Commenting on the current political scenario and the debate over nationalism, former Delhi high court chief justice Ajit Prakash Shah has said that if someone holds and opinion contrary to the govt narrative, one will be immediately called ‘anti-national’. He also added that Indians are forced to stand up for the national anthem and told what they can or cannot eat, see or speak about.
Delivering the MN Roy memorial lecture in Delhi on Wednesday, the retired judge added that dissent in the country’s universities is curbed and “sloganeering and flag raising have become tests for nationalism.”
“Today, sadly, in this country I love, if anyone holds a view that is different from the government's acceptable view, they are immediately dubbed as anti-national or desh-drohi. This marker of “anti-national” is used to intimidate and browbeat voices of dissent and criticism, and more worryingly, can be used to slap criminal charges of sedition against them,” AP Shah said.
Today, we are living in a world where we are forced to stand for the national anthem at a movie theatre, we are told what we can and cannot eat, what we can and cannot see, and what we can and cannot speak about. Dissent, especially in the university space, is being curbed, and sloganeering and flag raising have become tests for nationalismAjit Prakash Shah, Former Chief Justice of Delhi HC
Referring to the Delhi university student Gurmehar Kaur, the senior jurist said, “we have a 21-year old University student who is subject to severe online hate, abuse, and threats, only because she dared express her views.”
Shah further said that India being a diverse country, people must respect the diversity of ideas. “One that idolises the nation and staunchly rejects any internal or external criticism” will only polarise citizens against each other, he added.
The strength of a nation is not gauged by the uniformity of opinion of its citizens or a public profession of patriotism. The true strength of a nation is revealed when it does not feel threatened by its citizens expressing revolutionary views; when there is a free and open press that can criticise the government; and when citizens do not resort to violence against their fellow citizens, merely for expressing a contrary viewAjit Prakash Shah, Former Chief Justice of Delhi HC
Shah quoted the noted philosopher MN Roy who said “A parochial, selfish, narrow minded nationalism has caused so much misfortune and misery to the world. A mad and exaggerated form of this cult of nationalism is today running rampant.”
Shah expressed his disagreement with the the Supreme Court’s national anthem order and said, “It is important to remember that the right to free speech and expression also includes the right not to speak or express ourselves. However, under the guise of law, the court has now stepped in and restricted our fundamental rights.”
The former judge also said that it is ironic that the media, which played a critical role in asserting its right to free speech during and after the Emergency, has now become an institution that is compromising and challenging the same freedom of dissenters.