By OUR STAFF REPORTER

On August 15, Welfare Party of India organised a symposium in the national capital on “75 Years of Independence: Achievements and Challenges,” where speakers shed lights on the prevailing atmosphere in country, weakening of democratic institutions, threat to democracy and the way forward from here.          

On the topic, “Democracy at Crossroads,” senior Congress leader and Union Minster, Mani Shankar Aiyar, while comparing democracy in India with that in neighbouring countries, said there has been military intervention and democratic upheavals in our neighbouring countries but democracy in India, if we keep aside Emergency period, has remained intact and India has not witnessed any kind of military intervention unlike Pakistan and other countries. 

“Independent India has seen many prime ministers from Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru to Atal Behari Vajpayee but we were never apprehensive of our democracy and we never discussed democracy at Crossroads. But in the last few years people are feeling threat to their democracy and are talking about preserving and protecting the Constitution. It is being felt so because of policies and the functioning of the government and how minorities are being treated. Lynchings and violence also took place earlier but the then government did not turn a blind eye and did not patronise the perpetrators of hate and violence. We can see how democratic institutions are being manipulated and misused,” said the Congress leader.

While talking at length about constitutional rights, religious freedom and about Justice, Equality Liberty and Fraternity, he explained in detail how these are being violated on the ground by the establishment. Towards the end, he said that the Muslim community has been angry with the Congress for the last thirty years over the demolition of Babri Masjid and urged the Muslim community to rethink over it and forgive the Congress.                              

Aditya Menon, political editor at The Quint, while speaking on “Indian Media – Past, Present and Future,” said, “It is not very easy to talk on future of journalism because in many ways it is linked with the future of society and polity. Journalism should not be looked at separately because the poison of hate found in society and polity and journalism is not aloof of that. What is worrying is that journalists and anchors are spreading that hate narratives aggressively. It is not true that media has started spreading hate after 2014; even after 1984 Sikh massacre the editors of two important newspapers had very sophistically justified the massacre. But what is happening now and on the scale is very different from 1984, 1990, and 2002 and so on.”

While referring to some of the headlines of one day of two mainstream publications where most of the headlines were against Muslims or minorities, Menon said there is a huge gap today in what the media is focusing and what it should highlight. We are all aware of the corporatisation of media houses but what is even more dangerous is that in media houses there are people sitting in top position are of communal minds. An ecosystem has developed in media similar to politics that those who can spread more poison of hate will get his position accordingly.

“These days’ media and media persons are being intimidated through various agencies. We all know about Siddique Kappan and many others in jails for simply doing their job and recently what happened with Mohd Zubair of Alt News. We generally don’t talk about the stress and mental health problem faced by journalists because of the prevailing situation and also because of financial constraints. However, I don’t see any change in the media in the future so long as our society and polity remain polluted with hate,” said Menon.

While elaborating on the spirit of national flag, its connectivity with the people, emotions attached with it and symbolism, Professor Apoorvanand, who teaches Hindi at Delhi University reminded what Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, and Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar had said that civil liberty is the soul of freedom and it cannot be compromised in any way. The nation has not made us but we have made the nation and state; therefore, the first right is of the people who are on the lowest level and how the government treats them and their safety would determine how Independence will be safeguarded. Very recently Supreme Court judgement in PMLA Act has converted India into a police state and we the people have no rights and it is also in the case of UAPA where citizens have no rights. If after 75 years, we have lost the rights which we had set for ourselves in our Constitution then how we celebrate Independence when we know that we have lost our rights.”

On hate-filled atmosphere, while referring to an incident in school where school administration had decided to take their students to see mosques and students were excited but it was cancelled after opposition from right wing Hindutva groups, he said, “In many schools such kind of incidents took place where the children and the school administration had no problem but the right wing forcefully stopped by claiming that Islamisation of schools is going on. It reveals that when teachers, administration, parents and children had no problem then there is a plenty of space still available in the society despite hate-filled atmosphere to work to promote fraternity, peace and unity.” 

Dr S.Q.R Ilyas, president of Welfare Party of India, in his presidential address, said, “When India became Independent, it had dreams and set some goals to achieve. Today after 75 years we have to see to what extent we have made progress in that direction. After Independence, we planned to make India not an autocratic state but a democratic country. The definition we made for our democracy was inclusive and participatory democracy and not only electoral democracy. In the last eight years we can see how bills are passed without debates, forget about the decision of the people. The manner in which some of the important bills are passed is not an indication of a health democracy.”

“The direction in which our democracy is moving forward where there is no room for dissent for individuals, media persons, politicians or anybody, it implies that it is moving toward an autocratic state. Today we don’t have the right to raise our voice against faulty policies of the government, rights of individuals and groups are being curtailed. No one can say how far the Hindu-Muslim binary which is being created will go,” said Dr Ilyas.

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