Atanu Dey On India's Development

The First Amendment

Mera America Mahan

Every time I see the painted slogan “Mera Bharat Mahan” on the rear bumpers of trucks, it gives me a jolt. The jolt is a mixture of incredulity, pride, cynicism and hope. Pride in my motherland forces a desperate hope that it is true while my innate cynicism dismisses the idea that India is great as incredible.

For many years I have wondered whether there was something that could make India great. Was there a single thing — a policy, a principle, an action, an accident, anything — that could guide India’s path to whatever greatness is potential in it? What if I compared India to other nations, both successful and failed — will I be able to discern that one single thing? I think I am slowly coming around to the viewpoint that there is such a thing that could be the candidate instrument I have been looking for. I think the US has it and India does not.

Superficial Similarities

The oft repeated similarities between the US and India — both are democracies and melting pots — are superficial and don’t withstand any degree of scrutiny. The dissimilarities are much greater and are significant in explaining why the US is successful and India is not. The most significant difference, I believe, is in the constitutions of the two countries. I have briefly touched upon that topic on this blog but now I would like to zoom in on what I consider the most essential difference between India and the US.

What makes America great has to be the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment was adopted on Dec 15th, 1791. It was the first of ten amendments to the US Constitution referred to as the the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment — among other things — built a wall separating the state and religion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802, he believed:

that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. [emphasis added]

What the First Amendment does principally is it protects the individual from the tyranny of groups — and therefore from the state. It does not allow the state to crush the individual for its own ends. It guarantees an American the freedom of and from religion. It guarantees the American the freedom of expression, and the freedom of assembly. These rights cannot be taken away from him by any act of Congress.

Let me spell out what the government cannot do to an American:

1. It cannot force an American to support any religion. It cannot tax an American citizen and then use that money to promote a particular religion.

2. It cannot force an American from speaking his mind or expressing himself in any form.

3. It cannot prevent an American from peaceful assembly.

4. It cannot prevent an American from suing the government.

India does not have such a constitutional protection of the individual.

1. The government of India taxes Indian citizens to promote religion. Politicians find this liberty very useful for votes.

2. The government of India prohibits free speech. It regularly bans books and harasses authors.

3. The government of India prohibits peaceful assembly whenever it finds it advantageous for vote-bank politics.

In India, the government is powerful compared to the individual. It exercises that power regularly to suppress individual rights. Why is it important to curb the power of the government in a democracy? Because otherwise vote bank politics give the government the incentive to trample on individuals. And when the individual is trampled beneath the government boot, the society suffers and over sufficient time, poverty is the inevitable consequence.

Recently in the news

Item: “State Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala Friday asked Kerala State Women’s Commission chairperson Justice D. Sreedevi to quit after the panel decided to recommend a minimum age for girls to become nuns.”

Item: Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy of the Congress Party directed the police not to allow the [Ahmadia] community to hold its meeting at any public place as this could create law and order problems in the city.

A delegation of Muslim groups led by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi had called on the chief minister Monday to demand that the Ahmadiya, also called Qadianis, should not be allowed to hold their conference.

The controversial sect was to hold its meeting at the Public Gardens, in the heart of the city…

The delegation comprising several clerics said the activities of the sect [like this one, for example?] were hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims as it calls itself Ahmadiya Muslims and warned that the permission to hold a meeting could create law and order problems.

Item: Reservations based on religious affiliation basically are an inducement for people to convert to that religion. Too many examples to recount over here.

Item: Subsidizing Haj travel. This is the most immoral of them all. It taxes Indians who have no reason to promote Islam. This tax is perhaps more immoral than the jaziya that the Muslim rulers forced their kaffir subjects to pay. The Indian government is not an Islamic government and therefore should not force non-believers to pay a tax to support Islam.

Mera Bharat is not Mahan

It is unlikely that Mera Bharat will ever become mahan because it does not have the equivalent of the First Amendment. Lacking that First Amendment, the government of India is free to pitch one religious group against another. This does create conflict and this conflict will only intensify as the government gets more and more bold in dividing the nation on religious lines.

If India does not wake up and restrict the power of the government, India will never become great.

Links:

Go read an article in today’s NY Times: “Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech”.

Also see my post comparing the US and Indian constitutions.

Read The Secular Lakshman Rekha by Varnam, and Secular India, my foot by the Rational Fool.

Marvel at the Prayers for Chief Ministers. (Thanks Kashyap Patel.)

  • lurker

    Atanu’s political views are thoroughly confused.

    One one hand he believes that lack of freedom is cause of India’s ills. On the other hand he proposes paternalistic dictatorship of Lee Kuan as answer to India’s problems. There he would argue that he prefers economic freedom over political freedom because that alone can solve our problems.

    The full argument is this: I want first ammendment for myself because I value my freedom. However for the ignorant masses I prefer paternalistic dictatorship because I know what is best for them and I do not want any objections from them against thrusting my remedy down their throats.

  • lurker

    Dear Atanu,

    I’m an Indian who is a student at USA.

    You have mentioned in your blog post this- “It cannot force an American from speaking his mind or expressing himself in any form”.

    In that case, you might want to watch this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7Qef8oPmag

    Also read the comments and read the story from the campus newspaper. http://www.alligator.org/articles/2007/09/18/news/campus/arrest.txt

  • http://honestlynagpur.blopspot.com kaunteya

    luker#2 : ya, thats matured.
    pick up a random story and twist it..
    wot about kerry’s freedom of speech? imagine this happening at sonia gandhi’s meeting.wouldn’t surprise me if the guy wud be lynched.

    lurker#1: you amuse me

  • lurker

    kaunteya: Bombing innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan and rest of the countries and then holding press meetings in the country ( USA ) and telling its citizens that we are doing it to fish out the WMDs is indeed freedom of speech :)

    I’m not also surprised that some of those who questioned 9/11 investigations have vanished without a trace.

  • http://idlinginc.blogspot.com idlinginc
  • lurker

    For lurker #2, it’s important to note that the the First Amendment has time/place/manner restrictions. You can say what you like, but you don’t always have the right to say it whenever you want, however you want, wherever you want. This is required just to keep society functioning – otherwise you’d have protesters regularly shutting down downtown streets, or disrupting *others* who are exercising their freedom of speech.

    It’s obviously a careful balancing act – make the time/place/manner restrictions too harsh, and you’re basically eliminating the right (“you can only gather on Tuesdays with a full moon in this field”), but make it too loose, and you end up with idiots infringing on the rights of others. Cases go to the courts fairly often, and normally the restrictions are extremely lax.

    For instance, there’s a crazy anti-gay church/nutjobs group that regularly protests funerals of anyone slightly connected to gay rights (Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain, military for “don’t ask, don’t tell”, Amish girls killed by mass shooter for lord know what connection, etc). They shout the most horrific, hateful things while families try to bury their dead. I think the latest court ruling is that they must hold their protests at least 50 ft away from the cemetery, and can’t protest during the interval of one hour before burial to one hour afterwards. So, yeah, really lax even for some pretty horrible hate speech.

  • lurker

    Hi Atanu,

    Good post, but it seems like an apples to oranges comparison… you started out with the pretense of comparing the US & Indian constitutions… and I expected an objective comparative analysis of the two.

    Instead, this post really compares US Constitution and Indian Politicians… you can compare US & Indian politicians or US & Indian constitutions, but going across just seems strange to me.

    In any case, I do think that the Indian constitution has some major issues, and really ought to be trashed for a newer constitution that easier to “update”… but the American constitution has it’s issues also.

    For example, Bush & buddies could lie through their teeth to congress saying they have “concrete evidence” when they had none… they can also pass laws like the patriot act and LEGALLY lock people up indefinitely without habius corpus [or trials, for that matter].

    Also, Bush can “pardon” all his buddies for any crime saying that the punishment was “excessive”… if you want to talk about politicians, you have to talk about these people…

    Look, there’s stupid politicians everywhere… India, US, Pakistan, Egypt… and each country’s constitution has positives and negatives. Unless you’re posting just to “flame”, you have to provide some sort of balanced analysis.

    You said that you’ve read the entire Indian constitution… why don’t you cite examples of the disparity?

  • rishi

    I have always believed that India needs a First Amendment Law as stringent as the one in the US.

    The fact that we do not have it, has diminished the value of the individual and increased the value of groups or mobs. Then we should not complain when we have mobocracy.

  • http://oshantomon.blogspot.com baransam

    Freedom of speech is an absolute must, as long as the speech is made in an access controlled mode. In India, this freedom has been violated by all. I have listed a few of them at my blog.
    I remain hopeful though. I trust India’s current political system to bring freedom-of-speech for all at the appropriate time (i.e. when everybody is ready for it).

  • lurker

    I agree with your initial statement, though I’ve heard your last argument before baransam. Not sure though how one would define “everybody”, or the “right time”. Perhaps how we became market friendly at the right time?

    I do firmly believe in the freedom of expression. The US First Amendment is indeed truly beautiful and though I have no doubt the Indian Drafting Committee would have wanted the same, somewhere in history we slipped.

    However, I must add that the US is truly unique, even in the west, in how strongly this freedom is upheld. Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and even the Netherlands have laws that ban hate speech to some extent. India is not alone.

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/11/america/hate.php

    - Sandipan

  • http://clueso.wordpress.com clueso

    This article strikes me as being a rather unfair comparison of the ideal(constitution) and the reality(behaviour of politicians).

    Though I have not read it, I am sure the Indian constitution does say that people have a right to religion,speech etc etc because India was founded on secular, democratic principles. What has become of those principles is a different matter, but at least that was the basis.

    The difference is that the American public is better educated, have better access to media and overall are in a financial situation where they can think about the state of the country and how it is being run. The poor in India are probably too busy thinking about where their next meal comes from, never mind bringing political leaders to task. Since there are so many of these poor, illiterate lot, Indian politicians can blatantly use topics like religion, caste, community etc to gather votes and stay in power. In the US, they need to be a bit more sophisticated.

    America has a very strong religion christian lobby as mentioned in this article and they can have quite major effects on political policy as mentioned in this article. In this example, the resulting policies may have done some good, but it would be naive to think that that would always be the case. If there is a strong lobby, I think it would be foolish to assume it would not be milked by someone or the other.

    Another good example is the Patriot act which gives the government such HUGE powers over the individual. Uncovering of CIA redition flights and systems such as the FBI’s ,a href=”http://news.zdnet.co.uk/emergingtech/0,1000000183,2080108,00.htm”>Carnivore proves that the US government is no great friend of the public. It tolerates it as long as it behaves, but then thats nothing special. Since a lot of the Americans will not swallow a religious bait, they are currently using a “war on terror” one instead.

    The way I see it, there will be two kinds of people in the population. One would be the well off ones, who would probably raise a hue and cry if you tell them that even an inch of their civil liberties are being forsaken. The second are the poor, who have more important things to think about and don’t care two hoots for civil liberties. In India, we have more of the second type and the politics is in the open, in the US, the first category is prevalent and the politicians need to be more subtle. At the end of the day, politicians do what is required to try and stay in power. Sometimes it appears/is packaged as palatable, sometimes not. But it will always exist.

    I agree the US government has done good by not interfering in things the way India’s socialist government did. I also admire the americans for some of their achievements, especially in technology and education. But I don’t think the country is as rosy as you paint it to be.

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  • pankaj

    Bharaat is “Mahaan” a entity can be Mahaan in good or in bad. There is no 1 from the top and from the bottom, india is mahaan from the bottom

  • lurker

    The contrast between the Indian and US constitutions cannot be more stark. While the first amendment of the US constitution guarantees free speech, that of the Indian constitution imposes curbs on this vital fundamental right. Here is an excerpt from an article titled “Meaning of Freedom” describing a memorable exchange of words between Nehru and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee durng the debate that led to the first amendment– this appeared in the Time magazine edition dated June 11 1951
    ‘As Nehru explained it: “We should not only give the press freedom, but make it understand that freedom.” There was a lot of doubt whether Nehru himself understood the meaning of freedom. His excuse for requesting the law: the scurrilous outpouring of Indian scandal sheets. But as the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference pointed out: there was nothing to prevent the government from using its new powers against the legitimate press when & if it chose.’
    Please see : http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,814881,00.html for the complete article.
    Also see http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,890076,00.html on this topic

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  • lurker

    The first amendment also placed curbs on property rights to provide the legal framework for implementing Nehru’s socialist agenda of land redistribution.
    Nehru’s attitude towards property rights during the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly is also described in Arun Shourie’s article “Manu of his Times”. See excerpt below:
    ‘a section led by Sardar Patel had wanted that the Constitution provide for compensation on the lines of the existing Land Acquisition Act, namely market price plus 15 per cent; Pandit Nehru wanted that no compensation should be provided for at all;’
    Also see http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/ambedkar.htm for the entire article.
    Nehru’s increasing impatience towards the constitution is also described in the Time article ‘Nehru moves left’ dated 25 Oct 1954. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823573,00.html
    ‘The constitution has a “fundamental rights” clause, which guarantees private property from seizure without good compensation.
    “Now Is the Time.” Nehru now sees the anti-seizure clause as an obstacle to “social justice.” Said he recently to a big crowd near Bombay: “The constitution is not as sacred as some think . . . These things chain us.”’
    As also this excerpt from Time article titled “Five Year Plan” dated Oct 17 1955 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807766,00.html
    ‘Nehru has long argued, as Britain’s Laborites now do, that socialism is feasible without full nationalization. But Nehru favors controls over private enterprise. “An army,” he explained, “does not occupy a country by placing a soldier in every nook and cranny: a gun mounted on a hill enables an army to control surrounding areas effectively.”
    One of Nehru’s weapons is a constitutional amendment passed last spring. It empowered the government to seize needed agricultural and slum property without paying full compensation, for, otherwise, as Nehru saw it, “the haves will remain haves and the have-nots will remain havenots.” Parliament gave him more ammunition last month by cracking down on the managing agency system, that dates from the English East India Co.’s practice of handling ventures for absentee owners. Today, 22 of the largest managing agencies control 23% of India’s industrial assets. The new law entitles the government to put two men on any board of directors and to veto appointments of and salary raises for other corporate directors.’

  • lurker

    The first amendment also placed curbs on property rights to provide the legal framework for implementing Nehru’s socialist agenda of land redistribution.
    Nehru’s attitude towards property rights during the deliberations that occurred when the Indian Constitution was being drawn up is also described in Arun Shourie’s article “Manu of his Times”. See excerpt below:
    ‘a section led by Sardar Patel had wanted that the Constitution provide for compensation on the lines of the existing Land Acquisition Act, namely market price plus 15 per cent; Pandit Nehru wanted that no compensation should be provided for at all;’
    Also see http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/ambedkar.htm for the entire article.
    Nehru’s increasing impatience towards the constitution is also described in the Time article ‘Nehru moves left’ dated 25 Oct 1954. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823573,00.html
    ‘The constitution has a “fundamental rights” clause, which guarantees private property from seizure without good compensation.
    “Now Is the Time.” Nehru now sees the anti-seizure clause as an obstacle to “social justice.” Said he recently to a big crowd near Bombay: “The constitution is not as sacred as some think . . . These things chain us.”’
    As also this excerpt from Time article titled “Five Year Plan” dated Oct 17 1955 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807766,00.html
    ‘Nehru has long argued, as Britain’s Laborites now do, that socialism is feasible without full nationalization. But Nehru favors controls over private enterprise. “An army,” he explained, “does not occupy a country by placing a soldier in every nook and cranny: a gun mounted on a hill enables an army to control surrounding areas effectively.”
    One of Nehru’s weapons is a constitutional amendment passed last spring. It empowered the government to seize needed agricultural and slum property without paying full compensation, for, otherwise, as Nehru saw it, “the haves will remain haves and the have-nots will remain havenots.” Parliament gave him more ammunition last month by cracking down on the managing agency system, that dates from the English East India Co.’s practice of handling ventures for absentee owners. Today, 22 of the largest managing agencies control 23% of India’s industrial assets. The new law entitles the government to put two men on any board of directors and to veto appointments of and salary raises for other corporate directors.’

  • lurker

    The first amendment also placed curbs on property rights to provide the legal framework for implementing Nehru’s socialist agenda of land redistribution.
    Nehru’s attitude towards property rights during the deliberations that occurred when the Indian Constitution was being drawn up is also described in Arun Shourie’s article “Manu of his Times”. See excerpt below:
    ‘a section led by Sardar Patel had wanted that the Constitution provide for compensation on the lines of the existing Land Acquisition Act, namely market price plus 15 per cent; Pandit Nehru wanted that no compensation should be provided for at all;’
    Also see http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/ambedkar.htm for the entire article.
    Nehru’s increasing impatience towards the constitution is also described in the Time article ‘Nehru moves left’ dated 25 Oct 1954. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823573,00.html
    ‘The constitution has a “fundamental rights” clause, which guarantees private property from seizure without good compensation.
    “Now Is the Time.” Nehru now sees the anti-seizure clause as an obstacle to “social justice.” Said he recently to a big crowd near Bombay: “The constitution is not as sacred as some think . . . These things chain us.”’
    As also this excerpt from Time article titled “Five Year Plan” dated Oct 17 1955 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807766,00.html

    ‘Nehru has long argued, as Britain’s Laborites now do, that socialism is feasible without full nationalization. But Nehru favors controls over private enterprise. “An army,” he explained, “does not occupy a country by placing a soldier in every nook and cranny: a gun mounted on a hill enables an army to control surrounding areas effectively.”
    One of Nehru’s weapons is a constitutional amendment passed last spring. It empowered the government to seize needed agricultural and slum property without paying full compensation, for, otherwise, as Nehru saw it, “the haves will remain haves and the have-nots will remain havenots.”’

  • lurker

    The first amendment also placed curbs on property rights to provide the legal framework for implementing Nehru’s socialist agenda of land redistribution.
    Nehru’s attitude towards property rights during the Constituent Assembly deliberations is also described in Arun Shourie’s article “Manu of his Times”. See excerpt below:
    ‘a section led by Sardar Patel had wanted that the Constitution provide for compensation on the lines of the existing Land Acquisition Act, namely market price plus 15 per cent; Pandit Nehru wanted that no compensation should be provided for at all;’
    Also see http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/ambedkar.htm for the entire article.
    Nehru’s increasing impatience towards the constitution is also described in the Time article ‘Nehru moves left’ dated 25 Oct 1954. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823573,00.html
    ‘The constitution has a “fundamental rights” clause, which guarantees private property from seizure without good compensation.
    “Now Is the Time.” Nehru now sees the anti-seizure clause as an obstacle to “social justice.” Said he recently to a big crowd near Bombay: “The constitution is not as sacred as some think . . . These things chain us.”’
    Also check Time article titled “Five Year Plan” dated Oct 17 1955 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807766,00.html

  • lurker

    The first amendment also placed curbs on property rights to provide the legal framework for implementing Nehru’s socialist agenda of land redistribution.
    Nehru’s attitude towards property rights during the Constituent Assembly deliberations is also described in Arun Shourie’s article “Manu of his Times”. See excerpt below:
    ‘a section led by Sardar Patel had wanted that the Constitution provide for compensation on the lines of the existing Land Acquisition Act, namely market price plus 15 per cent; Pandit Nehru wanted that no compensation should be provided for at all;’
    Also see http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/ambedkar.htm for the entire article.
    Nehru’s increasing impatience towards the constitution is also described in the Time article ‘Nehru moves left’ dated 25 Oct 1954. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823573,00.html
    ‘The constitution has a “fundamental rights” clause, which guarantees private property from seizure without good compensation. “Now Is the Time.” Nehru now sees the anti-seizure clause as an obstacle to “social justice.” Said he recently to a big crowd near Bombay: “The constitution is not as sacred as some think . . . These things chain us.”’
    As also this excerpt from Time article titled “Five Year Plan” dated Oct 17 1955 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807766,00.html
    ‘Nehru has long argued, as Britain’s Laborites now do, that socialism is feasible without full nationalization. But Nehru favors controls over private enterprise. “An army,” he explained, “does not occupy a country by placing a soldier in every nook and cranny: a gun mounted on a hill enables an army to control surrounding areas effectively.”
    One of Nehru’s weapons is a constitutional amendment passed last spring. It empowered the government to seize needed agricultural and slum property without paying full compensation, for, otherwise, as Nehru saw it, “the haves will remain haves and the have-nots will remain havenots.”’

  • lurker

    The first amendment also placed curbs on property rights to provide the legal framework for implementing Nehru’s socialist agenda of land redistribution.
    Nehru’s attitude towards property rights during the Constituent Assembly deliberations is also described in Arun Shourie’s article “Manu of his Times”. See excerpt below:
    ‘a section led by Sardar Patel had wanted that the Constitution provide for compensation on the lines of the existing Land Acquisition Act, namely market price plus 15 per cent; Pandit Nehru wanted that no compensation should be provided for at all;’
    Also see http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/ambedkar.htm for the entire article.
    Nehru’s increasing impatience towards the constitution is also described in the Time article ‘Nehru moves left’ dated 25 Oct 1954. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823573,00.html

  • pankaj

    Of all the talk of fucker nehru removing inequality he increased it beyond imagination,no where in the world there is inequality as there is in india, courtesy nehru .his principle of taking someone elses land and giving it to someone else , without giving proper compensation to the owner is evil.india is founded upon the principles of injustice and unfairness hence in a great mess.

  • http://jihadwatch.org/ Notsure

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121477367590414049.html
    another eg of curbing of Freedom of speech in India

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