Last week a remark made by the Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana, “elections no guarantee against tyranny,” went viral. This was said by the Chief Justice while delivering a memorial lecture in the national capital and the qualifying lines of this expression are very relevant to illuminate on the pattern of governance in the national capital, which some also consider to be a microcosm of the Indian political system.
Chief Justice Ramana said, “The idea that people are the ultimate sovereign is also to be found in the notions of human dignity and autonomy. A public discourse, that is both reasoned and reasonable, is to be seen as an inherent aspect of human dignity and hence essential to a properly functioning democracy.” In the current context of administrative chaos, to use the expression of Chief Justice Ramana, in the absence of “reasoned and reasonable public discourse”, governance has touched nadir and dignity gone abegging while seeking accountability of the rulers.
The gruesome crime of stealing, hoarding and black-marketing life-saving oxygen goes unregistered by police and other law-enforcing agencies as political rivals bury hatchet and decide to work together what they call the ‘betterment’ of people. Governance today, and Delhi being a ‘role-model’, has come to depend much on the social media energy. A very well-documented news report in The Morning Standard on how Delhi government has frittered away tax-payers’ money in the name of cleaning Yamuna doesn’t trend on the social media but a speculative story on Mamata Banerjee being in trouble because Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat couldn’t get elected to Assembly becomes viral.
To this too, the Chief Justice had a take, “The new media tools that have enormous amplifying ability are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, good and bad and the real and fake.” So, the social media-obsessed governance has left people in a state of phantasm. They are increasingly losing the ability to sift between the right and wrong.
The Chief Justice specifically mentioned the role of social media and cautioned brother judges against getting “swayed by the emotional pitch of public opinion either, which is getting amplified through social media platforms. Judges have to be mindful of the fact that the noise thus amplified is not necessarily reflective of what is right and what majority believes in”.
Coming to the oppression of elections, a phrase used by the learned judge, it gets reflected best in the manifesto of the political parties, who try to outdo each-other on promising what’s free that they could give it to voters. For the people driven by easy returns on investments, as in the case of lottery, are unable to “distinguish between the right or wrong” and they mostly end up voting for the freebies.
No wonder, for the past few days there has been a skirmish between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress as to who subsidises power tariff more — Delhi (ruled by AAP) or Punjab (ruled by Congress). And when the question of taking credit for free vaccines arises, can the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) be far behind.
A senior Delhi BJP functionary recently put up a hoarding taunting on Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s media campaign captioned – Have you got vaccinated? The BJP leader claimed that the free vaccines for inoculation were made available courtesy benevolence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The middle-school texts justify taxation saying the money is used for building infrastructure and extending welfare activities. Delhi has been nada in the matters of adding to existing infrastructure in the past seven years, and electoral bribery has been tom-tommed as welfare schemes. In the absence of health infrastructure people died of Covid-19, and now the victim’s next of kin are being monetarily compensated, a more palatable expression for rank bribery.
This can only happen when the political class comes to treat people as cipher, that is a group of people without power but used by others for their own purposes. That should explain Justice Ramana’s erudition on tyranny of elections.
Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice