Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The JNU Free Speech Controversy-1

The controversy over JNU and free speech leaves me somewhat bemused.  The hypocrisy on all sides of the debate is truly astounding.  What is common to all sides is that their idea of "free" speech is not so about any principles but about "convenient" speech.  For all sides in this debate, the only "free" speech they recognize is their own right to speak, the only speech they will defend is speech they agree with and all sides will oppose any "free" speech that disagrees with their orthodoxies.  A good example is a recent essay by two of my colleagues that I have responded to in a companion post, immediately following this post.  [I wanted to include it here but as it was getting a bit long, I split it into two posts]. Read these posts together. 

As for the political parties, the less said the better.  BJP leaders haven't exactly covered themselves in glory with their ill-advised statements and actions.  The BJP is today the only politically relevant centre-right political voice in the country and this episode once again demonstrates the crying need for a center-right alternative to the BJP that will be based on libertarian principles of limited government and freedom rather than the religion-based conservatism that the BJP represents.

And then we have the Congress, which has spent the better part of its several decades of rule banning anything that any section of the population had any objection to, now suddenly masquerading as a defender of free speech!  As for the Left parties, that they can even mouth "free speech" without bursting into flames is a wonder.  It would all be comical if it weren't so tragic. 

The JNU Free Speech Controversy-2

This is a continuation of my previous post about free speech in JNU.  As I mentioned there, Happymon Jacob and A.K. Ramakrishnan, both colleagues at the School of International Studies, JNU, wrote recently in the India Express about threats to free speech in Indian universities.  They argued that what was happening to JNU was part of a pattern and that the very idea of the university was under attack.  This was rich, I thought, considering that the Left has hardly a great record as defenders of free speech.  I wrote a response to their essay and send it to the Indian Express immediately but since Indian Express has not published it, I am posting it here in full. 

JNU and the Myth of Academic Freedom

Two of my esteemed colleagues from JNU argued in these pages a few days back (Happymon Jacob and AK Ramakrishnan, “There’s A Cop in My Class”, February 27, 2016) that the very idea of the university is under threat from the BJP government, that the attack on JNU is part of larger attack on “academic spaces and intellectual freedom”.  I hold no brief for the BJP government, and I fully support the right to free speech, especially when it is speech with which I disagree (such as some of slogans that were shouted in JNU on February 9).