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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo

 Any lessons for India?

Liu Xiaobo, a 54-year-old Chinese citizen, who, according to the Chinese foreign ministry, “is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese authorities for violating Chinese law,” has been selected by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for the Nobel Peace Prize 2010 for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

As in the past—at the announcement of Nobel Peace Prize to Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King for their fight against an oppressive state or an unjust social order—this time too, the announcement of Peace Prize to Liu has stirred up a controversy, and the leaders at the helm of affairs in China have said that the awarding of the Peace Prize to Liu “completely contradicts its aims and is an obscenity”. However, the prize does breathe fresh life into the otherwise marginalized community of fighters for democratic rights in China.

The Chinese government has expressed its anger at the award by summoning Norway’s ambassador to China and expressing its protest against the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to hand over the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu. The Chinese foreign ministry has said that the award is sure to “damage Sino-Norwegian relations”. Of course, it is not for the first time that the Chinese government is unhappy about the Committee’s choice for the Peace Prize: earlier it had opposed the awarding of Peace Prize to the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the religious and political leader of the Tibetan people, for his struggle for the liberation of Tibet by consistently opposing the use of violence and instead advocating peaceful solutions based on tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people.

That said, let us take a look at what made the Committee, consisting of five former politicians appointed by the Norwegian parliament, pick Liu Xiaobo for the award. Liu has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights in China for over two decades. Way back in 1989, giving up his visiting scholarship at Columbia University, New York, this young professor and radical literary critic flew back to China to participate in the Tiananmen protests. Indeed, it was he who, when the tanks rolled in on the night of June 3, 1989, along with a few other intellectuals, negotiated with military commanders for the safe withdrawal of students from the square.

He was the main force behind the drafting of Charter 08—the Chinese pro-democracy manifesto—which claims that “The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government.” Just before its launch, Liu was arrested. Subsequently, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power,” while the truth remains that he had only demanded the state to grant its people the rights that article 35 of China’s Constitution lays down—“Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”

His reaction to the sentence, as conveyed to the world by his lawyers, is worth reading by every freedom-loving citizen of the world: “The sentence violates the Chinese constitution and international human rights covenants. It cannot bear moral scrutiny and will not pass the test of history. I believe that my work has been just, and that someday China will be a free and democratic country…. I have long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison….”

The Nobel Committee opines that Liu has consistently maintained that his sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights, and it is by facing this severe punishment meted out by the Chinese government that Liu has become the foremost symbol of the struggle for human rights in China. He thus became the choice of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that “has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace” and “such rights are a prerequisite for the ‘fraternity between nations.”

Now, the big question is: What next? Will the Chinese government allow the prize to be conferred on Liu? If  yes, who would receive it—he or his wife? True, over the last two decades, China has achieved unparalleled economic growth in world history. Its economy is now qualified as the world’s second largest economy. It has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Obviously, its new economic status casts upon it an increased responsibility. Perhaps, it is time for China, as the Prize Committee observed, to widen the scope for political participation. Does it mean letting Liu collect his prize?

And, does it hold any lesson for India? Yes, we must remember what young Mao Zedong said in 1930: “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” Which is why we must strengthen our democratic moorings through all-inclusive growth aimed at by all the social and religious groups collectively. Only then we can eliminate ‘uncertainty’ from the minds of prospective investors, both from within and abroad, by enabling them to measure the ‘policy risk’ associated with doing business in India—for policy making in a democracy is easily measurable—and commit fresh investments with confidence.

- GRK Murty


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