Free Speech, Nationalism & Sedition

Justice A.P.  Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, delivered the MN Roy Memorial Lecture on April 19, 2017, in New Delhi. We reproduce the full text:

“A parochial, selfish, narrow minded nationalism has caused so much misfortune and misery to the world. A mad and exaggerated form of this cult of nationalism is today running rampant.”

At the very outset, I would like to caution against, what the celebrated Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie terms, the “danger of a single story” – the danger of understanding an idea only from a single perspective and ignoring the diversity of views present. Mridula Mukherjee points out the nuances in the word “nationalism” and how it encompasses the ideas of progressive nationalism, a revolutionary pro-people nationalism, and a regressive and jingoistic nationalism. Hitler’s nationalism, after all, was very different from Gandhi and Nehru’s nationalism. The European conception of nationalism, developed from the days of the Treaty of Westphalia and in the age of imperialist expansion, focused on the enemy within, whether the Jew or the Protestant. In contrast, the Indian conception of nationalism, developed as an opposition to an external imperialist British state, was more inclusive in uniting the people against them. This was then, an “anti-colonial nationalism, where the primary identity of an Indian was not their religion, caste, or language, but their unity as equals in their demand for freedom. It is thus important to remember that there is no single overarching “right” conception of nationalism.

In Roy’s view, nationalism was representative of the desires and ambitions of a group of people within a certain geographical area, as opposed to people uniting on the basis of class. Nationalism thus emphasized the placing of one’s country’s interest over the interest of the rest of the world. There was a time in the 19th century, when countries were still isolated from each other, when nationalism was a historic necessity, under whose banner people came together and humanity progressed. However, he believed, it had now become a selfish, narrow-minded “antiquated cult”, and the world should progress towards internationalism and international cooperation. The importance of dissent is best understood by the Supreme Court’s view in S Rangarajan v. P Jagjeevan Ram that “In a democracy it is not necessary that everyone should sing the same song.”

Read the full text of the lecture here.

Text Courtesy: Campaign for Judicial Accountability & Reforms, New Delhi.

Cite as : Justice (Retd.) A. P. Shah, Free Speech, Nationalism & Sedition, 1 Ind. J. of Const. & Admin. L. 53-68(2017).


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.