A dissenter is not an anti-national. Holding a contrary view to that of the government does not make one an anti-national, Supreme Court judge Justice Deepak Gupta said on Monday.
“Criticism of the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the armed forces cannot be termed ‘anti-national’. In case we attempt to stifle criticism of the institutions, we shall become a police state instead of a democracy….To question, to challenge, to verify, to ask for accountability from the government is the right of every citizen…”, he said.
Justice Gupta’s speech at a lecture organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association on ‘Democracy and Dissent’ received standing ovation.
Justice Gupta red-flagged the hike in sedition cases against activists, lawyers and students and branding voices of dissent as “anti-nationals”. Expressing dissent to government’s policies did not amount to acting against the nation.
“There have been many recent incidents where people dissenting have been slapped with terms like anti national… Majoritarianism is an anti-thesis to democracy… ”, he said.
A political party getting 51% mandate in the polls did not mean the other 49% of the country ought to remain silent for the next five years. “When those in power claim that they represent the will of all the people that is more often than not a totally baseless claim. They may be the elected government voted on the first-past-the-post system by a large number of voters, but it cannot be said that they represent the entire will of the people”, Justice Gupta said.
The judge said the superior courts were “protectors of the rights of the people and have a duty to ensure that the powers that be do not suppress dissent”.
Judge’s praise for PM
Justice Gupta’s words are significant in the background of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in various parts of the country, most prominently in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. The Shaheen Bagh case is before the Supreme Court. These observations on the right to dissent by Justice Gupta come shortly after Justice Arun Mishra paid accolades to the “versatile genius” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “think globally and act locally” at an international judges conference on Saturday.
Justice Gupta said governance did not mean carrying out the whims of a few, but following the rule of law. The government was not always right. Citizens have the right to come together, protest and dissent peacefully.
“Dissent is a human right. A society will not evolve unless its rules are questioned. Dissent must be encouraged. It is only through discussion that we can strive to run the country better. The government has no right to stifle a protest unless it turns violent. Dissent, after all, was the essence of Civil Disobedience movement of Mahatma Gandhi… We are only a free country when there is freedom of speech”, Justice Gupta said.
He highlighted how dissent had been a powerful tool in the hands of judges. He referred to how Justice H.R. Khanna sacrificed his Chief Justiceship to write his historic dissent championing the right to personal liberty in the ADM Jabalpur case.
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