Right to Privacy: why RS Prasad’s presser is the funniest thing in a long time
Prasad, the Union Minister for Law and Justice and Information Technology, addressed a press conference on Thursday. And Prasad’s biggest achievement was that he made the Union government’s problematic stand look respectable, through his outlandish and garbled statements.
Here’s a compilation of some of Ravi Shankar Prasad’s best arguments on Thursday afternoon:
About-turn on privacy as a fundamental right
"Government has consistently been of the view, particularly with regard to Aadhar also, that the right to privacy should be a fundamental right," Prasad said.
This is the opposite of what the government has been arguing. On July 19, the government had clearly said that “right to privacy cannot fall in the bracket of fundamental rights”. It maintained that it is “only a common law right evolved through judicial pronouncements”.
Govt’s position was just courtroom banter
On a related matter, a Reuters journalist questioned Prasad during the press conference about the government’s position that “citizens don’t have absolute right over their bodies”, Prasad dismissed the position as “courtroom banter”.
He said, "Reuters, go to London, go to Washington or come to Delhi, whenever cases are argued, there is a lot of banter, a lot of exchanges but ultimately the core of the argument is noted in the judgment".
Let’s not talk about sexual orientation
Prasad seemed most uncomfortable when it came to the issue of sexual orientation being part of the Right to Privacy. Two reporters asked him about the issue from different points of view, but Prasad dodged it with the agility of a squirrel.
On being asked about the verdict’s relation to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Prasad said, “I think today is a very important day to talk about the poor, underprivileged and the right to privacy On that issue we will revert to in some time in future".
Another journalist asked Prasad on the verdict’s impact on the position of homosexual couples in the Surrogacy Bill. He said “I cannot comment on it. This is not a discussion on the Surrogacy Bill”.
No nude speeches at Rashtrapati Bhawan, please.
Much of Prasad’s argument was hinged on one point that the court’s observation that the Right to Privacy is not an absolute right and that it is subject to “reasonable restrictions” was a victory for the government.
This is a specious argument. The Constitution clearly states that fundamental rights are subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of India’s sovereignty and integrity, morality and in the interest of the general public. So the Supreme Court stated it because it has been given in the Constitution and not because it was argued by the government. To present it as a victory for the government, amounts to saying that the “Court upheld the constitution because of the Modi government”.
On being asked what he meant by “reasonable restrictions”, Prasad said in Hindi, “Koi agar kahe ki mai nagna-awastha mein Rashtrapati Bhawan jaakar bhaashan dunga yeh mera maulik adhikar hai, to sambhawta police usay rok sakti hai" (If someone says that ‘I will go and give a speech at Rashtrapati Bhawan in a nude state, it is my fundamental right’ it is possible that the police will arrest him).
Yes, nude speeches at the Rashtrapati Bhawan are a bad idea. We would agree with that, Mr Prasad.
Mai Teja hun kyunki mera naam bhi Teja hai
Some of Prasad’s arguments followed circular reasoning, that is best encapsulated by the famous dialogue in the cult comedy film Andaz Apna Apna: “Mai Teja hun, kyunki mera naam bhi Teja hai” (I am Teja because my name is Teja). Incidentally the dialogue was delivered by Prasad’s party colleague Paresh Rawal. Here are some of Prasad’s Teja moments:
- "Right to privacy should be subject to reasonable restrictions that are fair, just and reasonable."
- "The Narendra Modi govt is very proud to see evolution of India's digital power. India today the world over is being recognised as a digital power. Digital India, start-up India, Make in India is part of that process....India is becoming a robust digital power.
- "As far as cyber security is concerned, we are erecting our cyber wall of security in a very, very substantial way. Our Prime Minister has said cyber war is a bloodless war."
But Teja wasn’t the only character from popular culture that Prasad seems to have invoked. Some of his arguments also were reminiscent of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the archetypal bureaucrat from Yes Minister.
- "We wish to say with profound respect that the essence of the judgment is a very wider affirmation of the crux of the argument made by the finance minister on behalf of the government".
- "This is my Aadhar card, it contains my name, that I am male and my permanent Patna address. It doesn't contain my father's name, mother's name, educational qualification, record of my diseases, income, religion or any other thing by which I can be profiled. But it contains in a very safe a secure way, by biometrics and iris in encrypted condition. The entire world is praising this technological marvel. It works on the principle of minimum information, maximum use."
- On being asked about Edward Snowden, Prasad said, I am not here to discuss any specific adventurers".
Aadhaar saves the environment
Prasad was most spirited in his defence of Aadhar. He devoted a great part of his press conference to defending the Aadhar Act. But one of the reasons he cited as the benefits of Aadhar was that it helps save the environment.
"We gave 32 crore Aadhar through SIM card. Think how much paper was saved. How much conservation we did,” he said.
As a witty Twitter user remarked, “surely the environment-friendly minister travels by public transport and sits only in rooms with no air conditioning”.