Ramjas College row: Pranab Mukherjee calls for 'space for legitimate criticism and dissent'

As campuses are in the midst of a debate on sedition, freedom of speech and expression, president Pranab Mukherjee made a few references to the importance of tolerance.  Advocating free thinking in university campuses, President Pranab Mukherjee said students and faculties must engage in "reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagating a culture of unrest."

File image of President Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

File image of President Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

Giving a speech at the KS Rajamony Memorial Lecture in Kochi, Kerala, he said: "There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian. India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression."

His comments come in the backdrop of the ongoing tussle between RSS-affiliate ABVP and Left-backed AISA supporters in the Delhi University and a raging debate over free speech and nationalism following recent tweets of one of the varsity's students Gurmehar Kaur.

Mukherjee also cautioned against the exploitation of "fault lines" in the society, intolerance and attack on women. The views of Kaur, daughter of an army officer killed in action against militants, evoked sharp reaction from Union minister Kiren Rijiju who went on to ask, "who is polluting her mind". Kaur was allegedly threatened with rape on her Facebook page and was mocked by sportspersons and celebrities who questioned her pacifist approach.

He added that India has always been a place where "diverse schools of thought" existed and that "freedom of speech and expression" is one of the key rights given to Indians by the Constitution. "There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent," he said.

As far as universities are concerned, he referred to Nalanda and Takshashila as "representations of the idea for free thought" and that it is through premier institutions that will help push India 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," he said.

The president invoked Jawaharlal Nehru and 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.”

Mukherjee, who has been in public life for almost six decades, advised lawmakers and political activists to listen, engage, learn from people and respond to their needs and concerns. Asking the lawmakers not to take the people for granted, he said they must focus on the fundamental task of law making and raising of issues of concern to the people as well as finding solutions to their problems. "No one who holds any elected office has been invited by the voters to occupy that office. Each one has gone to the voters and pleaded for their votes and support. The trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed," he said.

"An egalitarian society can only be created when growth is inclusive. It is important to ensure that there is justice and equality of opportunity and the state does not create conditions in which the privileged few gain at the cost of the multitudes who suffer endemic poverty," he added.

Read the full text of the president's speech here. 

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 09:02 AM

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