Mumbai, May 6: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had just finished speaking when Simpreet Singh rose from his seat among the audience at the annual convocation of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences holding up a black banner.
The small-built youth in his 20s stood in silence for five minutes ' his banner, “Development or Destruction” written on it, doing the talking ' before he was led away by securitymen.
His quiet protest echoed another, one more vocal and aggressive, thousands of miles away in Atlanta on Thursday when US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was heckled and called a “liar” by an anti-war former CIA analyst at a gathering of civic and business groups.
Before Simpreet stood up, Singh too had been talking about development and equity. “I sincerely believe that we must strike a fair balance between doing good and doing well, between ensuring equity and pursuing excellence. To focus on one and lose sight of the other cannot serve the interests of either the organisation for which you work or society at large,” the Prime Minister said, in the backdrop of the row over reservation for backward classes that his government is caught in.
The chairman of the TISS governing board R.K. Krishnakumar had opened the event by commenting on the growing income disparity in the country.
Singh agreed with him and said: “It is imperative that wealth creation be done through honest means and we have to make sure that the process of wealth creation does not neglect poor, marginalised and neglected sections of the society.”
He called upon the leaders of Indian industry to “invest in the long term development of human resources, just as they invest in making their firms more globally competitive”.
While the lone man standing in the audience could not have faulted the Prime Minister on these statements, the one that followed would have sounded to him like censure. “A holistic perspective is important because interest groups, by definition, espouse sectional cause' interest groups must also learn to take a wider view of the imperatives of development.”
Simpreet’s banner had highlighted the cause of the Narmada oustees, whose leader Medha Patkar has had a go at Singh, the Bhopal gas victims and other controversial issues of development and displacement.
The TISS volunteer, who had obtained an invitation through an associate for the convocation where social activist Baba Amte and industrialist Ratan Tata were conferred honorary doctorates, was taken to the local police station and let off after interrogation.