Dear Mr Jaitley, you seem to have found framers of India’s Constitution wanting on free speech

Any state must exist for and because of its people. Their inherent patriotism wills it so.

Written by Ujjal Dosanjh | Published:February 27, 2017 1:58 pm
Arun Jaitley, freedom of expression, delhi university, FoE, Jaitley freedom of speech, news, india news, express blogs, indian express, du report, du violence, du jaitley, jaitley du comment, jaitley du quote, arun jaitley du remark It is a crying shame that a learned man like you succumbed to partisanship and capitulated to the current RSS/ABVP paranoia about what you most irresponsibly call the “alliance of subversion”. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at New Delhi Media Center. Express Photo by Renuka Puri.

Dear Mr Jaitley

No. no, and no. You are dead wrong. The Indians’ right to free speech is absolutely not up for debate. What restrictions may an authoritarian government–the kind of which you are a part–place on the free speech of its opponents absolutely can’t be up for debate. Indians’ hard won freedoms were once taken away by another authoritarian regime in 1975. You may remember that Mr Jaitley. You were in the forefront of the student movement to challenge the gag orders of Indira Gandhi’s emergency. I unreservedly salute you for your courage at the time.

But sadly your belief that “free speech in India and in any society needs to be debated” has cast an indelible blemish on your record as a one-time defender of people’s civil liberties. It was commendable that in your youth you followed JP Narayan, then the most ardent defender of the basic freedoms just as was Mahatma Gandhi in his time. But by calling into question people’s right to free speech above and beyond the constitution you may have trudged into the condemnable category.

Minister Jaitley, there is no need to remind you because you know that patriotism is usually the last refuge of a scoundrel; you are anything but. You are an honourable man of letters. You know there can be only two types of limits on free speech: Those imposed by the Constitution and those imposed by convention so that none could yell “fire” in a crowded hall to create chaos. India already has enough laws on the books. So why do you suddenly see the need to debate the limits of free speech in the country? Free speech, to have it or not to have it isn’t the question. Indians have it and they aren’t about to meekly surrender it, come hell or high water and no matter what the pretence or the stripe of government.

The territorial integrity and unity of the country is important and the country must do all it can under the Constitution to maintain and defend it. But it must be guided not by scaremongering but by compassion and commonsense. As a lover of politics you must know the famous quotation normally attributed to Voltaire which in fact comes from the pen of Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Those words embody and epitomise true free speech and democracy. I would have expected and hoped for these kinds of words from you in defence of free speech. Anything less may be what the British bequeathed to us, not under their own laws as they are now, but under colonial laws designed to suppress dissent of the slaves such as the sedition provisions currently on the statute books. The way they are framed, those laws are about slavery, not freedom or free speech. It is a crying shame that a learned man like you succumbed to partisanship and capitulated to the current RSS/ABVP paranoia about what you most irresponsibly call the “alliance of subversion”. It ill behoves a minister of India smearing a whole cross section of people with treason.

Union Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley gave a talk on emerging Indian economy, the talk titled "Transforming India" at Vile Parle, Mumbai. Express photo by Nirmal Harindran, 20th August, 2016, Mumbai. Mr Minister, the truth is that without people there can be no state. Jaitley at Vile Parle, Mumbai. Express Photo by Nirmal Harindran

Mr Jaitley your argument that “free speech is subordinate to the needs of the sovereign state”– a novel claim based on the ‘needs’ of the sovereign state–betrays a dangerous belief that the state can restrict free speech above and beyond the Constitution. You could have simply argued the Constitution allows for “reasonable limits on free speech”. No, you chose to advance a new theory of “the needs of the sovereign state” which implies that you found the framers of the Constitution wanting in that regard. Framers willed it Mr Jaitely that the Indians’ right to free speech can only be limited by and under the Constitution. Indians must be free to exercise free speech under the Constitution and not under the dictates and “the needs of the sovereign state” as defined by your or any other government.

Mr Minister, the truth is that without people there can be no state. Any state must exist for and because of its people. Their inherent patriotism wills it so. A people simply existing for the state under an authoritarian government would be like North Koreans–less than free–un-free and on the way to slavery. I understand one’s obligation to one’s country. One of my ancestors was hanged by the British in the Lahore Conspiracy Case and another spent many years in British jails in pursuit of India’s Independence. My blood too was shed in fighting the Khalistani extremists in Canada in 1985 while I stood firm for peace in Canada and India, and in defence of the territorial integrity and indivisibility of India. Freedom is important to India and its people. Freedom too is indivisible. But Mr Jaitley, without robust freedom of speech, there can be no real freedom, only a chimera.

The views expressed by the author are personal. Dosanjh is former Premier of British Columbia, and former Canadian Minister of Health. He tweets @ujjaldosanjh

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  1. T
    Feb 27, 2017 at 11:37 am
    Just ignore the bstrds who restrict free speech. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;They have been asked by the BRAHMIN SYNDICATE to show that they are patriots lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Because they are very much aware that people are now convinced they are not from this land and are from CENTRAL ASIAlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Having come to power riding piggyback on Hinduism, the BARB-ARYANS are taking every opportunity to show off their FAKE;br/gt;lt;br/gt;FU BARB-ARYANS.
    1. K
      Feb 27, 2017 at 9:29 am
      For Hindus, any word against India in the name of free speech is as hurtful as it would be to you if someone slandered the founder of your religion.You have to be a Hindu to understand their feelings for India.Otherwise, shut up and take your free speech shop elsewhere.
      1. K
        Feb 27, 2017 at 9:26 am
        For Hindus,India, Indian civilization and Hinduism are one thing.For other Indians they are not the same thing, for them India is just a land,an eny, like a railway platform that started to exist after independence.For Hindus, India has existed for thousands of years.
        1. K
          Feb 27, 2017 at 9:28 am
          Hindus feel connected to the culture of India because it is their own, for others who converted to arab religions or even some other who converted to home grown mixed up religions, do not FEEL India and it's civilization as their own, because for them it is just a land where they happen to live.
          1. K
            Feb 27, 2017 at 9:23 am
            Your diatribe about the virtues of free speech will vanish the moment someone exercises free speech to slander the founder of your religion or your holy book. Is'nt that true? Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself.
            1. V
              Feb 27, 2017 at 11:25 am
              Free speech is a vague term. One may or may not agree with actions of a particular regime. Protest is one thing, Mahatma hi before 1947 and Jan Sangh in 1975 precisely did that. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Raising slogans referring to integration of the country are not justified. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;That is not free speech.
              1. A
                Ajay G
                Feb 27, 2017 at 11:57 am
                Disappearance of Najeeb or violence in Ramjas can not be justified by Jaitley on the ground of debate on free speech.
                1. H
                  Feb 27, 2017 at 2:47 pm
                  If what you says is true, then nobody in the world should protest about what Trump says as he is doing what he promised to the people of America. It is on the basis of what Trump said and not what the media predicted was he elected to be the president of United states. Everything is getting unnecessarily exagerated in this country. It is a dangerous trend that the Media think that they are above democracy or peoples will and what they writeabout (like this stupid article )should be followed by the politicians.
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