Posted On Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 01:48:06 AM
Our irrepressible Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor, got into hot water recently after he made a remark about the foreign policies of Jawaharlal Nehru.
According to press reports he had said, “I agree with Bhiku Parekh’s opinion on Nehru and (Mahatma) Gandhi’s foreign policies. It was more like a moralistic running commentary.” Parekh is a British Labour Party MP.
We are proud of our open democracy but Tharoor’s remarks set the cat among the dovish members of the Congress party. As Tharoor happens to be a member of the party and a minister to boot, his lapse from propriety became an object of instant and vigorous criticism from the influential members of the party.
Fortunately, the intraparty discord was resolved soon. A little reflection will show that as a mature democracy we must have enough space in our political dialogue for opposing points of view to be expressed and freely debated.
Our contrast with China, with which we are often compared in the global context on any subject, is extremely striking when it comes to freedom of expression and open debates. A recent example of the paranoid fear of the rulers of China is the harsh treatment meted out to a veteran human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.
On Christmas Day, he was sentenced by a Beijing court to eleven years in prison. His crime was “inciting subversion of state power.”
Xiaobo was accused of helping to write a document called Charter 08 which demanded political change and democracy in China. Its publication in 2008 had coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It is the toleration of open criticism and freedom of expression that distinguishes India from China. Some experts predict that India will beat China in the medium term on the economic as well as on other fronts for this very reason.
Now that we are 60 years old as a republic, we come across counterviews about some of the sacred icons of our freedom struggle. My generation, born before 1947, was brought up on the idea that it was Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership that got us freedom from the British.
He is rightly honoured as the father of the nation. There is, however, a counterview that Gandhiji did not get us freedom.
The British abandoned their empire. In support of this view it is said that the historian R C Majumdar in his voluminous history of India’s freedom struggle (The History and Culture of the Indian People) has gone on record to say that Clement Attlee, the British PM at the time of India’s independence, had in a private conversation to the then Governor of West Bengal, confirmed this fact when he visited India in the fifties.
He said that the British left because of the Naval revolt of 1946 in Bombay and Netaji’s Indian National Army.These developments made the British realise that they could not protect the interests of the Royal Government using Indian armed forces.
On the role of Gandhiji in India getting freedom, Mr Attlee, between clenched teeth, slowly spelt out, “Mi-ni-mal”. So after all we did not win freedom from the British. The British quit India in their own interest.
It is not only about sacred icons that counterviews exist. Take the universally condemned phenomenon of corruption and mega scams. The telecom spectrum scandal has been estimated to be anywhere between rupees twenty-thousand to ninety-thousand crores.
Well, there is a counterview to this also. According to this view, the spectrum scam has been a blessing to the public using mobile phones. But for this scam, you and I will not be able to enjoy the ever-lowering tariff and the exponentially exploding cellphone networks.
Each call may cost not less than Rs 2. As a former CVC I was shocked. However, a little reflection made me realise the weakness of this claim. Firstly, the details of the numbers claimed must be checked out.
Secondly, the dynamics of a competitive environment in a level playing field, which is possible only if corruption is avoided, will naturally lead to ever-lowering prices.
Counterviews at least play a useful role in rediscovering the validity of our beliefs.