Tavleen Singh's superficial thinking

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Justice Markandey Katju

In her article published in Financial Express on 25.6.2023 the journalist Tavleen Singh lamented over decline of freedom of speech and democracy in India in recent times.

She writes ” Sadly, when democracies become places in which dissidence and free speech are seen as crimes, when religious minorities are wrongly targeted, and when political opponents are crushed by the repressive organs of the state, they are called autocracies and not democracies ”.

The problem with Tavleen Singh and other so called ‘liberal’ and ‘independent’ journalists is this : they treat democracy and freedom of speech as a fetish, an object of worship, like a holy cow, which will last for ever.

I, on the other hand, regard freedom and democracy as only a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end must be raising the standard of living of the people, and giving them decent lives.

What use is democracy and freedom of speech to a man who is hungry and/or unemployed ? He needs concrete things like food and a job, not abstract freedoms.

In India we have massive and widespread poverty, unemployment, child malnourishment ( every second Indian child is malnourished according to Global Hunger Index ).

Proper healthcare and good education are not available to the vast masses. Prices of essential commodities like food are skyrocketing.

Freedom of speech can no doubt help the people in their historical united struggle which they must wage for creating a new political order under which there is rapid industrialisation and modernisation. However, it can also obstruct it.

For instance, speeches spreading hatred between castes and communities should certainly not be permitted, for it destroys unity of the people which is essential for us at this historical juncture.

Similarly speech or writings promoting unscientific superstitions like astrology should be banned.

The great Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who came to power in the 1920s by ousting the corrupt feudal minded Sultan and Khalifa, did not give freedom to the Turkish people to choose whether they wanted to modernise or remain poor and backward. He ( and his associates ) forced them to modernise by abolishing sharia, burqa, madarsas and maulanas, and he permitted no political party to exist other than his own

So also, in India too people must be forcibly modernised, and for that, perhaps, an enlightened dictatorship is necessary.

We have the system of parliamentary democracy in India, but everyone knows it runs largely on the basis of caste and communal vote banks. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces, which must be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them. The people have therefore to use their creativity and find a suitable alternative, in which India rapidly industrialises and modernises, under the leadership of patriotic, modern minded secular leaders determined to raise the standard of living of the people, and give them decent lives.

Parliamentary democracy and freedom of speech must therefore be understood in the correct perspective, and not treated like holy cows or objects of worship.


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