Shiv Sena, shutdowns and double standards
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Thomson Reuters)
Shutting down cities seems to be the Shiv Sena‚Äôs new pastime. A week after forcing a shutdown in Mumbai to mourn the death of its leader Bal Thackeray, the right-wing party set its sights on Palghar, a sleepy town 90 kilometres north of Mumbai that finds itself at the centre of a debate on freedom of speech.
It all started when Shaheen Dhada, 21, updated her Facebook status, complaining about Mumbai‚Äôs shutdown following Thackeray‚Äôs death on Nov. 17. Dhada and her friend who ‚Äúliked‚ÄĚ the post were arrested and Shiv Sena workers were accused of vandalizing a hospital run by Dhada‚Äôs kin.
Now the Shiv Sena has come to the rescue of the policemen, calling for a shutdown in Palghar on Wednesday to protest against their suspension which they say is unfair.
Notices have been put up all over town, asking people to stay put at home, local media reported.
For the Shiv Sena, this is a show of strength and a ploy to gain political mileage. The motive might be local, but the implications are national. A bizarre interpretation of India‚Äôs internet laws sent two 21-year-old Facebook friends to prison and raised questions of how serious the government is about allowing the freedom of speech, online or otherwise.
On Wednesday, a Facebook comment by another teenager in Palghar offended Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers who accuse the boy of abusing their leader Raj Thackeray, Bal Thackeray‚Äôs estranged nephew. Party workers took the boy to the police station but he hasn‚Äôt been charged yet. The police seem to be playing it safe.
Dhada‚Äôs Facebook post had only indirectly referred to Bal Thackeray, a man not known to mince his words. The Shiv Sena chief had once called Sharad Pawar, a close friend and now minister of agriculture, a ‚Äúsack of flour‚ÄĚ and was noted for his use of provocative language.
The Shiv Sena doesn‚Äôt seem to care about anyone else‚Äôs freedom of speech but their own, and their shutting down Palghar for a day shows the double standards of political parties. We, of course, allow this to happen.