Belgium-born social activist and economist Jean Dreze could not complete his speech at the Jharkhand Conclave 2025 organised by a Hindi daily in Ranchi, Jharkhand on August 14 when the state agriculture minister, Randhir Kumar Singh, heckled him as he was offended by some of the statements made by the social activist.
Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and some other ministers were also present at the event.
“I was interrupted when I argued that communalism was most dangerous when the state itself created antagonism between the communities. I gave the infamous (government) ad quoting Gandhi (Which had appeared on 11 August) as an example,” Dreze said to The Indian Express.
Dreze made this argument in the backdrop of a controversial and nonfactual advertisement which was brought out by the government a day ahead of the tabling and passing, the anti-conversion bill in the Assembly. The advertisement had quoted as Mahatma Gandhi asking Christian missionaries not to go for religious conversion of poor and gullible tribals.
Randhir Kumar Singh took strong objection to this statement and angrily stopped him from making his speech and asked him to apologise.
Dreze has been raising the issue of challenges in providing govt services to those in the interior and a critic of several policies of the government.
The state Agriculture Minister said, “I only objected when he began talking about RSS. I told him that he does not know about RSS.”
For his part, Dreze said, “No one asked for me to complete my speech, so I just went back to my seat,” adding that he would like to meet his critics and engage with their arguments if they were willing.
According to a report by Hindustan Times, Dreze said that the government was misleading people and attributing the thoughts of the RSS to Gandhi. He also condemned the government for the rise of crime in the state and pointed out the criminal records of the state’s lawmakers.
The incident gave rise to protests on the next day by several intellectuals and activists in front of the Raj Bhavan in Ranchi. The protesters accused the BJP state government of intolerance and demanded apologies from state ministers for allegedly disrupting the speech Jean Dreze.
Sneering at the shrinking democratic space in the state, many protesters had covered their mouth with the black ribbon and demanded an apology from Chief Minister Raghubar Das for issuing the communal advertisement.
“This incident is yet another example of the growing intolerance and attacks on people’s fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expression, assembly and movement, the right to practice any occupation, the right to preserve one’s culture and even the right to life and liberty in Jharkhand,” a unanimous statement from the protesters was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying.
The protest was also attended by activists such as Stan Swami, Balram, P P Verma, Kumar Varun, Nadeem, among others.
Noted tribal rights activist Dayamani Barla said, “This is the murder of democracy. A man who is respected and treated with utmost dignity across the world for his works was disrespected only because his views were in contradiction with the ideologies of the government.”
The Logical Indian community condemns the behaviour of Jharkhand’s minister, Randhir Kumar Singh. Leaders are considered as icons who set examples but if the nation builders will try to heckle the freedom of speech then how can common people be encouraged to stand up for freedom, tolerance and liberty? The minister could have argued against Jean Dreze points when the minister got his chance to speak on the dais instead of heckling. Such childish, petulant behaviour is uncalled for and should be condemned by all of us.