The President’s counsel

President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the Indian History Congress at Thiruvananthapuram is significant not only because of its content but also because of its timing. He regretted the ‘unfortunate tendency’ to express ‘intolerance’ at every view perceived to be ‘hostile’. As the head of the State he could not be more explicit about the quarters from which the hostility came. But his reminder that the essence of democracy lay in the ‘freedom to doubt, disagree and dispute’ left no doubt that it was meant for those who are trying to impose a particular ideology on every institution in the country. The Indian Council of Historical Research has already come under the control of those who show intolerance to anyone disagreeing with them and taking a ‘blinkered’ approach to interpreting history. Efforts are also afoot to bring the Indian History Congress under the influence of such elements.

The President’s counsel came not a day too soon. But it is not likely to have any effect on those for whom the message was meant. In the long run no effort at restricting freedom and controlling free thought succeeds. But in the short time a well-organized and determined minority may be able to get every thought cast in a particular mould. Such a period is a regressive one in that it discourages the spirit of inquiry and the pursuit of scientific research. Such a period is characterized by strong nationalism, extreme authoritarianism and hostility to liberal thoughts and ideas.  All these symptoms are clearly discernible now. They can only weaken national unity and polarize society in umpteen ways.

Now the language of political discourse is sought to be changed. In a democracy, charges and counter-charges, allegations and counter-allegations between the ruling party and the Opposition go on. This is normal and natural. Now the Opposition is being threatened with legal action if they cannot substantiate these with evidence. Those days are forgotten when a former Prime Minister of India was accused of taking crores of rupees in kickbacks in the Bofors deal without an iota of evidence. Then the present rulers were in the Opposition. Now that they are in power, the rules of the game are being changed. The President as the Head of State has done his duty. He has warned the people about the forces and tendencies that at are work to weaken the foundations of our polity. These forces have to be combated and the democratic and secular foundations of our polity strengthened. 

Sunday, 1 January, 2017