We use cookies for site personalization, analytics and advertising. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

Hope springs eternal

India
Politics
Raghuram Rajan

Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan. Financial Times under a Creative Commons Licence

‘L’Affaire JNU’ – the recent agitation on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, complete with conflicting versions of what actually happened, showed that our freedom of speech – the whole Indian human rights scenario – is at a nadir, for sure. Yet the fact that students all over the country came out to protest the right to dissent was refreshing and uplifting. It seemed as if, after a long, long time, young people were moving from the comfort zone of their computers and mobile phones, and from armchair online activist mode, to being back on the streets. They were seen; their vociferous protests were heard. And their actions were reported in newspapers all over the world. The impact was tremendous, in a way that mere online protests could never be. There will, of course, be diverse opinions on whether this is good or bad! But to me, those students, bless them, gave us something to cheer about.

Chhatisgarh is a state with probably the worst current human rights record in India. Here, adivasis, India’s indigenous people, are being massacred as [communist guerrilla] Naxalites by special armed forces. And as informers and traitors by the Naxalites. Soni Sori is a brave adivasi activist who has been fighting for justice for her people. In a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Soni wrote:

‘Giving electric shocks, stripping me naked, shoving stones inside me – is this going to solve the Naxal problem?’  

Last week, brave women journalists left the state after continuous harassment, verbal abuse, physical attacks on their families and threats to vulnerable local staff working with them. A more dismal scenario is difficult to envisage.

After a physical assault on her a few days ago was reported by every major newspaper, Soni has been offered state protection. It is a minute, possibly miserably small step forward. But it is definitely a tiny victory for freedom.

The attacks on JNU students have prompted several serious writers to provide detailed and sombre analyses of our current political scenario, with dire predictions that we are on the precipice of another Emergency, shades of 1975-77, a 21-month period when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unilaterally had a state of ‘emergency’ declared across the Indian nation.  

Yet, in a move that has definitely shocked the entire financial and corporate world, quite apart from all of us lesser mortals, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Dr Raghuram Rajan, in an unprecedented, almost unbelievably gutsy move, delivered a speech totally veering off the expected. He plunged into the political arena, talking about how Hitler ran trains on time, yet finally took the country to economic ruin! (During the Emergency, PM Indira Gandhi proved equally disastrous.) Rajan proceeded to ask difficult questions. Political ones. ‘How do countries ensure political freedom and economic prosperity? Why do the two seem to go together?’ The sheer audacity and unexpectedness of this speech has taken everyone’s breath away, collectively.

In a week that has been bloody awful really, I thank this man, on behalf of the people of India, and all freedom-loving people everywhere, from the bottom of my heart. There are misgivings from many quarters about his fiscal and economic philosophy, but that’s another story.

This morning, for some inexplicable reason, I woke up with a song on my brain. It’s a beautiful poem by our national poet, Rabindranath Tagore. ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Into that heaven of freedom my father, let my country awake.’

Thank you, Governor Raghuram Rajan, for upholding those cherished ideas and having the moral courage to speak for the country.

Help us keep this site free for all

Editor Portrait New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.

Support us » payment methods

Subscribe   Ethical Shop