Chennai: Amid the raging debate over slapping of sedition charge against JNU students, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Saturday said a dissenter was not an anti-national and claimed there was a sense of insecurity and fear among large sections of people under the BJP-led regime.
“Dissent is the essence of democracy. Dissenter is not anti-national, a dissenter is not less of a patriot than any one else,” he said at the launch of his book “Standing Guard, one year in Opposition.”
Chidambaram, a former union minister, said institutions, universities “are places where different ideas will have to come together and clash with each other.” The narrative of the ruling BJP regime changed from “development to intolerance, cooperation to confrontation welfare and security of all the people to deep sense of insecurity and fear among large sections of people,” he said.
From development oriented claims during early last year, 2015 ended with issues like Dadri and later issues like the suicide of Rohith Vemula and JNU, he said.
“If you hear different voices in universities today it is because these sections have long been neglected and they have found their way through struggle to universities and and they are willing to stand up and speak,” the Congress leader said.
Stating that it was not an alternative voice, he said it was “the voice of a section of the Indian people, you cannot dismiss them as alternative which cannot be accepted, or even worse dismiss them as anti-national.” His book — a compilation of his Sunday columns published in the Indian Express last year — he said “would reflect my anguish and concerns.”
Referring to student movements in 1967 and 68 in European Universities, he said “none of them were branded as anti-national. You will hear alternative narrative all over India you cannot suppress those voices.”
“I have Muslim friends, they text me there is great insecurity, there is sense of fear, apprehension,” Chidambaram said.
Stating that in Uttar Pradesh, “village after village there is a fear (as to) when will the next riot will break out. May be a riot is caused by this group or that group but to live in fear is not a sign of healthy democracy.”
“I beg of you to please try to befriend people not of our kind and try to understand how they view the country,” he told a participant who posed a question over intolerance.
“My deep concern is that there is an attempt to suppress alternative voice even in this state (Tamil Nadu)… a writer’s voice was suppressed on a specious ground that he was offending a particular community,” he said.
The reference was to Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, who “withdrew” his work “Mathorubagan” after it courted controversies and objections from a caste-group which claimed that it had denigrated its women-folk.