New Delhi: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said the country is deeply concerned at the "blatant violation" of right to freedom of thought, belief and speech and termed incidents of attack on thinkers and violence over food habits an "assault" on the nation.
Speaking at the inaugural session of the national conference on "No peace without freedom, No freedom without peace: Securing Nehru's vision and India's future", he, referring to recent incidents of violence, said attacks on people for their beliefs or the food they eat cannot be justified on any grounds.
"The nation is deeply concerned at the recent tragic incidents of the blatant violation of the right to freedom of thought, belief, speech and expression in our country by some violent extremist groups," he said.
Raising the pitch of Congress attack on the Narendra Modi government over intolerance, he said secularism is an article of faith for the Indian republic.
"The assault or murder of thinkers for no more than disagreement with their views, or because of the food they eat, or their caste, cannot be justified on any grounds. Nor can the suppression of the right to dissent be allowed. All right thinking people in the country have condemned such incidents in the strongest terms as an assault on the nation," said Manmohan Singh.
He stressed no religion, which is a private matter, can become the basis of public policy or governance, nor can any religious belief be imposed on anyone in a secular republic, whose survival depends on unity and respect for diversity, secularism and pluralism.
Paying glowing tributes to India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Manmohan Singh said Nehru is a kindred spirit for the youth of today and was re-emerging as the centre of gravity of Indian political thought "especially in the post global financial crisis era that has once again restored the need for an effective role for the State in advancing the common good".
The two-day conference is being held as part of 125th birth anniversary celebration of Nehru.
Noting freedom was a foundational value that lies at the heart of the Nehruvian idea of India and is also essential for economic development, he said: "The unimpeded flow and exchange of ideas is essential to build economic prosperity. As has been said by a wise person long ago, there is no progress without opposition."
He said the prerequisite for innovation, entrepreneurship and competition was an open society and a liberal polity where individuals are free to pursue their ideas.
"Suppression of dissent or free speech poses a grave danger for economic development. There can be no free market without freedom."
He said a nation is its values and "India then is, in its essence, a set of values that inspired and guided our unique freedom struggle and are enshrined in our Constitution - swaraj, truth, non-violence, compassion, justice, liberty, equality, dignity, fraternity and unity in diversity. Any erosion of these values will weaken the nation".
The former prime minister termed Nehru as the "most erudite, experienced, modern, liberal, democratic and global leader India has had" and said his values offer a most appealing platform of globally accepted liberal ideas on which a youthful India can march forward with confidence into the future.