstrators knew beforehand that Amit Mitra would stray away from the police cordon; and they knew that he would stray away in a particular direction (he was apparently looking for a different entry point) so that they could get hold of him to tear his kurta !
But let us get
away from all this, and ask the
basic question: can heckling be considered an act of
violence? No doubt it can
cause psychological trauma to the person at the
receiving end which can affect
his or her health. But then the very act of even seeing
somebody can cause such
trauma, as had happened to Kansha in the Mahabharata
when he saw
The question of where to draw the line is no doubt an important one, but the line can certainly not be drawn at the whim of the political representatives in leading government positions, without stifling criticism of their decisions affecting the lives of the people. One can make two points in this connection.
HAVING ONE’S CAKE
AND EATING IT TOO
First, those who are so sensitive to heckling and demonstrations that they have to spend a week in hospital to recover from its after effects, should not be in politics at all where they have to take decisions affecting people’s lives. The thin-skinned person (and I do not mean this as a criticism since I count myself in some sense as being one), has no place in politics in a democratic dispensation, where criticism, often of the most stringent kind (of which heckling is an instance), is central to the functioning of the system. They are better off in academic pursuits of the more arcane kind like finding counterexamples to the Turnpike Theorem in economics (though even these may occasionally entail unacceptable and psychologically traumatic strain).
Secondly, those who get perturbed by heckling and would like a more civilised and humane discourse, must themselves also engage in such a discourse. One cannot call the death of a young idealistic student, and that too in police custody, a “small and petty affair”, a remark that is offensive to fundamental humanity; and then complain if angry demonstrators heckle one. To claim the right to make inhumane comments about others, and then to complain when others heckle one, amounts to having one’s cake and eating it too. Of course even when one’s discourse is perfectly humane and “civilised”, in so far as the consequences of one’s decisions are deleterious to some people’s lives, one still has to be prepared to face demonstrations and heckling. But if one’s discourse too is inhumane then the chances of this happening multiply several-fold.
This “no-matter-what-we-do-you-can-not-heckle-us-for don’t-you-know-heckling-is-a-form-of violence” attitude alas is gathering support among leading political functionaries in government. There is something fundamentally wrong with our polity if it is informed by this attitude: for then the death in police custody of a young idealistic student does not even get properly investigated, while an inquiry committee is set up at the highest level, by the home minister of the country no less, to investigate the incident of heckling.
This attitude is symptomatic of the creeping fascism in our country in at least two ways. First, it is symptomatic of a lack of tolerance of any opposition. Even as imperious a person as Indira Gandhi, despite being the prime minister of the country and despite being palpably wrongly targeted (I recollect Comrade M Basavapunniah telling me the morning after she was denied entry to JNU: “Cannot the prime minister of the country visit a university if she wishes to”?), had not taken any steps to punish those who had prevented her entry into JNU; things have changed so much since then that mere heckling is now considered an act of violence and strident demands are made, and accepted, by virtually all, including the media, without any demurral, for the punishment of the “guilty”.
stridency has to do undoubtedly
with the fact that the demonstrators belonged to the
Left. The communal BJP and
the neo-liberal Congress Party, each for its own
reasons, wants the Left to be
targeted, tarnished and marginalised. Each has its own
reasons for going along
with Mamata Banerjee’s visceral hatred of the Left. And
many of the civil
society “pundits”, wallowing in the middle class
prosperity that the
bubble-based neo-liberal boom has spawned over the last
few years in India,
find the Left, with its emphasis on poverty, agrarian
crisis and primitive
accumulation, a dispensable and embarrassing relic from
the past. All this
contributes towards the effort of making out of a
Many will no doubt learn to their cost that this silent complicity in the demonisation of the Left that is underway, undermines democracy and helps the advance of fascism. One only hopes, however, that this lesson does not come too late for stopping the advance of fascism.