Greatness will elude India unless there’s support for free speech


Greatness will elude India unless there's support for free speech; it's people, not governments which make the nation

If you ask Indians what sort of India they want, almost all will said they want a powerful and prosperous one. The most powerful nation on the globe is the United States of America, which is also one of the most prosperous. It has an economy 10 times the size of India’s and it has one fourth the population. This means that in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the US is 40 times India’s size per person.

We want to be a nation like the United States of America, which is rich, large, militarily powerful, and feared and respected by the rest of the world. There is another type of powerful nation which is China. It is also rich (China’s economy is six times bigger than India’s) and strong militarily.

What is the difference between the power of these two nations? I think this comes down to another question: who and what makes the country powerful? In India, the anticipation is that it’s the government. It is a strong leader like the present prime minister who will produce something special with his genius. He will do the work that is required to transform India. I have known Narendra Modi personally for many years and I can say that he also believes that.

China has more or less followed the same philosophy of the government taking the lead. It’s also undeniably true that the Chinese people are very talented and extremely hardworking. And if you go to the nations of Southeast Asia, like Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore and to places like the western United States, you will notice this quality in the Chinese immigrants. But it has been the Communist government and one-man rule that has led the way to their modern strength. In many ways, however, this has been a limited strength. The lack of freedom has meant that China is not particularly inventive. And this will lastly stop it from matching America.

In the US, the assumption and the belief are that it is the people who make the nation and that it’s the people who will bring greatness. All that is required from the government is to give them space and freedom to do so.

The First Amendment of the American constitution was written 227 years ago. It states that the government can make no law that restricts free speech. If you are wondering what that means, the First Amendment gives an individual the power to say the most hateful and vulgar things in the United States without fear of being called anti-national or urban Naxal.

In India, we have traditionally had a lot of freedom when it comes to the expression of the nature of God and of reality. But there is not much freedom when it comes to expressions of the nature of the nation and its people. The levels of tolerance are low both from the government and society on many things.

If there is a duration when the western world saw decline it is the period in which free thinking was curbed, as it is being in India today. This period is called the Middle Ages. A mix of feudalism, illiteracy and the church produced this period of decay. In this same period, the Islamic kingdoms in Baghdad and southern Spain valued learning and free speech and they became great powers. The history of man has usually supported the American form of a nation’s rise to greatness rather than the Chinese form. It is freedom not uniformity that produces greatness.

Unfortunately, we have not had much support from our courts as the Americans have had. And so there has not been much resistance to the suppression of free speech. This is why most Indians today believe that it is not only wrong to say certain things, but also that there should be no right to say them.

Till we continue to go down that path, true greatness will elude this nation, no matter how brilliant the individual at the helm may be.

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