President Pranab Mukherjee appealed for free speech and a space for dissent in colleges. (PTI)
In his home state for an event, President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday chose to drift from a draft address making an impassioned plea for free speech and dissent, telling the audience that he is ready to believe India is argumentative but not intolerant. The comments drew interest as they come in the wake of yet another high-profile campus clash earlier this year
in Delhi where members of left-wing student organisations alleged they were attacked by a right-wing student union linked to the ruling BJP over a controversial event on dissent.
"Our academic environment and institutional atmosphere should be free from violence. Not only free from physical violence but also mental violence. Indians, as Professor Amartya Sen said, Indians may be described as argumentative but it can never be said that we are intolerant. And particularly the seat of our higher academic institutions which are always known for its liberalism, confluence of various thoughts, ideas and disciplines and views," he said at the 52nd annual convocation of Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.
"As in a garden, a thousand floors blossom. Why not let a hundred schools of thought contain in the university campuses? In the places of higher learning, let there be debate. Let there be disagreement. Let there be dissent. But let there not be confrontation, let there not be intolerance," President Mukherjee added.
Adding that the message was not planned, he said, "I have departed from the written text of my speech and I apologise for it. But being a fellow Calcuttan and being a son of the soil, I thought I should frankly express some of my views as I speak from my heart. If I have touched anyone's sentiment I apologise for it."
And he ended the speech with another appeal for tolerance saying, "I am ready to accept that I am argumentative but I am not ready to accept that I am intolerant. India is a land of tolerance, India is the land of the Buddha, India is the land of Gandhi, India is land of Ashoka, and India is the land Chaitanya. We accept, we absorb, we adopt, and we embrace. We don't reject anybody. Please keep that in mind."