The 8th Upendra Vajpeyi Memorial Lecture was delivered by former Governor of West Bengal and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi Mr. Gopalkrishna Gandhi on 1st April in India International Center New Delhi. The topic of the lecture was India vs Union of India and it was attended by a large number of ex government officials, academicians and journalists.
He recognized Mr. Vajpeyi as “somebody who represented the spirit of the free press and therefore by extension the need for freedom of expression.”
Mr. Vajpeyi was an eminent journalist and founder of Media India Centre for Research and Development(MICRD).
He said that he would have delighted at the recent verdict of Supreme Court Shreya Singhal vs Union of India, which has held the plea of the plaintiff and struck down 66A of the I.T. Act.
In his lecture Gandhi explained that it is the glory and virtue of Indian democracy that both the government and civil society work together for a better and prosperous India and whenever government fails to fulfill its duties the civil society raise their concern through various mediums and force government to pay attention to it.
“We do not need to shine in comparative glory. We look around us at near budding countries with their own problems, but the fact is that we are blessed to have an extremely vibrant and vigilant polity, which keeps the government on its base which keeps the Union of India on its base,” he stated.
“The Union of India is one entity but India that is Bharat has a centuries old tradition, the legislatures and Parliament formulate laws in paragraphs but movements in the country write chapters,” he added.
He cited examples of various fasts and sit ins against governments in various periods of times in independent India, including 1952 Potti Sriramulu fast for Andhra, Sant Fateh Singh’s fast in 1960-61, Medha Patkar’s fast for Narmada Bachao Andolan, Anna Hazare’s fast against corruption and Irom Sharmila’s on going fast in Manipur against AFSPA.
Gandhi said that it was people of India who acted strongly and swiftly whenever they feel that it is necessary to agitate and raise their voice.
“ India against the Union of India, not in a sense of a permanent battle, but in a sense of saying, this is what we want and since you were not able to do it by your own likes, do it by our likes. We will agitate and will tell you how intensive the issue is,” he explained.
He termed PILs as an extraordinary achievement for the court and plaintiffs both and said that these are also amounted as India vs the Union of India inside the courtrooms. He also gave examples of various pleas before courts under PIL where landmark judgments were announced by the courts.
“There was an advocate for government, there was an advocate for the plaintiff, first defensiveness on the part of the union, but then the Court comes in strongly in favour of reform justifying Dr. Ambedkar’s claim that the Constitution is a living document,” he stated.
“ Let us not imagine that the government is in error all the time, that the government is shying away from its responsibility, it is hiding things; it is shirking its responsibilities It is doing a little of that all the time,” he added.
He said that people who are representing us and elected by us need our help to address several issues and concerns which society are facing today.
Citing examples of several movements, including the social activist Aruna Roy’s movement in Rajasthan which was instrumental to create landmark The Right to Information Act in 2005 he said that it
“It was nothing but a movement, no political party would have got it for us that movement got us this extraordinary Right to Information Act. In every village today, RTI is known from North to South, East to West, three letter English word RTI is known,” Gandhi pointed out.
Citing examples of several movements, including the social activist Aruna Roy’s movement in Rajasthan which was instrumental to create landmark The Right to Information Act in 2005 he said that RTI act is an extraordinary achievement of post-independence India and without naming any authority he criticized the government for not appointing the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).
“We may not have all possible combinations at their best in one person, but surely we can produce a good CIC. Does it take one year and then there is an RTI,” he questioned.
Questioning that why the tobacco lobby is so strong, he said that there is no difference between the two governments, tobacco lobby is at work.
“I am not looking at it morally I am looking at it in terms of the lobby, what is it that makes the lobby so entrenched that one Health Secretary is sacked. Dr. Harsh Vardhan cannot keep the Health portfolio in this Government.”
He raised concern and said that there is a strong hold of plastic lobby in our country.
He also mentioned issues like e-waste, nuclear waste telling that all these are questions, inter-twined with each other that require a movement.
Gandhi mentioned third degree torture by investigating agencies and police and said there is something we are completely oblivious.
“Our country lives with contradictions. We are in this octagonal hall, not far from here, there must be a place where somebody is being interrogated and interrogation in our country starts with physical assault,” he added.
He said that only policemen is not responsible for it alone and they have been doing what they have been traditionally told, but it is very important that what we are doing about it.
He said that we as people will spring to action, if one of our own family, children, relatives gets arrested for something and they are under trial. Then we will know what this means, but if it is not my problem, if it is not my distress, it is not important.
“India vs Union of India, is actually a choreography of cooperation, not of antagonism. But it requires alertness and leadership on the part of the JPs (Jayaprakash Narayan) in all of us to convert that into reality,” he concluded.
The program was presided by senior journalist and Member of Parliament H.K. Dua moderated by Ramamohan Rao, president of MICRD.