Criticism is the soul of democracy

   By Vijay Darda | 10-04-2023

Supreme Court’s observation is significant that critical opinions cannot be dubbed as anti-establishment

Vijay Darda

What is the difference between India, the USA, China, Russia or Gulf nations or many other such countries? There are numerous perspectives to see the difference. They can be defined by their economic strength, strategic might or quality of living. But the most important perspective, in my opinion, is whether or not democracy exists there. You can express yourself freely in both India and America. If you disagree with the government of the country or state, you may express your disagreement. But in China, Russia, Gulf countries or African countries with totalitarian leadership, expressing your disagreement may land you in prison or you may just disappear with no word on your whereabouts!

Actually, critical thinking is the soul of democracy. This is the truth, and the Supreme Court has confirmed it once again. A Malayalam TV channel was banned citing national security as the reason. The Kerala High Court upheld the government’s order but the Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Justice D Y Chandrachud did not find it valid. The Supreme Court clearly stated that the press has a duty to speak truth to power and present citizens with hard facts enabling them to make choices that propel democracy in the right direction. A homogenised view on issues that range from socio-economic polity to political ideologies can pose grave danger to democracy. Citizens cannot be deprived of provisions meant for them on the pretext of national security. Claims of national security cannot be made without basis. There should be concrete evidence to back them. I heartily welcome these observations of the Supreme Court.

While reading the history of human civilisation’s journey of development, I learnt that critical thinking is the reason why man has made so much progress. Many thoughts arise organically from contemplation. The analysis of these thoughts shows us a new path. If someone claims that his philosophy is the best, how can new ideas develop in life? Different points of view are the basis of the emergence of so many religions, civilisations and cultures! India is a country of approximately 140 crore people. Can their faiths and beliefs be the same? And how dangerous it would be if they really became the same! India, the birthplace of democracy, understood this centuries ago; the adage that language, attire and accent change every 10 to 20 miles drives home this point. Everyone has his or her own point of view and collectively, these points of view provide strength to the country.

History is replete with evidence that critical thinking has played the most important role in the growth of democracy in India. Indiraji believed that a harsh emergency was required to get the country back on track, but the people outrightly dismissed her views. When A R Antulay and Jagannath Mishra attempted to silence critics, the entire country was up in arms because stifling ideas simply means stifling democracy. Our eminent leaders who led the freedom movement understood this and prioritised freedom of expression. It was this provision which designated the press as the fourth pillar of democracy. I’m reminded of an instance about free expression. On the occasion of Nehruji’s birthday, a Kavi Sammelan was organised by Harivansh Rai Bachchan. At the time, Jankavi Baba Nagarjun too, had reached there to meet Bachchanji. Indiraji invited him as well, but Nagarjun told her, “Indu, your father won’t be able to hear my poems.” Indiraji replied, “Kindly do come. He’ll listen to you.” At the Kavi Sammelan, Baba Nagarjun recited a poem critical of Nehruji and surprisingly, Nehruji calmly listened to it.

Actually, that poem was an expression of people’s resentment against the establishment. After all, only a poet, shayar or a writer would articulate and express people’s resentment! And only the media will bring such a criticism to light, won’t it!

I recall an incident. A R Antulay had come to Aurangabad (now Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar) to launch Lokmat Times. Lokmat published a satirical cartoon on Antulay the same day. Antulay got angry at first but soon calmed down. My Babuji, Jawaharlal Darda, was the industries minister in Antulay’s Cabinet at the time. Earlier, when Lokmat published news critical of the Emergency, some people complained to Indiraji. Indiraji asked my Babuji what Lokmat is doing? Babuji politely replied that Lokmat is doing its job as a newspaper.

I believe that every voice of criticism should be polite, come what may. There should be no animosity towards each other. Moreover, it is also critical to remember that freedom of expression does not allow anyone to speak against the country. There must be a line of decency. Another important thing is that whichever party is in power must recognise that it is the custodian only for a limited period of time. The true power of the country rests with the people. They have the right to criticise. This is the power of democracy. Be proud of your democracy… and don’t do anything that will harm it!

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