Underlining that “the freedom to doubt, disagree and dispute intellectually must be protected”, President Pranab Mukherjee Thursday said “patriotism should not result in blinkered approaches in interpreting history or a compromise with truth in order to justify an argument of choice”.
“Our traditions have always celebrated the argumentative Indian not the intolerant Indian,” the President said in his inaugural address to the 77th session of the Indian History Congress in Thiruvananthapuram.
“There has been an unfortunate tendency in our country from time to time to take umbrage at the expression of any view perceived to be hostile to our social or cultural institutions, past or present. Similarly, critical appraisals of our heroes and national icons of the past have been met with hostility and sometimes even violence.”
Advocating that reason and moderation should be the guide, Mukherjee said, “It is natural to love one’s country and see as much glory in its past as one can detect. But patriotism should not result in blinkered approaches in interpreting history or a compromise with truth in order to justify an argument of choice.”
Calling for “an objective pursuit of history” with “an impartial mind of a judge and not the mind of an advocate”, Mukherjee said: “We must keep our eyes open for unfamiliar ideas and be ready to consider a range of different inferences or assumptions. This necessarily bars intolerance of contrary opinions or judgements.”
“The freedom to doubt, disagree and dispute intellectually must be protected as an essential pillar of our democracy. Nothing should lie outside the realm of reason, and therefore, of discussion and argument. Such freedom is vital for progress in any field, especially a calling and a craft like history.”
Pointing out that India’s greatest strength is its “pluralism and social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity”, the President said: “Our traditions have always celebrated the argumentative Indian not the intolerant Indian. Multiple views, thoughts and philosophies have competed with each other peacefully for centuries in our country and freedom of speech is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution.”
He said the Indian History Congress has a creditable record of standing up for freedom of expression and has often taken cudgels against distortions of history. He asked historians to “be faithful to the cause of reason” and expressed the hope that they will “continue to remain alert and vigilant”.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala alleged that attempts were being made by vested interests to distort history to suit the present government at the Centre.