Even before the first general election, the Nehru regime introduced the First Amendment, which curtailed both freedom of expression and right to property.
As the nation celebrated 70 years of the Republic, Left-liberals fondly remembered the time when top leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and B.R. Ambedkar were at the helm of affairs. They were great leaders who cherished liberty, we are told. Look at the contemporary leaders, the intolerant boors—this is what intellectuals tell us. Therefore, it is time some unvarnished truths were told about the towering personalities.
The centralisation of powers, the shrunken sphere of liberty, and all the attendant malaises are not because of the contemporary politicians; depraved and corrupt though they—or most of them—are, but they did not commit the original deeds. Nehru, Patel, Rajagopalachari and Ambedkar did that, for they were the men responsible for the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Soon after becoming our political masters, these and such men decided that nothing should come in their way to imposing their ideologies, ideas and diktats. Even before the first general election was held, in May 1951, the Nehru regime introduced the First Amendment, which curtailed both the freedom of expression and the right to property.
All in the name of “punishing or preventing abuse of this freedom [of expression]” and promoting “agrarian reform measures”. This was the beginning of socialism in India—very nice and innocuous. Over the years, it would lead to the centralisation of all authority, egregious state intervention in the economy, leading to the abrogation of a Fundamental Right—the right to property, which is now merely a legal right. And you know what? It is hurting the poor, the intended beneficiaries of socialism, more than the rich; this is evident from the protests that erupt regularly all over the country over land acquisition.
Free speech has also eroded to such an extent that filmmakers get thrashed merely on the suspicion of having hurt somebody’s sentiments and people are slapped with criminal cases for having written a book. The very First Amendment to the Constitution introduced “reasonable restrictions” on freedom of expression and the right to property. The effect in several instances was to ban or subdue any opinion, whether on the Left or the Right, that was unfavourable to Nehru, the politician whom intellectuals regard as a great liberal.
The instant provocations for the First Amendment were: ban on Romesh Thapar’s Left-leaning magazine, Crossroads by the Madras government, which was set aside by the courts on the grounds that it was ultra vires of the Constitutional provisions related to the freedom of expression; and Nehru’s displeasure with the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser. Also, there was the issue of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, insisting on “Akhand Bharat”.
Therefore, the Nehru government decided to circumscribe the freedom of expression and other Fundamental Rights, thus initiating a process which ultimately led to the scrapping of one fundamental right, the right to property, in 1978 and weakening of fundamental rights in general.
We are fed the narrative that Nehru was an erudite liberal, who had the temperament and tenderness of a poet, and the prudence of a statesman. Few would doubt his erudition, but fewer would call him tolerant if all the facts about the First Amendment are made public, which are not because of silence by Leftists and liberals, and the ignorance of Indian Rightists.
On the floor of Parliament, Nehru justified the curtailment of free speech: “It has become a matter of the deepest distress to me to see from day to day some of these news sheets which are full of vulgarity and indecency and falsehood day after day not injuring me or this House much, but poisoning the mind of the younger generation, degrading their mental integrity and moral standards.”
By the way, corrupting the youth was one of the charges against Socrates; it looks like Nehru would have supported the great philosopher’s prosecutors. Besides, as John Stuart Mill wrote in the introductory section of his great work, On Liberty, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
Therefore, the right to freedom of expression includes the right to disseminate vulgarity and indecency and falsehood. Come to think of it, most of our movies, television shows and news channels do just that all the time; they should be allowed to do that so long as they don’t harm others.
And what, pray, did Law Minister Ambedkar and Home Ministers Patel and Rajagopalachari do? They fully agreed with Nehru. It was noteworthy that Ambedkar was suspicious of the attitude of the Supreme Court, which “ought not to be invested with absolute power to determine which limitations on Fundamental Rights were proper”.
Patel favoured curbs on free speech. He wrote to Nehru, “My own feeling is that very soon we shall have to sit down and consider constitutional amendments.”
Rajagopalachari, who later set up a party favouring free market, went to the extent of suggesting that the restrictions on the Fundamental Rights need not be even “reasonable.”
The point to be noted here is that Independent India never has had any leaders who, when in office, respected personal liberty and civil rights. Nearly all men can stand adversity, Abraham Lincoln said, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
Men who set restrictive precedents and made laws that embraced the ideology of socialism sowed the wind. The country is reaping the whirlwind.