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Majoritarianism Is Antithesis of Democracy: Supreme Court Judge

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Justice Deepak Gupta of Supreme Court

New Delhi— Supreme Court judge Justice Deepak Gupta on Monday highlighted the importance of dissent in democracy, and criticized the trend to brand those who raise questions at the establishment as “anti-nationals.”.

“In a country like India, where democracy is based on the ‘first past the post system’, more often than not, those in power will not represent the majority of the voting electorate, let alone the majority of people.

Let us assume they got 51% votes of population, does that mean that the other 49% people should keep silent for next five years and say nothing? Does then mean that those 49% have no voice for the five years…that they must accept whatever is done and not protest against it?

So, in a democracy, a government once elected, it is the government for the 100%, and not the government for the 51% or whatever percentage voted for them.

Every citizen, whether he voted for you or not voted for you, has a right to participate in the democratic process”, said Justice Gupta, reports LiveLaw.in.

The judge was delivering a lecture on the topic “Democracy and Dissent” at an event organized by the Supreme Court Bar Association.

Though rule of majority is the integral part of democracy, majoritarianism is an antithesis of democracy, the judge said.

It is only through debate, discussion and dialogue that we can strive for better ways to run the country better, said Justice Gupta.

“Therefore, right to dissent and right to question is not only an inherent part of democracy, it is also the inherent party of right to life itself”, Justice Gupta said.

“If a country has to grow holistically, not only in terms of economic development and military might or anything, civil rights of the citizens must be protected”, he added.

“To question, to challenge, to verify, to ask for accountability from government, these are every citizen’s rights. By taking these rights, we will become an unquestioning, moribund society, which will not be able to develop any further”, he said.

Last week, another judge of the Supreme Court Justice Dr D Y Chandrachud had also highlighted the importance of dissent as “a safety valve of democracy.”

Addressing an event at the Supreme Court, Justice Chandrachud had said “blanket labelling” of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the “heart” of the country’s commitment to protect Constitutional values and promote deliberative democracy.

“The commitment to civil liberty flows directly from the manner in which the State treats dissent. A state committed to the rule of law ensures that the state apparatus is not employed to curb legitimate and peaceful protest but to create spaces conducive for deliberation. Within the bounds of law, liberal democracies ensure that their citizens enjoy the right to express their views in every conceivable manner, including the right to protest and express dissent against prevailing laws. The blanket labelling of such dissent as ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-democratic’ strikes at the heart of our commitment to the protection of constitutional values and the promotion of a deliberative democracy,” said the SC judge.

“Protecting dissent is but a reminder that while democratically elected governments offer us a legitimate tool for development and social coordination, they can never claim a monopoly over the values and identities that define our plural society. The employment of state machinery to curb dissent, instills fear and creates a chilling atmosphere on free speech which violates the rule of law and detracts from the constitutional vision of a pluralist society,” he said.

The destruction of spaces for questions and dissent destroys the basis of all growth — political, economic, cultural and social. In this sense, dissent is the safety valve of democracy. The silencing of dissent and the generation of fear in the minds of people go beyond the violation of personal liberty and a commitment to constitutional values – it strikes at the heart of a dialogue-based democratic society which accords to every individual equal respect and consideration,” said Justice Chandrachud.

A commitment to pluralism requires positive action in the form of social arrangements where the goal is ―to incorporate difference, coexist with it, allow it a share of social space. There is thus a positive obligation on the state to ensure the deployment of its machinery to protect the freedom of expression within the bounds of law and dismantle any attempt by individuals or other actors to instil fear or chill free speech. This includes not just protecting free speech, but actively welcoming and encouraging it,” he said.