Freedom indeed is in peril, says Manmohan Singh

In India of today, freedom of thought is under threat. Fear reigns. Those who express dissent have been labelled ‘urban naxals’ and face censure and much worse

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Dr Manmohan Singh

Jawaharlal Nehru’s exhortation to defend India’s freedom was made in the context of external aggression is as apt, possibly even more apt today, as Indian Democracy faces serious internal challenges that threaten to weaken it.

In India of today, freedom of thought is under threat. Fear reigns. Those who express dissent have been labelled ‘urban naxals’ and face censure and much worse.

A free press, so essential for a democracy, does not exist, except for a few brave pockets. The recent amendment to the UAPA, passed swiftly with little debate, bodes ill for the future, as it strengthens the power of the state against any dissent that it can label as ‘terrorist.’

Our leading educational institutions face great pressure to conform. The scientific temper, so important for the growth of our nation and for solutions to our many problems, is being held hostage to the forces of ignorance and superstition.

In a diverse country such as ours, true leadership requires inclusive approach, giving confidence and hope for the future to the oppressed, the marginalised and minority groups, making them feel that they too are participants in nation-building.

The policy of exclusion that is being followed by the ruling establishment, is evident in many concrete measures it seeks to implement such as the Citizens’ Amendment Bill; it is also evident in its signals and acts of omission.

This policy of exclusion not only goes against the spirit of our Constitution, which declares all citizens are equal, but also runs the risks of sowing and nurturing negative seeds of prejudice, hate and anger, which are all too easy to promote for political gains, but once aroused, are difficult to quell.

The maintenance of law and order and the protection of the life and property of citizens is one of the chief duties of the state. But in India of today, mob violence and lynching are on the rise, sometimes with the tacit approval of the state, serving its majoritarian interests and ideology.

The autonomy of institutions like the Election Commission, the Reserve Bank and the National Statistical Commission is in danger of being compromised.

In an article published in ‘The Hindu’ on 27th July, 2019 Karan Thapar has pointed out: “Since the swearing in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a second term, the BJP has been on an unparalleled - and it seems, unstoppable– spree of luring MPs, MLAs and even Corporators.

This has happened in Karnataka, West Bengal, Goa, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. And it has happened by a variety of novel methods. On one occasion, two thirds of a party’s strength in the legislature defected, on another, a sizable number of MLAs resigned to enable the BJP to cross the majority mark”.

Opposition Parties have alleged that Central agencies like the CBI and Enforcement Directorate are being used to secure defections.

In the meanwhile, the economy continues to slow down. The investment rate is currently stuck at 28 percent which is clearly inadequate to secure a sustained growth of 8 percent per annum, more so when agriculture is experiencing a state of distress and exports are stagnant in the background of slowing down of the global economy.

As a result, unemployment rate continues to go up. Crimes such as lynching of minorities and Dalits find the overall environment a fertile ground for growth.

It is high time that on the eve of Independence Day our people reflect on the grave situation faced by the country and work together to devise effective remedial measures to deal with it.

Freedom cannot be taken for granted. Protecting it, preserving it, requires eternal vigilance, and a will to fight among political parties, their leaders, and all citizens. We stand today at such a critical juncture in the history of our democracy.

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Published: 14 Aug 2019, 7:30 PM