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Lesson for Intolerant Indian – Varsities in ferment, President speaks out on space for dissent

The Telegraph | Friday , March 3 , 2017 |

Lesson for Intolerant Indian – Varsities in ferment, President speaks out on space for dissent

K.P. Nayar

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Kochi, March 2: President Pranab Mukherjee today made out a strong case for “reasoned discussion and debate” and cautioned the nation against “propagating a culture of unrest”.

The President’s call came at a time universities are again in ferment over nationalism.

Mukherjee, who repeatedly pleaded for tolerance when intolerance inspired by ideology plunged educational institutions into a spiral of unrest last year, today returned to the same theme more forcefully than on earlier occasions.

“There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian…. Our society has always been characterised by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion…. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent,” the President said.

His lament about “fault lines” in institutions which were envisioned as hubs of intellectual excellence drew spirited applause from an erudite audience at the sixth K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture here.

Rajamony was an eminent lawyer who practised law in Kerala for four decades in the 1960s and started a pioneering movement for providing legal services to the poor. He was a member of the Kerala Public Men’s Corruption Commission, the predecessor of today’s anti-corruption ombudsman known as Lokayukta in states.

Mukherjee, speaking on the theme of “India @ 70”, underlined the serious consequences of restricting free debate and curbing diversity when he reminded the audience that had India done so in the early years of independence, the country would have been balkanised.

Independent India cherished diversity and made no attempt to force uniformity in religion, culture or language. He said any attempt at imposing uniformity was bound to fail because of the country’s ethos.

Reminding the audience of the glorious era of Nalanda and Takshshila, the President said they were “not mere geographical expressions, but representations of the idea for free thought which flourished in these great universities of the past”.

Reflecting hope embodied in learning, Mukherjee said: “Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society. These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free-thinking. Those in universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet.”

Mukherjee quoted Jawaharlal Nehru on how to treat adversaries. “Our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, believed that democracy was something deeper than voting, elections or a political form of government. He said ‘In the ultimate analysis, it is a manner of thinking, a manner of action, a manner of behaviour to your neighbour and to your adversary and opponent’,” the President said.

There was a sense as Mukherjee was speaking that the memorial lecture was the start of a countdown to the end of his five-year tenure as President. Advocate Rajamony’s son, diplomat Venu Rajamony, is press secretary to the President.

The President was severely critical that time devoted for legislation has been steadily declining in Parliament.

“The first Lok Sabha from 1952 to 1957 had 677 sittings in which 319 bills were passed. In comparison, the 15th Lok Sabha had 357 sittings and passed 181 bills while the 16th Lok Sabha had 197 sittings and passed only 111 bills up to its 10th session,” Mukherjee said.


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There should not be no room in India for the intolerant Indian- Warned President Pranab Mukherjee at the KS Rajamony lecture in Kochi. Deepika lead news today