Let Us Define ‘Dissent’ - II

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Sep 2018 10:32:35


“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower,
(former) President of the United States of America

EVEN as some of us talk of dissent as a safety valve of democracy and fear that pressure cooker would burst if dissent is not allowed in our system, they must remind themselves of what Dwight D. Eisenhower had to say about the concept. May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion, he had warned nearly three quarters of a century ago. He rose in American public affairs at a time when leftwingers were trying to establish themselves as a potent voice in domestic scene. Even as he campaigned for presidency, Eisenhower did not discount importance of dissent, but cautioned against what he called “disloyal subversion”. It is time, we examined the current Indian scene from that point of view and decide if what we call dissent is truly a dissenting opinion or a disloyal subversion. And to be sure, our system will allow such an honest scrutiny.

The biggest and worst difficulty with the democratic politics in India is that in the name of dissent, a lot of nonsense is also dished out in a compulsion that everybody should respect and nobody should oppose it. Of course, a lot of noise is often made in India every now and then on petty issues that do not leave out religion or personal liberty and basic human right. Every term is sought to be distorted in the name of dissent and every concept is offered a nonsensical definition which is expected to be honoured by one and all. If there is someone who dares the ‘dissent’ he is treated as a persona non grata. The political cacophony now available in India is of such a kind, very intolerant, very aggressive, and very arrogant -- all in the name of dissent, all in the name of democratic freedom.

Let us consider a couple of examples. Long ago, somebody studied the Manusmruti and decided that it was a document of a massive social subversion that went on for centuries. That opinion led to burning of the copies of Manusmruti not once but on countless occasions for countless decades. Treating the development as an expression of dissent, the larger Indian society accepted it and moved on. The people who led that dissent also felt that one community -- the Brahmins -- had thrust that social subversion on the downtrodden segments of the society. So, that community was discarded, hounded, haunted in an attempt to isolate it from the larger social process of melding of varying opinions.

In the cacophony that followed, nobody even realised that the Brahmin community had realised its faults and had tried its best to improve not just its conduct but also its thinking, treating Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar -- for example -- as a role model. Those who burned copies of Manusmruti did not even realise that two-three generations of the Brahmin community had already progressed in real terms on appropriate social thinking. The dissent, thus, had blinded the dissenters to such an extent as not to notice a positive social change coming over.This is one example of dissent, so to say. Let us move on from that. If there happens to be somebody who rises above all the din and wishes to interpret Manusmruti in yet another manner, he is not allowed to do so, because he is dissenting with the first dissent.

This intolerance, this refusal to carry forward a healthy discourse or debate has become a special attribute of Indian public discourse in the past 70-plus years and is being billed as democracy. For, if there is a dissent of a dissent, what follows is violence that is so tiring, so exasperating that it kills the very spirit of democracy. This is disloyal subversion in the name of democracy.

Countless such examples abound in our society today. One of those is the labeling that was done to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). So, when former President Dr. Pranab Mukherjee agrees to address a meeting of senior RSS volunteers, there was a hue and cry against the honourable man. And the allegation was that Dr. Mukherjee was attending a meeting organised by the RSS that is an anti-national organisation seeking to divide the country. That Dr. Pranab Mukherjee went ahead with his decision and won the battle, is one part of the story. But the dirtier part of the story is that when he dissented -- in the sense decided to attend a meeting by RSS -- a large section of the Indian socio-political activism did not want to grant that freedom to Dr. Mukherjee.

Then there are people who raise pro-Pakistan slogans and make speeches to support the Left Wing Extremism that has waged a direct war against the lawfully formed Government of the land. There also are people in India asking for slicing off of Kashmir from India. All their activities are passed as dissent, whereas in reality it is nothing but disloyal subversion. Such things are reported every now and then, and disloyal subversion is allowed in the name of dissent. In fact, thanks to the disloyal subversion so rampant in our society, a pressure-cooker-kind situation prevails in our society, all the time to explode.

In fact, all this can be avoided if all of us, no matter our ideological leanings, take a pause from our raucous contribution to public discourse and think in realistic terms what dissent should mean. If this is done in an academic manner, we will be able to arrive at the correct definition of ‘dissent’ and decide what to do next and how to carry forward a socio-political discourse regardless of ideology. Because we have bound our public discourse in ideologies, we are depriving ourselves of the right definition of dissent as a safety valve of democracy.