Prize Winning Speech Delivered at Debate Competition in Maharaja Agrasen College

The topic for today’s debate is that this house will honour religious sentiments by censoring creative expression and I, Saif Ahmad Khan, will speak for the motion. All freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution are justiciable but none of them are absolute in nature. Freedom of Speech and Expression is one of the foremost rights guaranteed to us and Article 19 of the Constitution deals with it. This right like all other fundamental rights is coupled with a set of riders. These riders include that the right of free speech shouldn’t be utilized to violate communal harmony, religious sentiments, public order, morality, decency, security of the state and must not amount to contempt of court.

The fundamental approach with which this fundamental right is approached needs to be rectified. Constructive criticism of religion is always welcome, it’s laudable and commendable but blasphemy, communal instigation and provocation to undertake sacrilege are indeed unholy and unconstitutional. An individual falls well within the ambit of the freedom of speech and expression when he criticizes the caste system in Hinduism or the status of women in Islam but if somebody abuses or questions the character of Prophet Mohammad as Mr Rushdie did, if somebody paints a Hindu God in the nude as Mr Hussain did or if somebody recommends demolition of mosques as Mr Swamy did, he is indeed indulging in absolute abuse of the freedom of speech and expression. These are all controversies involving blatant blasphemy and despotic defamation of deities which is capable of fueling anarchy.

I do agree that protestors against these people have not waged their dissent democratically but the fact remains that you are secular if you respect the Constitution and the restrictions imposed by it. Whether those restrictions are reasonable or unreasonable can always be tested in a court of law. I would like to conclude by stating that within the realm of our rights, our freedoms are absolute but we are not entitled to supersede the sphere of our rights by denigrating another community’s religion. All creations which bypass constitutional restrictions are bound to get banned. 

UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is all set to meet in Geneva to pass a resolution which condemns the Sri Lankan Government for alleged war crimes against the Tamils during the last phase of the civil war against the LTTE. The resolution has been moved by the troika of United States, France and Norway.

Post-Civil War, the Sri Lankan Government appointed a Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission to look into all cases of human rights violations during the course of the civil war. The Commission has submitted its report and the Sri Lankan Government intends to implement it after thorough scrutiny. Passing such an outright resolution against a country without giving it an opportunity to settle things as per its own jurisdiction and strategy is an assault on its sovereignty. Nearly all resolutions and initiatives of the United Nations happen to be led by America and backed by other western powers. The United States does not have the moral right to lecture Sri Lanka on human rights. They have caused umpteen human rights violations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their troops in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan continue to take the lives of thousands of innocent men and women. A rapist does not have the authority to talk about women empowerment and similar sort of a relationship exists between the United States and Human Rights.

Secondly, the resolution which is being planned to be passed is totally one-sided, inept and insipid. No where does the resolution mention the war crimes committed by the LTTE. The proponents of this resolution have claimed that since the LTTE has been finished and has ceased to exist, there is no need to condemn their erstwhile actions but the truth is that the LTTE is far from being finished. Many LTTE leaders are still behind Sri Lankan prisons and face trial. During the course of the civil war, both the LTTE as well as the Sri Lankan Army indulged in war crimes in the form of targeted killings, indiscriminate and excessive use of firepower, child abuse and rapes. All cases involving both the sides need to be probed. Nobody should be spared. The culprits need to be punished. If the names of the imprisoned LTTE leaders crop up then they need to be charge sheeted in these cases too and should face trial. Similar treatment should be meted out to Sri Lankan army officials. But unfortunately the UN resolution squarely puts the entire blame on the Sri Lankan army instead of condemning both. All non aligned countries and those who are wary of western imperialism need to get together and block this farce resolution. It’s nothing but the Big Daddy approach of the United States. They want to increase their clout in South Asia. Islamabad is already dancing to the tunes of Washington and now they intend to take over the reins of Colombo as well. Such US-doctored resolutions have a dubious history. They begin by condemning countries and later on they seize the opportunity of sending troops to such nations in the name of peacekeeping. Eventually they establish dominance in the region and place a puppet President who rules the country on behalf of the American administration in Washington which micro-manages his activities. The world needs to stand up for Sri Lanka and save them from Western Imperialism.

The issue has caused a significant political stir in India as well. Parliament was held up yesterday for a couple of hours because of this issue. Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu have shown fierce bipartisanship and have passed a unanimous resolution in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly asking the Indian Government to support the UN resolution against Sri Lanka. This move of Tamil parties is certainly not in consonance with international, national and Tamil interests but they claim the contrary. The Indian Government should not support the resolution. The first and foremost reason is that it’s a one-sided resolution which condemns solely the Sri Lankan Government and not the LTTE. Secondly, India has had a history of voting against country specific resolutions which are seen as an assault on sovereignty and India should continue the tradition. Thirdly, if India would vote in favour of the resolution it would end up jeopardizing its political influence in the region. Voting in favour of this resolution is going to take a toll on India’s geo-political and geo-strategic interests in South Asia. It would provide China with an opportunity to partner and cozy up to Sri Lanka. China is already having good ties with Pakistan; its improved relations with Sri Lanka coupled with the island nation’s angst against India would lead to broadening of China’s geo-political dominance. Fourthly, if India stands up for this resolution then it would be vulnerable to similar resolutions in the future on Jammu and Kahsmir and the North East where in the name of fighting insurgency the Indian Army has committed innumerable war crimes and human rights violations. India would not like to listen to moral lecturing from other nations on how to counter insurgency and terrorism. India must also not forget that the LTTE was responsible for the assassination of the Former PM of India Rajeev Gandhi. In the present scenario, it looks as if India is best fit to vote against the resolution. The countries standing besides this resolution are in a minority and this resolution is bound to get defeated. India will enjoy natural advantage if it votes against the resolution as it would lead to deepening of India’s ties with Sri Lanka.

However, some analysts are of the opinion that if India votes against the resolution then it would once again be seen as ducking an issue of international significance as it did on a number of occasions last year. I don’t buy into this argument. I am of the opinion that India would end up as a loser if it abstains. What India should try and do is to ensure a change in the wording and phraseology of the resolution so that it condemns both the Sri Lankan Army as well as the LTTE. Only then will it move towards acceptability. However, any drastic step could end up as a calamity. Since the Sri Lankan Government is yet to implement the LLRC report it would be too premature to condemn them internationally. World Organizations should wait for some time. They shouldn’t jump the gun by condemning Sri Lanka without giving them an opportunity to implement their agenda. It’s too early. If the Sri Lankan’s don’t take up the necessary measures then obviously the international community needs to get together and build pressure on them but right now it doesn’t seem appropriate. However, the Indian Government’s should not succumb to the pressure being exerted on them by the Southern parties and should not indulge in any sort of appeasement or populism.

Implications of Jaitley’s Possible Exit From Gujarat

The intellectually robust Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and the BJP’s most moderate leader Arun Jaitley has finally decided to drive out of Gujarat. Jaitley, a two time Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat has deserted Modi’s Gujarat (as media reports suggest) and will seek re-election to the Upper House from Bihar which happens to be the bastion of Gujarat CM’s bete noire Nitish Kumar.

Analysts have already declared this as the beginning of the civil war within the BJP for the prime-ministerial candidacy in 2014. As 2014 is approaching, Jaitley wants to steer clear of controversies and will try to build his image as a secular leader. On that count, he is sure to surpass other leaders like Modi and Swaraj who are often considered as hardliners. Jaitley, who is known for his oratorical skills and encyclopaedic knowledge of various subjects is pegged as one of the frontrunners for the top job in 2014.

Jaitley has been one of the vehement supporters and sympathizers of Modi and his Government in Gujarat. He recently wrote a piece in a leading newspaper praising Modi’s government for a riot free decade in Gujarat. He was responsible for managing Modi’s victorious campaign in the last Assembly Elections and has also provided Modi with legal aide and a whole coterie of lawyers to represent him in cases involving the 2002 Gujarat riots. Jaitley’s politically potent move comes as a severe blow for Modi. The ties between the two haven’t been severed but the writing on the wall is clear, the central leadership has started marginalizing Modi who is also gunning for ownership of 7 Race Course Road. Gadkari initiated the trend and Jaitley has capitalized on it. All eyes are on Modi now who is busy concentrating on the Assembly Elections slated to take place in December but his larger national ambitions are known to all.

Political Polarization vs Political Persuasion

There is a vast difference between political polarization and political persuasion. Polarization is when people cast their vote for the Congress or the BJP not because they are convinced of the Congress Party’s secular credentials or the BJP’s rightist objectives but because they are either afraid of the communal outlook of the BJP or Congress’s pseudo secularism. If the Congress attracts voters because of its condemnation of BJP’s communal politics or if the BJP manages to get votes by ridiculing Congress’s appeasement politics then both the parties successfully polarize votes.

Political persuasion takes place when a party is able to effectively convince a community of its agenda for that community’s or caste’s welfare. What needs to be realized over here is that the persuasion agenda should be bonafide andd not malafide. It should not be a populist measure launched with the intention of drumming up political support and it shouldn’t even be outright appeasement of an entire community or caste at the expense of others. It must not be done with the intent of wooing the electorate but with the intent of working for them honestly. It should be well planned and must not crop up instantly at the time of the elections. In the election season we can’t stop excessive pious posturing but the posture in itself should not be a new thing. It should be a thing of the past and a relatively old ambition, they can obviously add more into that. We can provide leaders with that much leverage. Persuasion agenda can be legitimate only if it does not violate the model code of conduct, happens to be constitutionally compatible and permissible (if not, the party concerned should clearly specify its intention of amending the constitution), is legally possible and most importantly if it is pragmatically feasible or bonafide as mentioned earlier. For example if the SP manages to tap in the votes of all the Muslims by promising quotas to all of them then it is polarization and not persuasion because all Muslims are not in need of attaining quotas although some are. The very essence of this agenda is malafide and so it’s an attempt to polarize and not persuade. Sometimes such atrocious acts or out of the way remarks lead to an attempt by a competitor party to counter polarize things. For example the BJP in UP tried to portray itself as the saviour of OBC’s by saying that it will revoke the Congress’s minority quota which tends to eat up the pie of OBC reservations. The BJP’s rheoric sounded more anti-minority and less pro-obc. They were trying to collect the OBC votes solely on the basis of this issue and did not talk about other ways of empowering them or uplifting them from social and economic backwardness, hence it was termed as a polarization ploy.

Many times parties try to plan the progress of a community by plotting the downfall or decline of others. This is not the ideal way to go. If votes come for or against them then it is all because of polarization and counter polarization, respectively. Some parties woo communities by telling them that if they are voted to power then status quo shall maintain and the other party’s attempts of victimizing them won’t take place. This is again a polarization tactic. If a community casts its vote in favour of the Congress or the BJP because they are either supportive of the Congress’s inclusive politics &and minority upliftment schemes or of the BJP’s exclusive politics of development for all and appeasement for none, then it happens to be an example of effective political persuasion. Another sort of polarization apart from the traditional caste and community polarization is issue-based polarization like corruption. Issue-based polarization is still acceptable unlike caste or community polarization based on pre-conceived perceptions of parties. Political polarization is far more a realistic thing than political persuasion. The important thing is to realize that polarization is negative whereas persuasion is positive. During polarization parties tend to talk more of other parties backdrops and less of their own strengths whereas when they tend to indulge in persuasion, they act in the opposite way.  

Hinduphobia Among India’s Liberals

On my way back to Allahabad, I grabbed two copies of the magazine, ‘Frontline’. Frontline has historically had the reputation of being a magazine of the ‘intellectuality elite’ and over the years, it has pioneered hardcore journalism in nearly all its issues. The former copy was dated ‘11-24 February’ and the latter one was dated ‘25 February-9 March’. The cover stories of the both the issues had a striking similarity. They were both related to the realm or ambit of the ideological philosophy of Hindutva politics.

One cover story was on how the RSS was carrying forward its Hindutva agenda on a milder basis by putting its core issues or demands of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and enactment of a uniform civil code on the backburner and instead, putting a forth a new agenda based on communalization of education and cow slaughter. The second issue was based on the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat riots which elaborated on how the riots were executed during those turbulent days and how many individuals are still trying to get the guilty behind bars. The prevalence of the poll season made me immediately suspect the timing and selection of both the cover stories. I realized that their contemporary compatibility wasn’t up to the mark. Doing a story on Gujarat riots on its tenth anniversary made sense to me but I wasn’t able to figure as to why did they do back to back stories on two similar themes which is certainly not the ideal business or journalistic practice?

I read one of the stories and came across excessive Hindutva bashing. In a few minutes I realized the pro-UPA leanings of the magazine which was evident because of its open admiration for 10 Janpath and 23 Akbar Road. It appeared as if Frontline was bent upon thwarting BJP’s campaign in the Assembly Elections by accusing them of majority communalism and by bringing to light their past faults and current communal activities. The bias was obvious but still I went ahead and read one copy which was related to the RSS’s new agenda. I had already read too much about the Gujarat riots and was no longer in a mood to take any more of it. In the cover story I found excessive Hindutva bashing as I mentioned earlier. I thought it was absurd and unreasonable.

The cover story said that the Sangh Parivar had instructed its political arm ie the BJP to make use of the anti-corruption crusade of Anna Hazare at the Union level and its State Governments to take up the cause of Hindutva by means of communal legislations. The magazine wrote on how the RSS was communalizing education by making children sing Hindu hymns, perform Surya Namaskar and by making reading of the Gita compulsory in schools run by it. I do not find this move communal at all. I am myself a product of a protestant school and for twelve years I remember repeatedly reciting the Lord’s Prayer of the Christians and also sung many carols. When one studies in an institution with religious affiliation, he must be ready to follow some of their traditions in schools and should not object to it. Another aspect that was highlighted was the Sangh Parivar’s missionary activities. This again sounded very ridiculous. The conversions were voluntary and not forced by the activists of the Sangh, so the question of indicting the Sangh did not arise. Another fact was brought to the table and that was of the various BJP State Governments trying to revive and promote Sanskrit. I did not find anything objectionable in this. Sanskrit is a dying language and if state governments belonging to the BJP are trying to resurrect and revive it by means of promotion then there is no need for anybody to be irked by it.

But yes, there were certain portions of the story which were indeed very alarming. The RSS can undertake any sort of teaching in its schools but they should not be of hateful nature. The article quoted an NCERT report which stated that the content in the books prescribed by the Sangh’s schools promoted bigotry and religious fanaticism. What was even more alarming was the fact as to how the BJP’s State Government in Madhya Pradesh was trying to communalize education in the schools of the state government. India happens to be a secular state and therefore, no government institution should make activities or practices belonging predominantly to the Hindus, compulsory in schools. For example in many government schools the Government was trying to make performing of Surya Namaskar, singing of Hindu hymns and reading the Gita compulsory as was prevalent in RSS’s schools. This is not acceptable because government institutions are not supposed to have religious bias. This sort of a curriculum can be made optional for students but they cannot afford to make it mandatory for all.

Another example which was very worrying was the one related to Gujarat. In Gujarat, government schools have introduced a chapter which traces Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s life journey to further strengthen his popularity. Government schools cannot be used as propaganda tools and this needs to be stopped. This move of the Modi Government is as shameless as Mayawati’s habit of erecting her own statues from the funds of the State Exchequer. The report said that the State Government in Madhya Pradesh was acting communally by making beef consumption a crime and by passing draconian laws to supplement their agenda. This law would empower police officers of the lower cadre to search, seize and arrest individuals on the suspicion of cow slaughter or beef consumption. This agenda of the RSS is bound to fail. It’s an open secret that the Hindus are among those set of communities who consume beef the most. Hindu scriptures also suggest that the sacrifice of cows for religious purposes and their consumption for sustenance was prevalent during ancient times. The issue has lost its relevance and would backfire. People cannot be put behind bars for consuming beef which is indeed one of the most affordable kinds of meat.

The cover story was highly critical of the Sangh, its ideology, activities and agenda but was far from being a balanced report. The magazine appeared like Congress’s mouthpiece and even though it raised many critical questions, it lost its credibility because of its over-excessive Hindutva bashing and its fanatical exaggeration of the threat posed by community-centric teaching in RSS schools but the fact that the same kind of exercise cannot be tolerated in secular government schools stands uncontested.