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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Democratic dissent - Editorial

April 20, 2008

The Deccan Chronicle
Thursday April 17 2008

M.S. Gill’s call to restrict participation in the Olympics torch relay
in India to only sportspersons and deny that privilege to actors,
politicians and others runs counter to the very spirit of the games. Mr
Gill has displayed total insensitivity to the virtues of a global
phenomenon which unites people the world over ­ and particularly the
youth ­ in a cooperative competition in excellence. The new minister of
state for sports is effectively saying that politicians, actors and
ordinary citizens have nothing to do with sports, a clearly untenable
and unacceptable proposition. The Centre will, hopefully, restrain
itself from implementing Mr Gill’s whims. The approach of Mr Gill’s
ministerial colleague, minister of state for home, Mr Shakeel Ahmed, is
more realistic: it is the government’s responsibility to ensure a safe
passage for the torch. The Olympics flame relay has always been a joyous
occasion, with enthusiastic popular participation in all the countries
it passes through. It would have been so this year too but for the
anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet and the adverse international reaction it
has aroused, provoking many Olympics enthusiasts to distance themselves
from the event in protest against the unprecedented security for the torch.

They feel that the direct fallout of the "stifling security cover" is a
curtailment of the spirit of freedom that defines the philosophy of the
Olympics. That the dissenters include sportspersons, officials, actors
and politicians tells its own story vis a vis popular identification
with the games. Former police officer, Ms Kiran Bedi opted out as she
did not want to run "as a caged woman" and football captain, Bhaichung
Bhutia because he sympathised with the Tibetans. The latest to pull out
is cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, though of course he cited an
injury as the reason and not politics or principle. A day earlier,
actress Soha Ali Khan had withdrawn from the event, again citing
personal, not political, reasons. However, her brother, Saif Ali Khan
and actor-director, Aamir Khan will take part, though they have
expressly spelt out that it will not be in support of China but because
they believe that the Olympic flame does not belong to China even if
this year the games are being held in Beijing. Some dissenters,
including politicians, writers and social activists, will participate in
a parallel relay in another part of New Delhi coinciding with the
Rajpath ceremony. The fact that India’s tolerant environment enables the
open expression and demonstration of dissent against the government’s
stand is a testimony to our democracy and open society. This unique
example of two relays ­ one official and supportive of the Games, the
other unofficial and condemnatory of China’s suppression of human rights
in Tibet ­ sends a message to both China and the world highlighting the
importance of democratic dissent.
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