Manmohan quotes Voltaire on respecting dissent

Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have expressed delight at his "return'' to a university campus on Monday morning, but with a small section of Jawaharlal Nehru University students' community greeting him with black flags and slogan shouting, Dr. Singh's stress on the need for a liberal thought process went well beyond the speech.

His first visit to the campus after taking over as Prime Minister, Dr. Singh — who had served as an honorary professor at the university — was forced to delay his speech by a few minutes when student representatives of All India Students' Association (AISA) supported by some other small groups started shouting slogans and displaying black flags to express their disapproval of Dr. Singh's visit.

Despite an appeal by Vice-Chancellor B.B. Bhattacharya, Rector Rajendra Prasad and the JNU Students' Union vice-president Dhananjay Tripathi, the students refused to calm down. The Prime Minister eventually deciding to go ahead with his speech.

Though his speech remained disrupted for most by the shouting and fights happening in the gallery, Dr. Singh carried on praising the university for its "vibrant, pulsating academic life brimming with ideas and thoughts'', which he pointed out were traits of an outstanding institution.

The Prime Minister earlier unveiled a statue of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the campus as part of the university's annual day celebrations.

While the angry and upset students protesting against certain polices of the Congress-led Government at the Centre decided to put forward their view through slogans, Dr. Singh responded in his own way. "I do sincerely believe that a university is built on the foundation of liberalism. It can never thrive without the assurance of a liberal environment,'' said Dr. Singh, adding: "Every member of a university community, if he or she wishes to aspire to be worthy of the university, must accept the truth of Voltaire's classic statement. Voltaire proclaimed, I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it. That idea must be the corner-stone of a liberal institution.''

Pointing out that there was a larger purpose of a university, he remarked that "you have come to secure something more than just understanding of a science or an art, something more than earning a passport to a job''.

"A university provides the environment in which we evolve as responsible citizens of the world. We learn here the art and science of seeking truth. We learn here the principles of engaging in a dialogue. We learn here as much as we unlearn. For both learning and unlearning are two sides of the same coin of seeking truth, of seeking knowledge''.

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