It’s Free Speech: Gadkari Defends Garlanding Lynching Convicts

Book launch sees speech by former President Pranab Mukherjee and bipartisan panel discussion on India’s identity

Published14 Aug 2018, 08:29 PM IST
4 min read
In this government, we have never taken any decision on the basis of caste, creed or religion, language. We are fair with all stakeholders of society.
Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday, 14 August, denied that the BJP had undermined or compromised India’s secular identity, arguing that an impression to the contrary had been created by their opponents because of their political interests. “We are very clear, we do not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, faith and language. That is the basic feeling of my party, my leader, Prime Minister and government.

Mr Gadkari was speaking at a panel discussion to commemorate the launch of ‘India’s Vibgyor Man’ a collection of the writings and speeches of LM Singhvi (OUP, 2018).

Singhvi, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1998, had a decorated career as a lawyer, diplomat, and politician, and was an author of several books in English and Hindi - hence the title of the book, which has been edited by his son Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Dr Lokendra Malik. 

Speeches by Pranab Mukherjee and AM Singhvi

The book’s release was accompanied by a speech from former President of India Pranab Mukherjee, who paid tribute to LM Singhvi, saying:

‘It is indeed a pleasure to be dwelling upon a personality that had different hues and colours. A jurist, a politician, a prolific writer, and a poet. Dr LM Singhvi was a true post-independence Renaissance Man who strode diverse fields with equal mastery and consummate ease.’

The launch event also paid tribute to Singhvi’s ability to reach across the aisle (he was part of the BJP, while his son is a prominent member of the Congress) with a panel discussion between politicians from a range of political affiliations, moderated by Karan Thapar.

Gadkari was joined by Congress MPs Anand Sharma and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, BJD MP Pinaki Mishra, SAD MP Naresh Gujral, TMC MP Dinesh Trivedi, and former MP Pavan Varma to discuss the topic:

“Is India Losing its Identity or Realising it?”

During the course of the discussion, several panelists brought up the unease which had been created in the country under the current regime, especially for minorities, and the way in which breaches of the law like lynchings were taking place because the mobs felt they had immunity to do so.

I think we are being a little oversimplistic in saying the fringe is responsible for these incidents. That is a way of avoiding the issue. I agree, that a large part of it is the fringe” said Singhvi.

But when you have high officials, you have even ministers, MPs, you have officials at different levels of the party, people in constitutional positions, and then you have complete, eloquent silence and indeed at various levels and in various ways, a wink and a nod, that is the problem.

Gadkari Defends Jayant Sinha’s Garlanding of Jharkhand Lynching Convicts

The discussion stayed remarkably civil throughout despite the presence of members of so many different political parties, and the key takeaway for much of the evening was, in fact, Nitin Gadkari’s disarming charm and wit.

However, controversy arose during the Q&A session with the audience, when Gadkari was asked (as a riposte to his claim that the BJP did not in any way support the lynchings in the country) about the recent incident where Minister of State Jayant Sinha garlanded a number of men convicted for the lynching of Alimuddin Ansari in Jharkhand.

Gadkari initially tried to shrug off the question, calling it a case where the convicts took photos with Sinha, who didn’t know who they were.

“If someone appears in a photo with someone else, can we hold them responsible for what that person has done?” asked Gadkari. “Are we going to bring a law like this in our country? I think it would be an injustice.”

Karan Thapar, however, pointed out that Sinha did not take photos with just any random members of the public, adding that these were recognised convicts, whom Sinha consciously garlanded at an event to honour them. “Surely you can’t excuse him on those grounds?” he asked.

Gadkari’s response raised more than a few eyebrows.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari at the event.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari at the event.
(Photo: The Quint)
You talk of fundamental rights. You talk about our democratic rights. During Emergency, you all talked about freedom of speech...Whoever is garlanding whom, what does it matter to you? (Aapko kya lena dena hai?) This is an individual matter... You tell me, those who talk about fundamental rights and democratic rights, everyone is free to do what they want.
Nitin Gadkari

He then went on to say, “I believe we have to assess things according to democratic principles. We shouldn’t give such matters too much importance. If he’s wrong, society will take its anger out on him. Why are you so bothered about this?

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