New Delhi: In a session at the Lok Sabha on Thursday, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, very tactfully, without taking names, gave a fitting reply to US Ambassador Richard Verma’s remark on 'free speech' being 'the hallmark of democracy both in India and the US'.
Regarding the JNU row, Verma was quoted saying, “It will be hard to find a country more diverse than India. That is a great attribute of this country. It is what will propel India forward in the next century. That's also a part of both of our democracies, particularly on college campuses and it is something both of our countries frankly have celebrated and welcomed over years and over decades and these are called the laboratories of thoughts.”
“Ultimately this is a question for Indian society to resolve. It is one of the great hallmarks of India and US to have this diversity of thought and diversity of speech and the fact is we are constitutional democracies, where speech is a central tenet of what we hold dear."
Referring to alleged 'anti-national' slogans raised at a JNU campus meeting on February 9, the day Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was hanged three years ago, Naidu said that India “cannot tolerate such activities in universities” and “cannot allow students to be misled by such fringe elements who are inspired by foreign ideologies, who are inspired by foreign forces”.
“Can they (US) hold Osama bin Laden martyrdom anniversary in any university in America?… Let America say, ‘Osama, we are ashamed your killers roam free; USA shall be divided into pieces’, Allah willing, Insha Allah. If somebody says like that, is America going to tolerate this?” said Naidu.
Naidu continued, “I would like to tell some of the countries who are giving us lessons, also saying that in India dissent is not allowed and all that. I would like to ask them one thing. Madam, I once went to the United States of America along with my Officer on Special Duty (OSD). He was taken away and kept in quarantine for an hour. Then an inquiry was held for an hour. I could not do anything because we were outside the country. At the end of it, what came out was very simple. That boy had a beard, and that was the suspicion”.
Naidu said that if the US could take great precautions for its security, why could India not take action against those who raised slogans in favour of Pakistan and separatism.
“As a minister, I want to send this message that we cannot tolerate such activities in our universities. We cannot allow our boys to be misled by such fringe elements who are inspired by foreign ideologies, who are inspired by foreign forces,” he said.
He also spoke of a Pakistani court had handed 10 years in jail to its citizen Umar Draz for praising Virat Kohli for his good cricket performance.
“The Pakistani court gave this punishment within 24 hours. When he sought bail on February 19, it was summarily dismissed. This is just for cricket, and not for any anti-Pakistan activity. Imagine what would have happened if a Pakistani had supported or praised an Indian martyr or soldier,” Naidu said.
Naidu said that even freedom of expression should have a ‘Lakshman rekha’. He added that nobody has a right to express an opinion on an issue after the highest court of the land has given its verdict.
Naidu said, “Nobody, after the highest court of the land has given its verdict, after an exhaustive procedure of giving reasonable time, opportunity and after the highest authority, the President of India, has given the final approval, has got the right to express such an opinion to create disaffection in society. You may think that there is nothing wrong. But I think it is totally wrong.”
Naidu in his speech emphasised and re-emphasised with various examples of how the government time and again has been nothing but lenient and tolerant of it’s citizens criticism and has at all time respected it’s citizen’s freedom of expression....