I have no sympathy for Disha Ravi and her two colleagues. Their actions clearly intended to endanger the image of India and create disaffection with the country. They were not innocent youngsters caught in the vicious propaganda of international gangsters but active accomplices in the overall scheme of things.
But I feel sad for the youth who get caught in such crimes. They get involved in activism for quick fame or otherwise and ruin their bright futures. No right-thinking youth would ever want to act against his or her country, but if your acts are dubbed anti-national, it is something you had not bargained for and you have to live by that image forever.
The Latin maxim Ignorantia juris non excusat meaning “ignorance of law is no excuse” guides criminal jurisprudence all across the globe. A person can commit the crime without knowing whether it is a crime or not but he would still face the consequence of his action as per the law of the land.
What happens if a person is committing an act that he or she knows is wrong and might attract the wrath of the state? In the first case, mens rea would need to be established but in the second case mens rea is already there because you knew that the actions were wrong and could invite arrest and punishment. Disha knew that the UAPA could be invoked against her and hence asked her mentor Greta Thunberg to delete the toolkit and lie low for some time.
There is no harm in criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his government as criticism is the basis of democracy. Even when you use foul language and cross the line of civility, one would give you the benefit of the doubt and accept this as a case of a frustrated youth. What is not acceptable is that you would connive actively with those forces that have avowed to dismember the country. Everyone knows the agenda of those claiming to work for Khalistan, an issue that had led to a bloodbath in Punjab in the 1980s.
She said that she was supporting farmers. In that case one would be tempted to ask whether she is aware of the legislations that were passed by the government. She got a tutorial from an environment activist, Thunberg, who knows best to read out from the script, but understands less the cause that she is espousing to represent. She has no problems with farmers asking the right to burn paddy stubble (parali) that chokes Delhi and other cities. Is she aware that the massive use of fertilizers and pesticides and accompanying agriculture practices in Punjab and Haryana have increased salinity to the extent that people have started shrimp farming? But these are not her concerns. She forgets to dare the offenders.
Disha might have become a good environmentalist had she not chosen the anti-India echo system where all activists belonging to other causes join the anti-Modi chorus and forget their respective core vocations. This naturally pays as it is a quick road to stardom. International agencies including foreign media would come out in support, because they are unhappy at India acting against thousands of NGOs who were operating irresponsibly and without transparency and accountability.
India is not like other countries where a global reaction will bring you stardom. That is why people like Rahul Gandhi face a drubbing all the time. Here you have to work hard, acquire knowledge and then earn respect for leading the society. Dr B.R. Ambedkar became a great man because he was highly educated, could understand issues and came up with ideas that guide society even now.
I call this the ‘Kanhaiya phenomenon’, which may give you stardom while you are on campus but does not work when you come out of the closet of the college or university. If you wish to extend activism beyond the issue of rising mess bills or fee hikes, you have to educate yourself. This has become more relevant because of the proliferation which takes place on social media. People want to test you on your knowledge and whether you have solutions. What Kanhaiya spoke about would not enthuse anyone from the stock he came from. Everyone there speaks the same language with the same idioms and phrases. Those who lost out in the race and those who compromised suddenly saw hope in him, but due to the absence of critical knowledge and conceptualisation, he started fading out. The same slogans and speeches repeated time and again become stale. This happens to most student leaders who try to achieve overnight stardom just by opposing the government.
It is so simple to be irresponsible in this country and achieve stardom in the name of democracy. You oppose the Modi government, abuse the Prime Minister and speak for the Balkanisation of the country. You would be arrested and sent to jail. Such cases are difficult to establish, so you would be released soon. The media would lap you up and make you a hero. Some international organisations would give you awards and you would be invited for lectures and debates. Soon you would fade out due to a lack of substance. After all, the media needs new heroes and would continue to pick up new faces. Unless you create new ones, the debate looks boring and stale.
The same will happen to Disha too. The leftist echo system, that is so dominant despite not being in power, does not celebrate positive contributors to society. There are thousands of people working with the best of intentions to work for the upliftment of the poor. There are an equal number working for environmental protection. But they are working silently, unknown and unheard of. They believe in working one step at a time and the society is better because of them.
I wonder why environmentalists like Greta Thunberg or Disha would not find the Indian Prime Minister to be the best bet if they really wished to work for bettering the environment. Even when the United States walked out of the Paris Accord on climate change for financial reasons, India did not say no and continued its pledge to do its bit for saving the environment. Former US vice president Al Gore wrote the book An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 to show how policymakers avoided talking about climate change issues. Narendra Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, wrote a book Convenient Action, showcasing how policymakers could make a difference on climate change issues by reducing carbon footprints. I wonder whether Thunberg or Disha or other environmentalists have read this book.
Would it not be right to say that environmental activism or activism against human rights is just a ruse to oppose the present dispensation and one can go to any extent to further this cause? The toolkit has exposed that there was an international conspiracy to malign India by organising demonstrations at all Indian embassies. Who are these people who want India to be seen in such bad light? At a time when most countries are looking forward to investing in India, since it is a country governed by robust democratic institutions, vested interests are determined to create an image that the state is repressive and the society is conflict-ridden. If this succeeds, the next step could be to organise demonstrations at the offices of MNCs trying to invest in India to scare them away. One does not need to be too intelligent to understand who could be behind these activities.
One would expect youths to argue and get into the depth of any issue to decide if a particular legislation is good for the country or not. Here Disha chose not to research to know that the new laws are not being imposed on anyone. Farmers would use these legislations only if they found these useful. Also, who would not like farmers to use these legislations? Only those who would benefit from the present system that has given them flashy cars and other luxuries.
Alas! The plot has fallen flat. Conspirators and co-conspirators have been exposed and the police are investigating the case. Action needs to be taken against all those who conspired to hatch this plot to defame India and sow seeds of discontent. The larger issue that remains to be mulled over by policymakers is whether we are not giving students lessons in our democratic institutions and their credibility. The youth of this country need to trust their Constitution and democratic set-up. Any other person in place of Disha would have alerted the police rather than become a part of the conspiracy if she was neutral. Is the hunger for fame or hate for the present government so intense that the interest of the country was forgotten?
The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.