New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley today put forth a strong counter to the opposition's allegations that the government was cracking down on students because it didn't agree with their views, saying “hate speech can never be free speech”.
“Vandalism is condemnable but sedition is free speech? Vandalism is terrible but in the name of academic freedom how can hate speech become freedom of expression?” he said in Rajya Sabha while speaking in Parliament's debate over unrest in Hyderabad University, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and other institutions.
Jaitley was commenting on sedition cases being filed against JNU students for alleged anti-national slogans and lawyers attacking them in Delhi court.
Initiating the debate on Thursday, Left leader Sitaram Yechury accused the government of charging students with sedition because it couldn't tolerate dissent and wanted to enforce its ideology on everybody.
“We all know what Afzal Guru represented... He was not protesting against Manuvaad, capitalism, or Brahmanism that they will raise slogans against Manuvaad and capitalism on his martyrdom day,” the minister said, referring to an event organised on February 9 at the JNU where anti-national slogans were allegedly raised.
“Can there ever be an argument in democracy like ours that there should be only one ideology and one idea which must emerge? Obviously not. Let us set this debate at rest; neither NDA, BJP nor this government ever subscribes to this philosophy that only one idea must grow and mature in this country,” Jaitley said.
In a reference to the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar of Hyderabad University, Jaitley said, “We are entitled to be criticised. I have no difficulty with that. If some student belonging to a weaker or deprived section of society suffers a mental distress that issue has to be squarely addressed and we can all speak in the same language because humanity demands our concern must be the same.”
“In universities youngsters do many things which upon growing up they realise were probably not an ideal behaviour at that time. Some amount of radical romancing can also take place in academic institutions... But the core question is: Are we going to give respectability to those whose primary ideology is to break this country?” said the minister.
“What has happened in this case of two persons alleged to be involved in terrorist action and convicted by the highest court,” he said, referring to Afzal Guru, the parliament attack convict, and Maqbool Bhat of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, whose deaths by execution were commemorated at JNU.
The minister said the Indian system is fair and the accused were given fair trials. He also said “some outsiders” came into JNU wearing masks and anti-national slogans were raised by the crowd.
“You must realise the issue is not that some (university) course is being tinkered with and some politicisation is taking place. You have a situation where slogans against integrity of India are being raised,” the minister added.
(With IANS inputs)