The 507 Days of Freedom in ‘Free India’
Why “The Hindus” pulping debate should be the impetus for withdrawing Nehru’s first amendment to the Constitution and pave way for absolute free speech & free trade.
The Constitution of India was adopted on 26th January 1950 citing Fundamental rights including Freedom of speech. Something changed 507 days later – in came the first amendment 19(1)(a) of Constitution of India against “abuse of freedom of speech and expression”. Background to this step was a weekly journal published in Madras that criticized Nehruvian policies, much to dislike of Mr. Nehru. The respected Congress leader saw it like a spark which if neglected will burn the house & all the Congressmen rallied behind their leader to curtail the fundamental right of freedom of speech, this was the same freedom for which thousands of Indians had laid down their lives and made immense sacrifices for over 90 years since first freedom movement in 1857.
Additionally, Nehru also used the opportunity to go after freedom to trade and mandated that the right of citizens of India to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business conferred by article 19(1)(g) is subject to reasonable restrictions which the laws of the State may impose “in the interests of general public”. So we have a clear case of a nation where so many gave lives to get freedom but the same was taken away within 507 days of freedom of the country.
The opposition to first amendment came from none other than Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee who is noted as an advocate ‘Hindutva’ ideology and foremost ideologue of the BJP. Notwithstanding the opposition Mr. Nehru gave a long speech in parliament where he noted that the Constitution had certain ‘lacunae’ which needed to be fixed. In effect it was ‘realized’ in early days that the Constitution had inefficiencies which needed to be corrected to suit governance needs of the Congress Government!
Freedom of speech was a victim of its own freedom!
It does appear that all freedom of speech lovers, writers, artists, activist need to combine efforts and force our parliamentarians to do away with part of first amendment dealing with Freedom of Speech advocated by Mr. Nehru, for above explains clearly why we are, where we are.
In the case of plaintiff against publisher of ‘The Hindus’, we clearly see that apt judicial process was followed that complements the spirit of the Constitution. There were no unruly scenes, anarchy, rioting, intimidation, hooliganism or threats either made to the writer or publishers. The plaintiff went by the book of law demanding justice from courts where he felt freedom of speech was being abused. The publisher at his own will decided to ‘pulp’ the books in stores and promised not to re-print these in an out of court settlement – Neither the court banned the publishing Nor did the BJP ban the book in its ruled states. So where was freedom of speech as envisaged in the Constitution curtailed by anyone?
Compare this to how publishing giant Bloomsbury withdrew former Air India director Jitender Bhargava’s book The Descent of Air India, & agreed to destroy copies of the book left in its stocks and tendered an apology to former civil aviation minister Praful Patel, who has been pilloried in the book as the man who caused the downfall of the airline.
Surely sounds like someone made an offer they couldn’t refuse to the publishers!
Given the arguments above we note that the controversy is not about whether someone had the right to write what they chose or that someone could go to the court if one felt wronged by it but more about what our great leaders envisaged freedom of speech for India and how its current managers use it to their advantage!
It’s time the intellectual heir to Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s legacy, the BJP, goes for an all out offensive to repeal the first amendment and get India the freedom it has been longing for so long. This will be an electoral masterstroke to get the support of freedom (something which runs in the blood of every Indian) lovers across India while taking forward the legacy of its founders and brining back the eternal idea of India
“सर्व पंथ समभाव” (All paths are treated equally), something which will only happen under a nation which puts freedom first.
(Anuj Gupta is an IIT & IIM graduate and now a full time political activist with BJP. He tweets at @anujg. Abhishek Sharma is a senior banking professional with interests in history and politics. He tweets at @abhisharma1224)