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A servile majority ruled by slogans guarantees a weakened democracy: CJI

Dec 02, 2023 11:59 PM IST

CJI Chandrachud emphasised the importance of dissent in a democracy, stating that a servile and subservient population weakens democracy.

NEW DELHI A servile and subservient population, ruled by slogans, guarantee a weakened democracy, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud emphasised on Saturday, as he underscored that dissent nourishes democracy while deliberation sustains it.

A servile majority ruled by slogans guarantees a weakened democracy: CJI
A servile majority ruled by slogans guarantees a weakened democracy: CJI

“If democracy means that the views of the majority prevail, then it necessarily implies that a deliberating and eventually, a dissenting minority. And this can at times be more powerful than a dumb, unthinking accepting majority, ruled by slogans. A servile and subservient population guarantees a weakened democracy,” said the CJI.

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According to justice Chandrachud, a society which does not encourage its citizens to critically think, question the powers that be, and engage in a nonconformist democratic discourse, will fail to progress because it will fail to create dissenters.

“While social harmony among citizens is a prerequisite to democracy, it cannot be manufactured by removing conditions under which dissent may be freely expressed. A society is often known for its great dissenters because dissenters inform us of the location and direction of a democracy,” the first judge of the country added.

Delivering the Justice KC Dhulia Memorial Lecture at Dehradun, the CJI highlighted the correlation between democracy, deliberation and dissent, pointing out that the exercise of the right of the people to engage in social and political discourse with each other and with institutions lie at the core of a participative democracy. Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, a sitting Supreme Court judge and son of justice KC Dhulia, was also present at the occasion.

Justice Chandrachud’s strong opinion on the importance of dissent has come five years after his crucial remarks in a court hearing five year ago when he held that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy”.

“While the right to free speech entails truth discovery and self-fulfilment of the citizen, its primary purpose is critical interaction and debate. There are overlaps, but in the context of a democracy, the relevance of free speech lies in deliberation with the uncomfortable aspects of our realities. Thus, if a democracy cannot safeguard discourse around the needs of all its people, it falls short of its promise. In order to resolve their discontent, a democracy must begin by hearing the voices of the people,” said justice Chandrachud.

According to the judge, a democracy must remain to be one where the electorate is informed and has both access to and influence over its governing bodies. “A discursive democracy creates a fertile ground for deliberation which is inclusive and egalitarian. Its institutions must ensure that everyone can engage in a discourse on equal terms, and no force except that of a better argument, interrupts such an engagement,” he added.

Stating that deliberations underline the strength of India’s democracy and also her Constitution, the CJI stressed that though the composition of the constituent assembly was “predominantly a majoritarian, male, upper-caste, urban exercise” leading to a “founding fathers” narrative that subsumed the role that women members played, the explanation for the continued relevance of the Constitution lies in the fact that the process of its framing was an inclusive exercise, based in discursive democracy and its ability to promote debate and deliberation.

“The process of reaching outcomes is far more important than the outcome itself...Deliberation thrives only in conditions that promote candidate discussions amongst all unmitigated by markers of status, caste and identity. A democracy, in order to be more than a mere approximation of preferences of a group, must engage with all its stakeholders. This engagement may or may not lead to an outcome right away but will definitely remain etched as a historical fact capable of being resurrected in the future,” said the CJI.

Citing deliberation as the difference between a majoritarian decision that is foisted on an unwilling electorate and a decision that the people are willing to accept, engage with, and hopefully alter one day, justice Chandrachud highlighted that a deliberated outcome accords legitimacy to the institutions of governance.

A deliberated outcome accords legitimacy to the institutions of governance, said the CJI, adding: “It is the difference between a defeated idea and a disenfranchised democratic participant. While the former may eventually erode with time, the latter militates against the very foundations of a deliberative, engaging Constitution.”

Underlining the importance of dissent in a democracy, the CJI maintained that a dissenting minority is an equal component of a working democracy where views of the majority have to prevail.

“While deliberation sustains a democracy, dissent nourishes it... Dissent emerges from profound questions about the working of society. Abolition of slavery, annihilation of caste, emancipation of gender minorities, and religious harmony were all once dissenting opinions. However, these dissents hold the power to fundamentally restructure our society by sparking an important conversation. These dissents emerge not from thin air but from a democratic culture of fierce debates,” the judge pointed out.

Justice Chandrachud concluded his keynote address by adding that dissent in a democracy, though unpopular and unacceptable, lends windows to the future.

Unveiling 'Elections 2024: The Big Picture', a fresh segment in HT's talk show 'The Interview with Kumkum Chadha', where leaders across the political spectrum discuss the upcoming general elections. Watch Now!
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