So many people keep saying they don’t have Freedom of Speech anymore. That they are scared to say what they want to say. And they look longingly to the time of “the Statesman Nehru” and the other Congress regimes.
The question is did those times provide enough freedom of speech? Let us talk freely and see how it was during that time and put to test this rather oft-repeated fetish – बोलने की आज़ादी ही नहीं है.
These are the lines that Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote:
Aman ka jhanda is dharti pe
Kisney kaha lahrane na paye
Ye bhi koi Hitler ka hai chela,
Maar le sathi, jane na paye!
Commonwealth ka daas hai Nehru
Maar le sathi, jane na paye!
Such unease with our flag of peace!
He is some protege of Hitler
A mere slave of the Commonwealth is Nehru,
Friends, take him by the collar lest he gets away
And that was enough to land him in the jail.
Majrooh went into hiding after an arrest warrant was issued, but came out after his fellow communists Sajjad Zaheer and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were detained in Rawalpindi conspiracy case. The government jailed him in 1949 along with other leftists like Balraj Sahni. Morarji Desai, the then governor of Bombay, asked for an apology but Majrooh refused. While in jail for two years he kept writing songs and poems for the people and the film industry, driving the government to release him at last.
So many intellectuals at that time were easy meat. You say what Nehru wanted you to say or you would be in jail. During subsequent Congress Governments, too many artists and intellectuals were either banned or jailed. For example Kishore Kumar.
Kishore Kumar was a singer who had a song for every mood. His voice ruled the industry for decades. Even today, his is the common voice in many playlists all across India. But there was a time when the singer was banned in the country. This was during the 70s when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Vidya Charan Shukla was her government’s leading “propagandist”. He had a knack for censuring media and make artists follow his diktats. Most of them bowed to his decrees, there were some who were too tough to bow down. Kishore was one of them. Shukla, wanted Bollywood to help promote on All India Radio and Doordarshan the 20-point-programme Indira had declared after imposing the emergency and had called up top filmmakers to see how their ‘co-operation’ could be obtained. But Kishore wasn’t budging.
You see artists, filmmakers, poets, and intellectuals could ONLY say what was sanctioned by Nehru and Gandhi. And if they existed between those two lines created for them by Congress, they were fine. Otherwise, they were banned and/or jailed!
Such was the Freedom of Expression of that era. The activists like Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi can say all they want to Modi and yet complain of Freedom of Expression. But the fact is that Jaanisaar Akhtar and KAifi Azmi could ONLY say what was allowed by Nehru and Indira Gandhi. If they had strayed past those lines, they would be jailed. But in their eyes – restricted poetry was freedom, and unmitigated freedom to say what they have to against anyone specifically Modi is a restraint.
Have you met a more neurotic group?