Friday, April 21, 2017

M.N.Roy Memorial Lecture: Free Speech, Nationalism and Sedition by Justice AP Shah

M.N. Roy Lecture by Justice A. P. Shah (retired) 
April 19, 2017, Speaker Hall, Constitution Club, New Delhi. 
Organised under the aegis of The Indian Renaissance Institute
Short excerpt of the lecture / Full text is available in PDF below

A. Introduction: “A parochial, selfish, narrow minded nationalism has caused so much misfortune and misery to the world. A mad and exaggerated form of this cult of nationalism is today running rampant....” This statement made by M.N. Roy, as far back as 1942, may resonate with many even today, particularly in these times we live in. Good evening, Justice Chalmeswar, Mr. Pancholi and distinguished members of audience. It is a privilege and an honour to be here to deliver the M.N. Roy Memorial lecture today.

M.N. Roy was a leading intellectual and thinker, and an activist philosopher, who was deeply involved in the Humanist Movement. He was critical of the fundamentals of Indian nationalism and the ideology of nationalism in general, particularly in light of the rise of Fascism and Nazism and the outbreak of the Second World War. Roy left India during the earlier part of the First World War as a full-blooded nationalist, but changed his views after much reflection and new political experiences. 

He founded the Communist Party of Mexico in 1919, the first Communist Party outside Russia. During the second World Congress of Communist International, Roy helped formulate the famous Thesis on the National and Colonial Question by Lenin, although he disagreed with Lenin on the class composition of the leadership of the nationalist movement in colonies. Subsequently, on account of disagreements with Stalin, Roy returned to India in December 1930.

His return, however, was short lived. In July 1931, he was arrested on charges of sedition for the Bolshevik Conspiracy Case and tried in Kanpur Jail, without any open trial. He was sentenced to jail for 12 years, and was eventually released within six years at the age of 36. Thereafter, Roy joined the Congress, although he ultimately fell out with them on account of their reluctance to support the British to oppose fascism (which he considered to be a greater evil) in the Second World War.

After India became independent, Roy became a chief proponent of the idea of “radical humanism”, which he described as “a new humanism”. He continued writing on nationalism and on its economic and political aspects. In 1944, he drafted a “Constitution of Free India”, where he included a chapter on “Declaration of Fundamental Rights” which clearly stated that a “right to revolt against tyranny and oppression is sacred”.

B. The Situation Today: Roy’s ideas thus covered a broad range of topics, including speech and dissent. In fact, that is exactly why I have chosen to speak on Nationalism, Free Speech and Sedition for this memorial lecture. Today, we are living in a world where we are forced to stand for the national anthem at a movie theatre, we are told what we can and cannot eat, what we can and cannot see, and what we can and cannot speak about. Dissent, especially in the university space, is being curbed, and sloganeering and flag raising have become tests for nationalism. We have a 21-year old University student who is subject to severe online hate, abuse, and threats, only because she dared express her views... read more: 

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