What's one word you'll often hear when people mention "freedom of expression"? This one: "but". Yes, all kinds of people are very firm believers indeed in the freedom of expression, subject to a few "but"s here and there. And they are invariably very innovative "but"s.
So there was one A.G. Shinde from the Republican Party of India a few years ago, agitated enough about Arun Shourie's book on B.R. Ambedkar (Worshipping False Gods) that he wanted it banned. And what about freedom of expression, Shinde was asked, that little thing guaranteed to us by our Constitution? "No doubt we should have freedom of expression," said Shinde. "But such a book creates a vicious atmosphere in the country."
(Aside: One Ajit Jogi of the Congress agreed, asserting that the book was so "clearly worthless" that "people should not be allowed to read [it]." Yes, I'm supposed to have this Jogi decide what's worthless and whether I should read it. End of Aside).
Some years before that, the Shiv Sena had been agitated enough about Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh that they wanted it banned. And what about freedom of expression? One Pramod Navalkar of the Sena stood up to speak of it. Yes, he said, our Constitution does assure that freedom. "But only for Indians. Not for NRIs like Rushdie."
Oh yes. Silly me. I forgot Clause 15(XI).3.EV(MCML)/3986 (g) (ii) of the Constitution, which reads, in full, thus: "But this document is not for NRIs like Salman Rushdie." Right. And I'm the Grand Vizier of the Mariana Islands and if it's not for Rushdie, it's not for me either.
So when the Times of India slaps a lawsuit on, of all things, a blog, I remember Shinde and Jogi and Navalkar and wonder: where's the "but"? What does the Times have to say about freedom of expression, its quality strained through this lawsuit? Because what it has effectively done is drive that blog off the air; bang one more nail in the coffin that the Shindes and Jogis and Navalkars work hard and skilfully to carve.
That one arm of a supposedly free press would do this to another is irony indeed.
But wait. I forgot Section 358(98.3).FM.43/j (iv) of the Constitution, the one that reads, in full, thus: "But if you're a big guy, stomp on the little guy."