Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said any move to “suppress dissent” will have an adverse impact on the country’s economic development, joining the raging debate on “intolerance”.
Inaugurating a conference organised as part of the year-long programme to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Singh said the prevailing circumstances in the country were challenging as one is “reprimanded for seeking freedom to express” views and opinions.
“The nation is deeply concerned over recent incidents of blatant violation of freedom of speech, thought, belief and expression by violent extremist groups,” he said.
Singh’s remarks come two days after Congress president Sonia Gandhi led a march of party leaders from Parliament House to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest the “atmosphere of fear, intolerance and intimidation being deliberately created by sections of the ruling establishment”.
Over the last few days, several scientists, writers, filmmakers and historians across the country, registered their protests against increasing attacks on rationalists and murder of Muslims over rumours of cow slaughter. Two rationalists -- MM Kalburgi in Karnataka and Govind Pansare in Maharashtra -- who had run-ins with rightwing groups, were killed this year.
“The assault or murder of thinkers cannot be justified on any grounds, nor can suppression of right to dissent be allowed. All right-thinking people have condemned such incidents in the strongest terms as an assault on the nation,” Singh said.
Last month, finance minister Arun Jaitley had dubbed the protests as “manufactured rebellion” and accused the Congress, Left thinkers and activists of “practising ideological intolerance” towards the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Singh said religion could never become the basis of public policy and should not be imposed on anyone. “Religion is a private matter in which no one, including state, can interfere...Secularism is an article of faith... it protects the fundamental freedom of every citizen.”
Hailing Nehru, the former PM said his words “no peace without freedom and no freedom without peace” are as relevant in 2015 as they were decades ago.
“Peace and freedom therefore are to be considered from the purview of political as well as economic growth and intellectual development. There can be no free market without freedom. Any erosion of diversity will weaken our nation.”
He said the prerequisite for innovation, entrepreneurship and competition is an open society and a liberal polity where individuals are free to pursue their ideas.