Congress record on free speech patchy, says Jaitley

Says it had backed JNU students who challenged integrity of India

Union Minister Arun Jaitley took the occasion of the birth anniversary of Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee to attack the Congress on its “patchy record” on free speech, accusing the party of being intolerant to views other than its own.

In a Facebook post, Mr. Jaitley said the Congress had supported Jawaharlal Nehru University students who participated in a meeting where allegedly the integrity of the Indian state had been challenged, by calling it “legitimate free speech”.

As Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had amended the Constitution to restrict Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s advocacy of Akhand Bharat.

“He [Mookerjee] was one of the key advocates of a united India which he referred to as Akhand Bharat. Two days before the ‘Nehru-Liaquat Pact’ was to be signed in April 1950, Dr. Mookerjee, who was Industries Minister in the first Cabinet as a Hindu Mahasabha representative, resigned from the Cabinet in protest and took a strong public position against the Nehru-Liaquat Pact,” he said.

“Pandit Nehru over-reacted to Dr. Mookerjee’s criticism. He interpreted the very idea of Akhand Bharat, i.e. united India, as an invitation to conflict since the country could not be reunited other than by war. He, therefore, advised Sardar Patel to consider what action would be taken,” Mr. Jaitley said.

“After consultation with constitutional experts, Sardar Patel’s opinion was that he could not prevent Mookerjee from propagating his idea of Akhand Bharat under the Constitution and if the Prime Minister wanted him to stop this, the Constitution needed to be amended. The Bill to amend the Constitution which, amongst others, contained the restriction relating to ‘friendly relations with foreign states’ was introduced in Parliament,” he said.

“Was this intolerance against Dr. Mookerjee and his philosophy which triggered this Constitution amendment? The answer is obvious,” he said.

India’s paradox

“The essence of this amendment was that a mere speech advocating Akhand Bharat is a threat to the country, it can be an incitement to war and, therefore, any talk of the same could be prohibited. It could even be made a penal offence.

The paradox in our jurisprudential evolution is that we have applied a different yardstick to those who want to dismember India and commit an offence of sedition. This debate recently came into the forefront during the Tukde Tukde agitation at the JNU,” he said.

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