London: Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday saw “an alliance of subversion” taking place, by which separatists and ultra-left elements were speaking the same language on university campuses, and said the idea of free speech could not extend to assaulting India’s sovereignty.
Answering a question at the London school of Economics on the recent turmoil in Ramjas College, Delhi, Jaitley said there was “no space for violence”, but there needed to be a debate whether assaulting the country’s sovereignty should be permitted under the idea of free speech.
On a four-day visit to London mainly to represent India at a reception at Buckingham Palace on Monday to mark the UK-India Year of Culture, Jaitley spoke on historical and contemporary developments in India’s economy and said the country was now clear about the path ahead.
On Ramjas College incidents, he said: “I don’t think there is or could be any space for violence. I personally believe that this whole issue has to be debated whether free speech permits you to assault the very sovereignty of the nation”.
“If somebody speaks about breaking India into pieces and thinks that is part of free speech – don’t forget under Article 19 (2) sovereignty is an exception to free speech – but assuming you wanted that right, be liberal enough to believe that within the democratic framework a large majority will stand up to you and counter your free speech”.
“Then don’t say that my free speech is being hindered. I find it strange that an argument is being raised that I have free speech to advocate that India should be broken into pieces but those who oppose me are hindering my free speech. They also have a right of free speech to oppose what you are saying”, Jaitley said in a response that met with applause from students in the audience.
According to Jaitley, there is “an alliance of subversion” taking place in India, with separatists and the ultra left speaking the same language on certain university campuses. They must be willing to allow other figures to put the counter-viewpoint, he added.
Answering a question on banks and loan defaults, and without naming London-based businessman Vijay Mallya, who is wanted in India in connection with alleged economic offences, Jaitley said: “There is a series of steps which we have taken about money stashed abroad – from legislation to an opportunity to declare to cooperation with G20 countries to recent understanding with Switzerland – these are all steps which have to be taken in parallel”.
“Just as the earlier normal was to transact in cash and evade taxes, many thought that when you take advances from banks the monies need not be repaid. If you don’t repay them you come back to London and settle down here. Democracy is liberal enough to permit defaulters to stay here (laughter). That normal needs to be cracked”.
“It is for the first time that strong action is being taken. It has never happened that the defaulters are on the run. The fact that they are on the run and their properties are being attached to the last penny, is a signal which India is sending for the first time. Otherwise we had learnt to live with defaulters”.
According to Jaitley, the demonetisation drive was the “smoothest possible replacement” of high denomination notes anywhere in the world. The process, he said, was almost complete, and added that the new GST regime will lead to a bigger GDP in the long run.
The Indian economy, Jaitley said, was now comfortably placed, despite all the challenges, to grow at a reasonable pace. India had become much impatient, he said, with a large middle class and a larger section below it that is aspirational.
“Today there is huge public support for economic reform. There is competitive federalism in which states are vying to attract investment; some states want to grow faster than the national average. Decision-making is now more effective, discretion of the state is being reduced and corruption is frowned upon”, he said.
The event, titled ‘Transforming India: A Vision for the Next Decade’ was organised by the 100 Foot Journey Club, an initiative of the LSE South Asia Centre and the Indian high commission, so named because of the 100 foot physical distance between the two in Aldwych, central London.