There shouldn’t be censor board to keep tab on politicians’ speeches: Himanta

Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

GUWAHATI: Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma feels there should not be any “activism” on what politicians speak during election time or a “censor board” to keep a tab on their speeches and it should left for the voters to judge.

His remark comes amid the Election Commission recently banning political leaders like Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati, Maneka Gandhi, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Azam Khan from campaigning for a period of time for their controversial statements.

The BJP leader was of the opinion that leaders should be allowed to speak out their minds as this will help voters know them better.

Too much control over speeches will result in Indian election losing its “charm”, he argues.

“People (politicians) should be allowed to speak so that the public can judge them. If you start dictating that this man should speak this, then before every speech he has to consult an advocate whether he should speak this particular line or whether this will attract penal provision,” Sarma told PTI in an interview.

Claiming that he has not uttered a single provocative statement in this elections, the former Congress leader says the best thing in a democracy is to allow one speak out his or her mind.

“I should openly speak to the people. I should not have two faces. Suppose, I am a person with an extreme view on a particular issue. I should be allowed to speak so that voters can judge.

“My whole submission is that will there be a censor board to see what a public leader is speaking at a public podium? If this happens, then everybody will start acting. Then people will not know who he (the leader) is actually,” says the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the regional platform of the NDA.

When asked if he supports the Election Commission’s steps to ban different leaders due to their controversial speeches, he says, “I think there should not be activism… What a political leader has spoken or not spoken, should be a matter of public debate. It should be left to the voters to punish a person who use foul language or the language which may not be appropriate.

“So within a broad parameter, people should be allowed to espouse their view on issues such as nationalism even if your views are extreme rightist or leftist… Then during the process of debate, let people judge who is the best person… Otherwise, Indian election will lose all its charm.”

When pointed out to the objectionable remarks by Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan on BJP candidate Jaya Prada, Sarma says character assassination or personal attack and foul language about a woman or the country should not be allowed.

Citing the terminology ‘We the People of India’ from the Preamble of the Constitution, he says nowadays a “super citizen” category has evolved and it believes that people may not punish a leader, hence it should punish.

“They think that if a political leader is giving an inflammatory speech, for that people will not punish because people are fools and know nothing. So, we have to punish. That super citizen kind of thing should not be there,” he adds.

Asked if he meant the ECI was the ‘super citizen’, the firebrand leader retorts, “I am not directing at anything. I am saying that if I am doing wrong during an election process, then my judge is my people. My people will punish me. But in India, there are certain people who think that people are not capable of punishing me.”

When asked who those “certain people” are, Sarma shot back saying, “You are asking this question, even you are one of those. You are asking me this question thinking that somebody will not punish me, you have now greater duty to punish me. So, you are also part of that super citizen.”

He asserts that Indian common people are very intelligent and he considers the masses to be much more intelligent than the “super citizen”.

“I think in a different way. If tomorrow some intellectuals sit and start interpreting politicians speech whether it has crossed the line or not, it will be very difficult. In democracy, ultimately people will decide… India has its own unique electioneering process. That should not be killed,” Sarma says.

He also disapproves of the political parties going to police stations to file FIRs or slapping legal cases against leaders for their statements saying all these will “ultimately kill the charm of Indian democracy”.

This arguments are is in stark contrast to his party colleague and BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi, on whose complaint the Supreme Court had issued criminal contempt notice to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi for “incorrectly attributing” to it the “chowkidar chor hai” remark on Prime Minister Narendra Modi while referring to the Rafale judgment.

On the BJP’s prospects in the Northeast, the NEDA convenor says while the NDA will win 19-21 seats out of 25 in the region, it will bag 11 seats of 14 in Assam alone.

To a query whether the BJP has shifted the narrative of its entire campaign from fulfilment of promises of 2014 elections to nationalism, Sarma disagrees and says his party leaders are making their speeches focussing mainly on four areas.

“We speak about the nationalism, which is our core issue. The second component is the good work of the Modi government — Ujjwala scheme, electrification of villages, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Bogibeel and Dhola-Sadiya bridges etc.

“Third component is obviously the number of schemes the state government has launched. We have at least 12 flagship schemes that we need to speak. And finally in the context of Assam, issue of identity is another big topic,” he explains. PTI