The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee seems to be in the process of putting an end to Freedom of Expression in the State. A cultural phenomenon that gave the world many classics in literature, arts, music, poetry, etc., the state is now being gagged and made to succumb to a dictatorial leader. Last week, the Minister got a Kolkata professor Ambikesh Mahapatra arrested for sending emails with her cartoon spoofs and based ridiculous charges against him. This led to a furor throughout the country. There was a huge outburst by social media proponents too while Twitter reacted with #arrestmenow.
However, despite being largely criticized for this act from all quarters, she is relentlessly continuing with her frenzy. A supporter from her party Trinamool Congress, had lodged a FIR on April 12, the very day Prof. Mahapatra was arrested. ((News source: Times Of India)) The FIR citied specific posts and ‘objectionable comments’ that are flooding the social networking sites, hence was taken up by the state CID at once. The state CID in its turn, has written to Facebook asking it to delete the said posts and also wants the IP addresses of the computers from where these posts generated. Facebook on the other hand, responds to such requests only if there is a threat to national security, public order or in case someone’s life is at stake. So it remains to be seen how Facebook reacts to this.
Even as her government is in damage control mode, following the professor’s arrest and the case against Facebook and few other social networking sites for hosting ‘objectionable’ content is still on, the fight for free speech continues. While the government led by Minister for IT and Telecom, Kapil Sibal, wants to impose a blanket ban on all user-generated content that may be termed ‘objectionable’, the social networking sites however, do not agree. They think it is against the Indian Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Besides, the Trinamool Congress Facebook page has no mention about these incidents (which is not at all surprising) but smartly makes an update on Mamata Banerjee being listed amongst the Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. Last year, soon after coming into power, Trinamool Congress had roped in young achievers like Farhan Akhtar, Leander Paes, etc. as a part of its eight-member committee, to mentor the party’s youth wing. Also, big promises were made during the election campaign with social media being a vital mix of their brand message. We were quite excited to see a political party taking such bold steps. However, the times have changed and the litmus test for a brand or a public figure on social media is during bad times. Clearly, the moves shown by the team of Trinamool Congress gives a clear indication that it has failed to understand the medium, just like the Indian government. Social media is not only a place for accolades but one needs to be prepared for brickbats too.
It remains to be watched what action is taken by Facebook but what would Trinamool Congress do for other social networking sites, emails, etc. Is the Trinamool Congress planning to ban free speech for all? In case it is, then someone needs to wake them up before it’s too late.