NEW DELHI: Union Minister Arun Jaitley has claimed that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s intolerance of his Cabinet colleague Syama Prasad Mookerjee led to a Constitution amendment restricting free speech in the country.
“I recall Mookerjee’s advocacy of Akhand Bharat led Nehru to amend the Constitution restricting free speech,” Jaitley claimed in an article on Friday.
The Union minister referred to Article 19(2), which empowers the state to make laws restricting exercise of freedom of speech subject to certain conditions. “The conditions on which this right could be restricted were very minimal as drafted by the Constituent Assembly.
However, the first amendment to the Constitution in 1951 and the Sixteenth amendment in 1963 imposed further conditions on the Right to Free Speech. Whereas restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, public order or to prevent the incitement of an offence are understandable, the one raises several questions relates to a restriction which can be imposed in the interest of friendly relations with foreign states,” Jaitley argued.
The minister stated that the restriction wasn’t part of the Constitution adopted in 1950. Jaitely stated that the circumstances which led to the amendment had been detailed in a book titled “Republic of Rhetoric - Free Speech and the Constitution of India” by Abhinav Chandrachud.
Jaitley opined that the amendment could be vulnerable to a challenge based on the basic structure theory. “Unquestionably free speech is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and if an amendment dilutes it through an unreasonable restriction, it will be liable for challenge on the ground of violation of the basic structure,” added Jaitley.
Tracing the history of the amendment, Jaitley stated that the Bill to amend the Constitution was referred to the Select Committee of Parliament. “Those days ministers could also be a member of the Select Committee. The prime minister himself became a member of the Select Committee. The Select Committee submitted a report within a week along with a note of dissent,” wrote Jaitley.