CHENNAI: Holding free and fair elections is the single greatest achievement of independent India. But democracy in the constitutional sense cannot be reduced to free and fair elections and political freedom is now constrained in other ways like threat to freedom of expression, said historian and author Ramachandra Guha.
Delivering the Dr Chandran Devanesan endowment lecture organised by the Department of History in Madras Christian College (MCC) on Friday to celebrate the birth centenary of Chandran Devanesan, first Indian Principal of the MCC, Guha presented a ‘Historian’s Report Card’ on India’s progress, 70 years after Independence.
The historian based India’s progress on four criteria: Mahatma Gandhi considered the posts that upheld ‘Swaraj’ - non-violence (political democracy); abolition of untouchability; Hindu-Muslim harmony; and manufacture of hand-spun and hand-woven khadi (economic self reliance).
On political democracy, he said, “I consider holding free and fair elections as the single greatest achievement of independent India.” But he lamented the attempts to curtail political freedom, threatening freedom of expression.
Regarding abolition of caste, he said, “While caste and gender inequality were eliminated by law, the practice often does not match with violence against Dalits seen in several villages across India.” However, he added that women and Dalits were less discriminated against today when compared to any point of time in the last 5,000 years.
“Sustenance of linguistic pluralism in India is an achievement next only to free and fair elections,” he said. On the other hand, vulnerability of Muslims is visible across India. The stigmatisation of minorities is not a step towards Swaraj that Gandhi had visualised, Guha said.
Lastly, as far as economic self-reliance is concerned, the historian said, while there is considerable progress on the front, two dark spots plague the economy- jobless growth and environmental degradation.
Remembering Chandran Devanesan
Going by the MCC’s Heber Hall anthem, in which one of the verses goes, “ If you want to marry my darling and to marry well, stick to a Heber lad and send the rest to hell”, one might be forgiven to assume that it was written by its students. However, the anthem was, in fact, composed by Chandran Devanesan himself when he was warden.
The former Head of the Department of History went on to become the first Indian Principal of the MCC.
Speaking at the endowment lecture, Prakash Karat, alumnus of MCC, and former general secretary of CPI (M), said, “Sometimes, as a prank, I would carry the notice board away at night. Chandran Devanesan would notice the missing board and say ‘Hope it comes back soon.”
N Ram, chairman, Kasturi and Sons, said the environment in the college was liberal and liberated, which stood out in the 1960s when Devanesan was Principal.
Former diplomat Gopalkrishna Gandhi, KM Mammen, chairman, MCC Association and Board of Directors and RW Alexander Jesudasan, Principal, MCC and Vasanthi Vijayakumar, Head of Department of History, were also present on the occasion