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Liberals Nodding At Justice AP Shah's Lecture On Dissent Need To Look In The Mirror

Does free speech really exist among people who advocate free speech? Sadly, no…

25/04/2017 6:37 PM IST | Updated 26/04/2017 9:04 AM IST
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The debate on nationalism and anti-nationalism has again arisen, at least among intellectual circles, after the M. N. Roy Memorial lecture by former Delhi Chief Justice AP Shah. The transcript of the lecture, "Free Speech, Nationalism and Edition" is being copiously shared among liberal circles.

Shah begins his lecture with an attempt to define nationalism and free speech.

He equates hyper-nationalism (the sort of nationalism he sees right now in India) with the socio-political conditions prevailing in Germany before Nazism was let loose on the country.

Abuse India, abuse the army, abuse our culture, abuse our icons, abuse our history, and it's freedom of speech. Abuse such abusers, and it's suppression of free speech...

He also compares concepts of nationalism of different historical figures. For instance, what Nehru thought of nationalism was totally different from what Subhash Chandra Bose or Damodar Das Savarkar* thought of nationalism (and hence they had their own reasons for supporting and opposing Hitler). European nationalism was different (as colonial countries) from Indian nationalism (as a colonised country aching to get free).

He further says that our institutions of learning are under attack, especially today, and there is an attempt to destroy any independent thought. Young students are being silenced. The moment you express an "independent" or a "different" view, you are labelled as "anti-national" or "desh-drohi".

The context: CJ Shah referred to the JNU students who had organised a meet to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru, who was convicted for his role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. His death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. At the meet the following slogans were raised:

"Bharat tere tukde honge, inshah Allah inshah Allah."

"Afzal hum sharminda hain, tere qatil zinda hain."

"Kitne Afzal maroge ghar ghar se Afzal niklega."

"Bharat ki barbadi tak jang raheygi."

So, these are the slogans that earned some students the title of "anti-national".

Now to my point. Why do our prominent citizens and many intellectuals feel that they are unable to express themselves, that freedom of expression is being curbed and intolerance is on the rise? Has the situation actually changed, or are many among us looking at the same, pre-existing problems with a new perspective?

Fact is, Leftist-dominated institutions have rarely allowed different views to be brought to the front. Alternative views were never allowed to be published. In fact, the seeds of intolerance that we see these days were sown on Leftist fields. This had frustrated people no end but since they had no access to communication and publication platforms, they couldn't vent their feelings. Now they can.

Leftist-dominated institutions have rarely allowed different views to be brought to the front. Alternative views were never allowed to be published.

Baba Ramdev was not allowed to speak at JNU. Tarek Fatah was not allowed to deliver a speech in Kolkata. JNU professor Makarand Paranjape posted a video on how he was not allowed to enter his own office and how students heckled him simply because he expresses a different point of view. Just a tweet on azaan disturbing his sleep by Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam resulted in a severe backlash. A youth has been killed for supporting Sonu Nigam, but people in CJ Shah's circles will conveniently keep quiet.

Arun Shourie, in multiple books, has presented detailed accounts of how the careers of scholars and intellectuals who had a different opinion than the Marxist and leftist scholars and intellectuals in the universities and educational boards, were systematically destroyed.

The rot in our system has existed since 1947. Our intellectuals, and even the judiciary, never questioned sufficiently the successive governments why strong institutions were not being put in place even after so many years.

People like CJ AP Shah have a problem with a saffron-clad CM but they have no problem with having history-sheeters, goons and bahubalis as our chief ministers and even prime ministerial aspirants.

As a liberal society, we must give space to every school of thought even if we don't like or we don't agree with that school of thought. After all, real democracy and real liberalism mean accommodating every thought irrespective of whether you agree with that thought or not. But in that sense, is the class that loves to call itself liberal truly liberal? Do the people who wave the flag of freedom of expression really respect freedom of expression? Does free speech really exist among people who advocate free speech? Sadly, no is the answer. It's a skewed, dystopian mentality, and that is at the crux of the problem.

Abuse India, abuse the army, abuse our culture, abuse our traditions, abuse our icons, abuse our history, and it's freedom of speech. Abuse such abusers, and it's suppression of free speech, it's hyper-nationalism, it's bordering on Nazism and Fascism.

The points raised by CJ Shah might be food for thought, but they are not the real issues. Our liberal class, our intellectuals, our so-called champions of freedom of expression and freedom of speech need to do some introspection. Are they really liberal?

* If you want to do some more reading on what Savarkar thought of Hitler, do read this nice piece of analysis by Koenraad Elst.

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