Twenty-seven years after the then Rajiv Gandhi government banned Salman Rushdie's controversial novel The Satanic Verses, former finance minister P Chidambaram today said it was "wrong."
Chidambaram, who was a minister of state for home affairs under Rajiv Gandhi from 1986-89, also said Indira Gandhi had in 1980 admitted imposing Emergency was a mistake.
"I have no hesitation in saying that the ban on Salman Rushdie's book was wrong," Chidambaram, who was MoS, home affairs, when the ban was imposed in October 1988, said speaking at the Times LitFest in New Delhi.
"If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you the same thing," he said when asked why it took him so many years to reach such a conclusion.
Asked if the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi was also wrong, the senior Congress leader said, "Indira Gandhi herself admitted in 1980 that the Emergency was wrong and, if elected to power, she would never impose the Emergency. People believed her and elected her to power again."
Speaking about alleged rising intolerance in the country, he said, "It is on the rise," and expressed hope that "this moral majoritarianism" will fail comprehensively.
"What is of profound concern to me is the apparent rise of intolerance. Khap panchayats today are more visible and more brazen in dispensing kangaroo justice. There is rush of bans. Ban jeans, ban authors, ban food, ban artist, ban travel, ban NGO," he said.
Noting that the answer to "a bad idea is good idea, not ban idea", Chidambaram said, “The concept of liberty is expanding universally. Not all ideas will be accepted but every idea deserves its own space and every idea deserves tobe expressed."
He noted that the "increasing tide of illiberalism and intolerance is frightening.”
"Illiberal zealots believe that the State is on their side. Illiberal zealots also believe that if they gather sufficient numbers they will be the State and their word will be the law," he said.
"Moral majoritarianism will fail but each one of us who believes in democracy and liberalism must speak up and ensure that moral majoritarianism will fail comprehensively," he said.
He also said those who believe in democracy and liberalism must stand up and protest.
The former Union minister said there cannot be a modern liberal society till every idea that fosters inequality is eliminated.
He said the enforcement of Constitutional provisions "in letter and spirit" will help curb illiberal tendencies.
"I firmly believe that the Constitution is the most powerful challenge to illiberal tendencies. If the Constitution is followed in letter and spirit and if the laws are made in the spirit in which Constitution was made, liberties can indeed be protected," he said.