The Defence Minister is horribly wrong. His statement that no one should dare to criticise the country and, if they do, they should be taught the lesson of their lives is not just a denial of freedom of speech and undemocratic but it’s also morally deeply mistaken. Furthermore, his defence in Parliament — “let the members see the video themselves and make up their mind and not go by newspaper reports” — doesn’t help one whit. In fact, it’s self-incriminating.
I’ve seen the video and this is what Mr Parrikar said: “How does someone dare to talk about ills of this country? If anyone speaks like this he has to be taught lesson of his life. An actor said his wife wants to leave India. It was an arrogant statement. However poor my family is, whatever small my house is, I will have to love my house and always aim to make big bungalow out of it … but you can’t feel ashamed of yourself.”
The Defence Minister is wrong on several counts. First, every Indian has a right to criticise his country. Not only does our Constitution guarantee it but this is what freedom of speech amounts to. However, there are times when criticising your country is not just a right but a moral duty.
Let me deliberately sidestep the case of Germany and the Jews, because I don’t want to be offensive, and, instead, touch upon the ghar-wapsi and love-jihad campaigns, the attack on Mohammad Akhlaq and now, by gau rakshaks, on Dalits. These are developments that demand criticism. Indeed, if a mood of intolerance threatens to sweep my country then the criticism that’s required will be of my country. You cannot separate the mood from the people who’ve fallen into its grip. It’s self-deceiving sophistry to do so.
Second, what does the Minister mean when he says no matter how small “I will have to love my house”? Should Dalits and adivasis love the hovel they are confined to? Should the poor love the huts and shacks they have no option but to live in? For God’s sake, if they don’t criticise and hate the circumstances of their existence they will never change.
Third, when the Minister says “you can’t feel ashamed of yourself” he doesn’t realise how mistaken he is. Shame, after all, can be a force for correction and improvement. It was shame that propelled Ashoka after the Battle of Kalinga to the height of his achievement. It was shame that awakened Gandhi to moral virtue.
Finally, when the Minister claims he wasn’t speaking about Aamir Khan who, then, is the actor and his wife he had in mind? It’s disingenuous to claim it wasn’t Aamir.
One last, though little, point: Aamir Khan’s statement wasn’t arrogant. It was, as I have earlier written, the wrong response to a lapse by your country. Personally, I wouldn’t leave if my country has erred. I would stay and change it. But the decision to leave, and fight from outside, is a personal one. Wasn’t that what Subhas Chandra Bose opted for?
Let me end by saying that ministers, like ordinary human beings, can make silly mistakes. The only difference is when they do it becomes a public matter. If that is Mr Parrikar’s defence then I recommend what the rest of us do when we put our feet in our mouth. We say sorry. It’s a simple word but, when spoken with sincerity, it can change everything.