There is no doubting the burden on courts in India. What adds to the load is the corrective action that the judiciary has had to take repeatedly in response to excesses committed by elected dispensations. In yet another instance of heartening judicial intervention, the Supreme Court exercised special powers to order the release of a journalist, Prashant Kanojia, who had been arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for ‘objectionable’ tweets — Mr Kanojia’s tweets concerned a woman’s purported marriage with the chief minister of that state. The swiftness with which the cops pounced on their target was remarkable. It is a pity that the men in uniform remain leaden-footed when it comes to addressing public concerns. What concerned the court in this instance deserves special attention — for governments as well as the people that they are mandated to serve. The learned judges acknowledged that they found Mr Kanojia’s posts objectionable. But the court insisted that the transgression did not merit the disproportionate response from the administration. In other words, the action of the police — they are not known to act without a nod from their political masters — was unwarranted. This kind of retaliation is injurious to the health of a democracy because liberty — the court reminded one and all — is the bedrock of a polity that is based on the idea of freedom. What enriches the democratic fabric is the diversity of opinion. Public opinion is not uniform. It is often critical of governments. By upholding the sanctity of liberty and opinion — even a disparaging one — the court was reiterating the need to reaffirm constitutional principles.
Unfortunately, charismatic leaders are known for their prickly skins. Arrests of civilians over posts — they are often satirical in nature — are not limited to Uttar Pradesh. Other states, including Bengal, have witnessed this phenomenon. Worryingly, satire too is being attacked on grounds of defamation. The shrinking of space for dissenting voices — humorous or otherwise — cannot augur well for the future of Indian democracy. But smug politicians are, evidently, too self-absorbed to care.