A liberal politician of India: Baijayant Jay Panda

Baijayant Jay Panda is an Indian parliamentarian from the Biju Janata Dal. His profile on his website reads thus:

“Elected to the 15th Lok Sabha from Kendrapara, Odisha on 16th May, 2009. Baijayant “Jay” Panda was elected to Upper House twice from Odisha and was leader of the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) in the Upper House.He is among the new breed of politicians who are redefining Indian Politics”

Even if he says it so himself, I believe he definitely is “among the new breed of politicians who are redefining Indian Politics”. For one thing, he has an active twitter presence (most Indian politicians do not even deign it worthwhile to have a twitter presence; leave alone an active one) and that has been largely my basis for forming an opinion of him. His tweets are fairly witty & lighthearted for an Indian politician. Also his comments and interactions on twitter reflect an ability to engage in discussions; something that the average Indian politician is loathe to, instead being ever ready to deal in rhetoric.

I didn’t know much about Baijayant Panda until about 2 weeks ago when I began to follow him on twitter. But a tweet of his today made me realize that he is a key leader in ensuring freedom of expression on the internet in today’s illiberal Indian society.  The screenshot of the tweet is as below:

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Now, Section 66A of the Indian Information Technology Act, (2000) has serious implications for freedom of expression on the Internet in India. The same has been discussed widely. Section 66A of India’s s Information Technology Act, (2000) contains draconian provisions that can be misused and taken advantage of by illiberal elements of Indian society which can lead to deleterious effects on the future of an open society in India. The following is an extract from the IT Act (2000):

Section 66A:  Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Coming back to Panda’s key role in fighting internet censorship; he had initiated a private member’s bill seeking amendments to the Section 66 A of the IT Act, 2000. A private member’s bill is described as below on Wikipedia

A member of parliament’s legislative motion, called a private member’s bill or a member’s bill in some parliaments is a proposed law introduced by a member of a legislature who is not acting on behalf of the executive government.

A brief and somewhat discouraging summary of the performance of such bills is reproduced below from Wikipedia

Of the 300 odd Private Members’ Bills introduced in the 14th Lok Sabha, barely 4% were discussed; 96% lapsed without even a single debate in the House. Till date, Parliament has passed 14 Private Members’ Bills. Six of these were passed in 1956 alone and The last Private Members’ Bill passed by Parliament was ‘The Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968’ that became an Act on 9 August 1970. No Private Members’ Bill has been passed by Parliament since 1970.

Contrast on the other hand, the case of Subramanian Swamy, a widely respected economist, politician and academician who played an important role in prosecuting the key accused in the 2G spectrum scam. A few months ago, I had seen a tweet by Swamy where he threatened to initiate action against some of his twitter critics using provisions of Sec 66A. His comment was thus:

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This episode made me realize that even a distinguished person like Swamy cannot handle criticism and had to resort to threatening action using the draconian provisions of the IT act of India under Section 66 A. Also, that highly respected anti corruption crusaders like Swamy hold no promise as to the future of a liberal India.  That tweet by Swamy left a bad taste in my mouth given its implications of curtailing freedom of expression and its ill effects on a society as well as for the fact that someone with Swamy’s stature would resort to such petty behaviour.

But Swamy’s tweet doesn’t depress me much after knowing that we have a politician like Panda who is actively campaigning against internet censorship. And this definitely bodes well for the future of Indian politics which today unfortunately is dominated by criminals and narrow minded individuals.

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