CHENNAI: Former home minister P Chidambaram on Saturday expressed concern about the shrinking public spaces for debate and dissent in the country.
At the launch of his book, "Fearless in Opposition," the Congress leader said the muzzling of dissent was "a disturbing trend." His comments come in the wake of protests at Delhi University in which students, teachers, and journalists were caught in a clash between the RSS's student wing, ABVP, and other students, primarily belonging to left-wing organisations.
"Public spaces for debate and dissent have shrunk," Chidambaram said.
"Universities too are no more public spaces. Today, dissent is labelled anti-national. This is disturbing because dissent is the essence of any democracy and a country with no dissent has no freedom."
Chidambaram highlighted how these days an argument starts at one point and ends up at a completely unrelated issue. He said the most recent example of this was when DU student Gurmehar Kaur put up
a video condemning the ABVP, but soon the issue spiralled into a question of her nationalism after focus shifted to another of her videos, which people misconstrued because she said in it thay it was war that had killed her father, Pakistan. Gurmehar Kaur was sent rape threats and became the object of much public scrutiny.
Chidambaram said he saluted the young woman's courage as she was merely advocating pacificism as a way of bridging relationships.
"Fear is the prevailing sentiment," he said, pointing to the rape threats and other means of suppression used to stop people from exercising their freedom of expression.
"The quality required today is fearlessness. As public spaces shrink, it is necessary for some people to stand up. People must be able to express their views fearlessly," he stressed.
Moving on to the other big issue that in the recent times has affected the lives of a large number of people, the former finance minister also reiterated his stand against the government's move to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. When asked what he would have done differently if he were finance minister, he remarked that he would have resigned on November 8.
"I don't think it (demonetisation) was implemented badly, I think it was a terrible idea," he said. "Credit growth in the industry is negative and nobody is borrowing. Clearly, demonetisation has affected India's economy."
He clarified that he did not think the ruling government lacked talent but he did not agree with all decision making being centralised. He emphasised his point when he said the Banking Secretary, Finance Secretary and Chief Economic Advisor were not consulted before a big move like demonetisation was launched.
Even as the effects of demonetisation still continue, and some ATMs still have no cash, the move by banks to charge a fee for transactions after a certain limit, was also criticised by Chidambaram. He called it a "retrograde move".