|M A I L B A G||
Saturday, November 27, 1999
Right to debate and differ
IF one were to ask me as to what I was most proud of about my country, without the slightest hesitation my answer would be: freedom of expression. Almost like a city on the Hill, with all our limitations, we are a democratic country. Freedom is the mother of democracy. Twentieth century would be known, inter alia, for the greatest freedom struggle in history and a remarkable victory for the people of India. Talking of history, our great Gurus stood against tyranny and laid down their lives to preserve freedom of faith. In the modern times Tagores sublime, lofty dream to see his fellow beings walk without any fear and with heads high is a thought deep for rejoicing for us today. In the famed Gettysburg address ending Government of the people, for the people by the people most certainly Lincoln enshrined the spirit and substance of democracy. In his youthful inaugural address, yet again, late President Kennedys call to please any friend and oppose any foe to defend freedom and democracy around the world was a message historical, loud and clear. So in times old and new, in real life and literature quietly flows the song of freedom.
Mature democracies encourage debate and discussion, even dissent. Because that is what governance of the people, for the people, by the people is all about. The moment an elected party or government suppresses criticism or dissent it ceases to be representative. Intolerance of opinion is an enemy to democracy. Freedom of discussion and debate is the very fabric and essence of democracy. I detest what you say but Ill defend until my death your right to say it says Voltair. With us the recent trend to cut down and butcher dissent is deeply disturbing. First, with the Congress Party at the Centre. The famous trio bent backwards, took too many words (as if shaking and crawling on their knees!) to say, what translated in democratic terms only meant, Sonia, your lack of experience and foreign origin arent going to help the party. Lets reconsider. What followed is history! It was sheer butchery of democratic system and values. Such butchery uncivil, it is neatly demeaning.
Now closer to home at issue in Punjab is the Shiromani Akali Dal Party headed by Parkash Singh Badal. In particular the recent talk of serving a show-cause notice on Ravi Inder Singh a senior leader, former Speaker and a distinguished MLA of the party in power. It is common knowledge that he springs from a great Akali tradition and is a man of distinct individual talent. To say the least all he simply wanted (of those whom much is given, much is required Bible), within the party was to interact and discuss the reasons and remedies for the near-complete rout of the party in the elections recently held. Head of the partys reaction was severe and sharp. Panic and threats of serving a show-cause notice (read, you dare! face expulsion!) followed. Now Ravi Inder Singh is not important. The underlying moral of the story is! Its not a notice or threat to an individual. Its the butchery and burial of a sovereign principle: the right to debate and differ in democracy. It is the deathknell to the very democratic system. Are the political parties feudal dynasties? What sort of elected representatives ought we have who can have no right to stand up and speak what is simply a writing on the wall? Split, corruption and inefficiency are talk of the day. Hardly anything to celebrate over the body economic of the State. Virtually bankrupt and literally on oxygen from the Centre. Ironically, interestingly, funnily, stunningly the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee is sharpening its knives (some like Jagmeet Brar, their swords) and waiting for their easy prey. They want Badal to continue and complete the task.
For a democratic system to survive, two factors stand out. One is assertion of right. With true and genuine belief, with conviction one must assert ones right to debate and differ. Two, the price of freedom is vigil. You cannot shut your eyes and sleep and hope to be free. You have to be alert and watchful all the time. On the one hand when the going gets tough, the tough get going. On the other, let Socrates stand up and speak for us: Those who do injustice to others are more disgraced than the ones inflicted upon. Let there be a fair fight! Dont we all Punjabis love it?
Kalyan Singh, the person who executed an effective check on Mayawatis power-hungry politics and brought the uncertain political turmoil in Uttar Pradesh to rest, faces the wrath of his own partys High Command, which regularly, periodically and emphatically denied any change in leadership prior to the elections.
The credibility of such politicians is at stake who weigh the leader in pre-election and post-election pans. Such manoeuvers will pave the way for fresh caste-oriented inter-party and intra-party realliances. It is bound to pose greater threat to the partys stature in politically important states like Uttar Pradesh.
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