19TH February, 2016
Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji,
Sub: Violence and state suppression taking the place of debate and discussion
I write this letter today with a great sense of disappointment and deep anguish over the incidents of the past few days which are evidence of the extremely shaky grounds on which we stand. We claim to be descendants of Gandhi and yet we resort to violence at the slightest of provocation. Who are these people who go around wielding their muscle power, roughing up students, journalists inside a court premises and are yet not afraid of any state action against them? As per newspaper reports, a sitting MLA of Delhi Assembly from your party has been captured on video assaulting an activist outside court premises. When a representative of people cannot uphold our Constitutional values, what examples are we setting for our youth? Despite having the entire police force at your disposal, you were unable to protect the accused student from being manhandled when he was being produced in court. How have we come to this situation where respect for law has been replaced by proud vigilantism?
The law must take its course but there is no denying that sedition is a potent tool which must be used very carefully and as a last resort lest we muzzle legitimate debate and dissent. In a democracy, every law made by Parliament and every judgment passed by a court is open for challenge and criticism. And it is indeed through that alone that any progress can be made towards a truly plural society. But why do we seem to be regressing towards an era where only the state sponsored narrative is permitted?
Jawaharlal Nehru University has had a stellar record in producing some of the best intellectuals in the country many of whom today adorn the benches of Parliament. These minds have been shaped by the churning of ideas, of all hues and shades, something which no longer seems possible. We will be doing a great disservice to our nation if our universities become fortresses under police protection where every discussion, protest or demonstration is seen with distrust and paranoia and met with force and suppression. University administration is the best authority to settle matters of indiscipline within the premises and any form of state intervention can be warranted only in circumstances of palpable threat to public order. And even in those circumstances, it will be expected of an unbiased state to deal with all equally and not show favouritism towards students belonging to certain political outfits as opposed to others.
As a representative of collective interests and concerns of the citizens of this country, I consider it my avowed duty to express my condemnation of the incidents in the recent past. I had participated in the struggle for reservations, for opening up of public universities was essential not just to give equal opportunity to all, but because these are spaces which permit assimilation of people from diverse milieu into the social fabric of the country. When we sit together, study and eat together, we humanize the other and become one and the same. And yet, decades after independence we find that even now, we stereotype on the basis of identity and have not fully engendered the tenets of our Constitution – equality, fraternity and justice. Political ideologies have joined the long list of characteristics on the basis of which we discriminate and haphazardly decide who classifies as a ‘nationalist’ and who doesn’t. This is extremely unbecoming of a state which was voted to power with a clear mandate of ‘sabka vikaas’ and yet, it seems to patronize only those who tow its ideologies and comes down heavily on those who don’t.
Through this open letter, I hope to direct your attention to the anger and dissatisfaction brewing in the hearts and minds of our people who feel cheated. Ours is a democracy which is much more than the rigours of elections. On the contrary, it is what happens after an election is won and a state has all the power and discretion to act, that the true test of a democracy takes place. And while our people have braved all odds to ensure that ours remains a thriving democracy, the state seems to be failing that test. The state fails this test, when its Ministers intervene in a university disciplinary proceeding and push a student to commit suicide. The state fails when its party’s legislators beat up an activist for exercising his constitutional right to dissent. The state fails when it cannot handle criticism.
All eyes will be on the government now to uphold the Constitution and allow our Universities to flourish as spaces of free exchange of ideas. Will we see heads rolling? Will the Ministers, responsible for the premature end of a life, resign? Will disciplinary action be taken against the unruly legislator? The government must remember that in this tussle to brand each other as ‘nationals’ or ‘anti-nationals’, in this atmosphere of mutual distrust, we are only submitting ourselves to ridicule and criticism from world over. This is not what India must stand for. I expect you, Hon’ble Prime Minister, to restore our faith in our democracy.