The RSS boss and his brothers-in-arms need to speak on the DNA of democracy, not on the similarity of the DNA of all Indians. File/AFP

We now know that in the “party with a difference”, which is how the BJP defines itself, servility is mistaken as fidelity to Hindutva, and discipline demands its members deaden their conscience to the shrinking of privacy and liberty. And yes, even to the imperilling of national security, for if the Centre is right in claiming it did not deploy Pegasus, then only a foreign State could have snooped on Indians, given that NSO Group has only government clients.

Our recent political history shows dissidence is stirred in political parties when their leaders turn undemocratic. Dissidents mobilise opinion by stressing that their parties should adhere to democratic values, considered superior to the imperatives of ideology and discipline. They may fail or have their own personal agenda, but their opposition, hearteningly, rejuvenates democracy.

Past examples will bring into sharp relief why the Sangh’s silence over Pegasusgate is disturbingly undemocratic. Take Janata Party leader and Karnataka Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, who was stung, in 1988, because his comrade Madhu Dandavate asked in Parliament a question of the Rajiv Gandhi government regarding the tapping of phones of political leaders. Dandavate’s prompt was The Indian Express publishing a telephonic conversation between Janata Party leader Ajit Singh and HD Deve Gowda, then a party dissident in Karnataka.

However, the Rajiv Gandhi government produced documents showing a Deputy Inspector of Police had authorised the tapping of phones of 50 Janata Party dissidents in Karnataka. Hegde resigned. By contrast, the BJP stonewalls demands for a probe into Pegasusgate. Although the Congress turned the tables on Dandavate, he was not pilloried in his party for raising the phone tapping issue.

In the same year, the Rajiv Gandhi government had the Lok Sabha pass the Anti-defamation bill, which placed the burden on journalists to prove their innocence in defamation suits. The Bill provoked a national outcry, prompting Gandhi to appoint Sheila Dikshit, a minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, to rally support for it. Dikshit reported to Gandhi that senior Congress leaders were opposed to the Bill and were planning a signature campaign against it. Gandhi withdrew the Bill. The Economic & Political Weekly lauded Congress MPs for showing the courage to “resist a measure dictated from the top”.

The Emergency is often portrayed as an outcome of obsequious Congress members failing to oppose Indira Gandhi’s suspension of democracy. This portrayal ignores how the “Young Turks” of the Congress—Chandra Shekhar, for instance—opposed the Emergency and were packed off to jail. Christophe Jaffrelot and Pratinav Anil, authors of India’s First Dictatorship, detail how factional leaders such as Jagjivan Ram unsuccessfully sought to remove Indira after her election was invalidated by the Allahabad High Court. Their argument was that the party was more important than the individual.

During the Emergency, Union Ministers IK Gujral and Swaran Singh did not display deference to Sanjay Gandhi, about whom Indira would say that an attack on him was an “attack on me”. Late journalist Janardan Thakur, in a 1999 piece for, wrote that Gujral happened to come late to a meeting convened by Sanjay. “I had asked you to come at 10. This won’t do,” remarked an angry Sanjay. “It will do,” responded Gujral, who was deprived of the portfolio of Information and Broadcasting Ministry the following day.

Is there a BJP leader capable of retorting to Narendra Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah?

In the same piece, Thakur also notes that Gujral turned down Sanjay’s order to close down Motherland, the daily newspaper of the Jana Sangh, the earlier incarnate of the BJP. Newspapers can only be sued for libel, Gujral rebutted. The Motherland was raided at 1 am on June 26, minutes after the Emergency was imposed, and its editor, KR Malkani, arrested.

On July 3, 1975, The New York Times did a story on censorship, which begins with a Motherland executive’s sigh, “We are all under such a gloom.” The publication of the Motherland was disrupted. It was never revived. Malkani was to later say, “To threaten the liberty of the press for the sole offence of non-conformity to official view in each and every matter, may be a handy tool for tyrants but [is] only a crippling curtailment of civil liberties in a free democracy.”

Indeed, the silence of the RSS over Pegasusgate and the raids on the Dainik Bhaskar, Bharat Samachar and NewsClick vividly illustrate the hypocritical and expedient nature of its morality. RSS boss Mohan Bhagwat and his brothers-in-arms need to speak on the DNA of democracy, not on the similarity of the DNA of all Indians. Else history will remember them as moral poseurs.

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