ON A BALMY FEBRUARY NIGHT, aware that things were not going well, I did what I rarely do. I put in earplugs and switched on the television. Even though I had said nothing about the spate of recent events—murders and lynchings, police raids on university campuses, student arrests, and enforced flag-waving—I knew that my name was still on the A-list of “anti-nationals.” That night, I began to worry that, in addition to the charge of criminal contempt of court I was already facing (for “interfering in the administration of justice,” “bashing the Central Government, State Governments, the Police Machinery, so also the Judiciary,” and “demonstrating a surly, rude and boorish attitude”), I would also be charged with causing the death of the eternally indignant news anchor on Times Now. I thought he might succumb to an apoplectic fit as he stabbed the air and spat out my name, suggesting that I was a part of some shadowy cabal behind the ongoing “anti-national” activity in the country. My crime, according to him, is that I have written about the struggle for freedom in Kashmir, questioned the execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru, walked with the Maoist guerrillas (“terrorists” in television speak) in the forests of Bastar, connected their armed rebellion to my reservations about India’s chosen model of “development,” and—with a hissy, sneering pause—even questioned the country’s nuclear tests.
Now it’s true that my views on these matters are at variance with those of the ruling establishment. In better days, that used to be known as a critical perspective or an alternative worldview. These days in India, it’s called sedition.
Sitting in Delhi, somewhat at the mercy of what looks like a democratically elected government gone rogue, I wondered whether I should rethink some of my opinions. I thought back, for instance, on a talk I gave in 2004 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, just before the Bush-versus-Kerry election, in which I joked about how the choice between the Democrats and the Republicans—or their equivalents in India, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party—was like having to choose between Tide and Ivory Snow, two brands of washing powder both actually owned by the same company. Given all that is going on, can I honestly continue to believe that?