Why We Must Not Give Up The Free­dom to Think

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

had only seven in the For­tune 500 list, with In­dian Oil at 161); and that In­dia must ac­count for at least 10% of global trade (gov­ern­ment fig­ures show In­dia ac­counted for 2% in 2015).

Among other big goals was the wish that In­dia should be­come a world leader in in­no­va­tion and new tech­nol­ogy. This would be great, but do we real­is­ti­cally think we are go­ing to be home to the next Google or Face­book or What­sApp within the next five years? Our start-ups seem to be con­tent with copy­ing or adapt­ing ex­ist­ing mod­els. It is well-nigh im­pos­si­ble to carry out a na­tional au­dit of the re­search our uni­ver­si­ties and in­sti­tu­tions pro­duce; my guess is that a con­sid­er­able pro­por­tion will turn out to be un­o­rig­i­nal or pla­gia­rised. The Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion urged uni­ver­si­ties last year to use anti-pla­gia­rism soft­ware to catch fraud­u­lent schol­ars, but you don’t hear any nam­ing and sham­ing.

Four days be­fore he re­tired, Vice Pres­i­dent Hamid An­sari told law grad­u­ates in Ban­ga­lore that plu­ral­ism and sec­u­lar­ism were essen­tial for In­dia’s democ­racy. Re­li­gious mi­nori­ties con­sti­tute 19.4% of the pop­u­la­tion, An­sari noted. In his thought-pro­vok­ing speech, pep­pered with ci­ta­tions, An­sari ar­gued strongly for tol­er­ance, com­pas­sion, and in­clu­sive­ness. The al­ter­na­tive was un­palat­able, he added: “There is ev­i­dence to sug­gest that we are a polity at war with it­self in which the process of emo­tional in­te­gra­tion has fal­tered and is in dire need of rein­vig­o­ra­tion. On one plane is the ques­tion of our com­mit­ment to Rule of Law that seems to be un­der se­ri­ous threat aris­ing out of the no­tice­able de­cline in the ef­fi­cacy of the in­sti­tu­tions of the State, lapses into ar­bi­trary de­ci­sion-mak­ing and even ‘ochloc­racy’ or mob rule, and the re­sul­tant pub­lic dis­il­lu­sion­ment”. If our prime min­is­ter be­lieves we have five more years to erase com­mu­nal­ism, casteism and re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance and be­come the world’s bench­mark on how to cope with di­ver­sity, do you have high hopes we will suc­ceed?

An­sari, who more than Pranab Mukher­jee was an oc­ca­sional voice of con­science, will be missed. We can look for­ward now to some ha­giog­ra­phy: Modi re­leased a book of Venka­iah Naidu’s speeches and ar­ti­cles just as the new vice pres­i­dent was elected. Two months ago Naidu, a re­lent­less cheer­leader for the prime min­is­ter, spoke about MODI, the Mak­ing of De­vel­oped In­dia. Last Oc­to­ber he re­leased a book on Modi’s ‘Mi­das touch’ in for­eign pol­icy.

Couched in care­ful lan­guage, An­sari’s farewell speech was an in­dict­ment of our po­lit­i­cal class. It is pos­si­ble to be de­pressed by the depths to which this class can descend in its pur­suit of power – whether it is a Ni­tish Ku­mar, who has shred­ded the last ves­tige of po­lit­i­cal moral­ity the op­po­si­tion could pre­tend to be­lieve in, or it is the sordid shenani­gans that ended in the early hours of the Quit In­dia an­niver­sary with Ahmed Pa­tel’s re-elec- tion to a fifth term as a Congress mem­ber of the Ra­jya Sabha from Gu­jarat.

And yet, both Modi and Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi stood up in the Lok Sabha later that day to speak about­the­free­dom­move­men­tandthe ideals that fired men and women three-quar­ters of a cen­tury ago. Modi stuck to the script from his MannkiBaattalka­n­dend­ed­witha se­ries of pledges he said ev­ery ci­ti­zen should take, which were em­bla­zoned in full-page news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ments that morn­ing. So­nia Gandhi dwelt at some length on the suf­fer­ings of Congress lead­ers from Jawa­har­lal Nehru on dur­ing the ag­i­ta­tion. She added that the ‘pow­ers of dark­ness’ that were out to de­stroy sec­u­lar­ism and free­dom of speech must be de­feated. This was two days af­ter Jairam Ramesh said in an in­ter­view that the Congress party faced an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis (“The sul­tanate has gone but we be­have as if we were sul­tans still”) and must re-in­vent it­self. Many of us have been say­ing this for three years.

For­get the nit­picks: next week, we will be cel­e­brat­ing 70 years of democ­racy. This is no mean feat, although Western Europe, which rose from the ru­ins of war a cou­ple of years be­fore the Union Jack was taken off our flag­poles, has also had en­dur­ing democ­ra­cies, how­ever flawed they may some­times ap­pear. Our neigh­bours in South Asia have fared much worse; no prime min­is­ter in Pak­istan has lasted a full term, and coups, monar­chies, up­ris­ings and civil wars have­buckedand­heavedaroundour bor­ders.

Th­ese seven decades have been marked, else­where in the world and at least once in In­dia, by an over­all dis­taste for to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism, although North Korea has sur­vived as an ex­em­plar and now looms mon­strously on the hori­zon with its nu­clear ar­se­nal.

Across the world, we have fared less well against au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, which the dic­tionary defines as “the en­force­ment or ad­vo­cacy of strict obe­di­ence to author­ity at the ex­pense of per­sonal free­dom”. We will for­get this at our own peril. In his 2007 speech, Prof. Pra­ha­lad put this in stark terms: “Just eco­nomic strength and tech­no­log­i­cal ma­tu­rity is not enough. We know that the Soviet Union and Nazi Ger­many had eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal mus­cle. They failed. Moral­ity is an in­te­gral part of lead­er­ship.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.