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Commentary/Vir Sanghvi

Justice and Kanshi Ram

Kanshi Ram The issue is not that he hit journalists; it is that he hit a citizen of India.

Much of the outrage over BSP leader Kanshi Ram's behavour seems to me to have concentrated on two non issues. The first is the surprise over the fact that a politician should have resorted to violence against defenceless individuals and that he should have shouted to his security guards: "Maaro saalon ko. Shoot kar do."

Of course, it is disgraceful that Kanshi Ram behaved in this manner. But it is not particularly surprising. Anybody who has followed UP politics over the last decade will tell you that violence is now an integral part of the political process in that state. Moreover, nothing in Kanshi Ram's pattern of behaviour has given us any reason to expect any better of him.

The second non-issue is the politicians-versus-press slant that the whole affair has acquired. Yes, Kanshi Ram did hit journalists. And yes, his guards did smash cameras and chase helpless journalists.

But this is not an issue of press freedom. It might have been possible to see it in that light if the journalists were shoving microphones in Kanshi Ram's face, exploding flash bulbs in his eye or whatever, and if Kanshi Ram had suddenly snapped under the pressure and thrown a punch or two or smashed the odd camera.

But these journalists were not hassling Kanshi Ram. They had peacefully assembled outside his house. One of them had gone in to see his secretary to request an interview. There was no sense in which they were a nuisance; nor were they intruding into his personal space. Despite this, Kanshi Ram emerged from the house and ordered the attack. He was not responding to provocation.

He was the provocation.

To see it in media-politician terms is, therefore, to misrepresent the case. It suits the government to treat it as such because it can then deal with the non-issue of journalist-politico relations and divert the matter to the Press Council.

Unfortunately, many of us in the media have also bought this characterisation. In the process, we have done ourselves a disservice.

What is important is not that the people who were assaulted were journalists. They could have been engineers or doctors or whatever. (Just for the purposes of argument, what would the government have done if they were doctors? Referred the case to the Indian Medical Council? Somehow, I doubt it.)

What is important is that the victims of the assault were citizens of India and entitled to the protection of the law. And it is this protection that the government of H D Deve Gowda is denying them.

Let us turn the Kanshi Ram assault around. Suppose tomorrow you were walking through the streets of Delhi and you set eyes on Kanshi Ram who you did not like because you believed that his politics were insincere and appealed to the lowest common denominator.

Suppose now that you were so angered by the sight of Kanshi Ram that you rushed across and punched him in the jaw. And that you then shouted to your friends: Maaro saale ko.

Vir Sanghvi Continued

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