Protect free speech, don't provoke hatred for Bharat Mata

Let a university be the centre to develop our next generation of citizens and leaders, and not a haven for virulent politics.

 |  5-minute read |   27-02-2016
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Much has been said on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) stand-off - politics has been stirred into the incident - making it almost as unrecognisable as it was originally. The incident has given the Left and the Congress opportunities to showcase their new-found sensitivity on a range of issues like free speech, sedition, nationalism, et al. But how that squares up with the Left's long history of political violence and its infamous support to China's crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square, and Congress' stellar record on free speech and liberty with Section 66A, Emergency et al, is probably something that they can answer.

And for their recent opposition to sedition, you had the last ten years in government and five decades before that to debate and repeal that law. And considering Congress UPA government has used sedition law on multiple occasions, isn't this recent opposition to sedition a bit trite?

This incident is a classic case of political opportunism. Students all over our great country have all their rights to free expression. Youth is the time to develop thought and dissent and make mistakes - even mistakes like toying with the ideology of Karl Marx and Lenin. No one in India should ever have any problems with students, regardless of what they believe in. A few Marxist students in JNU or elsewhere espousing their deep belief in Marxism isn't unusual for that university and they can and must be left to revel and enjoy their brilliant isolation.

Fetters on free speech

But our Constitution does place some fetters on the right to free speech, and so, there is a legitimate expectation of citizenship from all Indians, that you don't say things that violate those restrictions. The debate should be really about that - what are those fetters from our founding fathers and successive interpretations by the courts? What is unacceptable? Are students shouting for a break-up of India, and encouraging violence against state-acceptable free speech? This is what this discussion should be about.

Without prejudging these students' actions, I find it deeply offending that a national institution like JNU was a venue for those offensive statements and slogans. On February 9, ugly slogans were heard on the JNU campus - "Bharat ki barbadi tak jung rahegi", "Kashmir ko azaadi" and "Break up India". Even now, when I hear them, they leave me angry, as they did many others. I accept that making anyone angry is not a crime, butto my mind, they were anti-national slogans. There seemed to be an attempt to incite the crowd and provoke it into unreasonable acts, including possibly violence. Many, including former judges and many lawyers, feel that laws were being breached. At a time when the country is facing significant threats to its security and well-being from many within and outside, I believe these statements are offensive to many and arguably inciteful.

Let the courts decide

As much as it is the students' right to seek protection under law, it is the right of those offended to seek remedy under law. This is where it is - let the courts decide. Let them decide what the fetters are under 19(2),(3),(4). What is acceptable restraints to speech? Can speech itself be seen as an act of violence - as is being seen in other places in the world where virulent propaganda and speech often lead to violent acts? Let these be tested in the courts.

I agree that India can and will always be a nation of many ideas and flowers and views that bloom - I disagree with the Left on almost everything, but on one thing we cannot have divergent ideas - that is about the integrity and sovereignty of our nation. Mohanlal, the Malayalam superstar, also wrote on this in a recent blog where he rightly asks a question that every Indian must ask, "How can we live after the death of India". And that is the crux of this case!

I find the references to caste, income, political affiliation background of the accused, distasteful and smacking of political opportunism. Our country's legal system is built on a backbone of principle of legal equality. All are equal in front of law! A student's political affiliation cannot exempt him or her from the rule of law as much as you try and spin it as state vs individual. So let the law be tested and let us not drag backgrounds into this. If you are a student with strong views, let them be tested for what they are, and not hide behind caste or religion to stall that test.

Heroes are those who protect you from terrorists, not those who celebrate those who terrorise

While the Left's need for heroes in a world where Marxism is becoming irrelevant is understandable, it's a bit silly to call these students "Heroes". At best, they are misled motor-mouths, not dissimilar from others in other parts of our political spectrum. Heroes are those who make some significant achievements in life and contributions to the country they live in. Heroes are those who protect you from terrorists, and not those who celebrate those who terrorise and kill innocents.

Making pathetic slogans to break-up India, Bharat ki Barbaadi, celebrating convicted terrorists responsible for deaths of innocents hardly qualifies as a hero for most of us. Maybe the Left has different standards, given its long history of using violence in politics in Kerala and West Bengal, but for most of India, they are just gasbags who may have broken laws and whose guilt or innocence will be determined by Indian law and due process - just as those lawyer hooligans who claim to be nationalists.

I say this - let the law take its course. Let the students be given a fair opportunity under Indian law to maintain their innocence, as the state makes its case as well. That is where we should leave this. Let's not take politics into the educational institutions. Let them be what they are supposed to be - centres to develop our next generation of citizens and leaders, and not centres of virulent politics.


Rajeev Chandrasekhar Rajeev Chandrasekhar @rajeev_mp

Member of Parliament & Technology Entrepreneur .

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