Democracy welcomes dissent

The writing fails to do justice to the very idea of the title, and there is little to learn from it
Democracy welcomes dissent

It is in human nature that no two persons can fully agree on everything. Dissent, disagreement of the passive or active virulent kind is part of human history. Vajpeyi has not defined the term ‘dissent’—the compilation of this 500-page volume does little to clarify the issue, over 200 articles, letters, ‘thoughts’, opinions, utterances of many deservedly or undeservedly famous or infamous, or not-so-well-known individuals.

The Vedas and numerous other ancient texts get a passing reference—one cannot glimpse the totality of thought behind each cited work; they are clubbed under the omnibus term ‘dissent’. Likewise, Sundarar and Manikkavachakar, as well as an Andal or Meera, who passionately believed in the Supreme in their own way, apparently are dissenters. Curiously there is no reference to Gita which brings out the essence of the Vedas and Upanishads, and advocates ‘contrary’ routes like Bhakti, Gyan etc.

What is the message of this large volume? Is it just a motley collection of names, irrespective of the object or purpose of their sayings; over disparate themes? The many splendored personality of Mahatma Gandhi is seen only in the political context—and does not refer to his contribution as a social reformer.
Likewise Raja Ram Mohan Roy is seen only in the context of ‘Sati’; Periar EVR only in ‘anti-Brahminism’—it is injustice not to refer to him in the context of reviving the concept of Dravidinism.
Rohith Vemula’s suicide note shows him as a troubled individual—does not explain how he has been turned into a symbol of caste.

Rabindra Nath Tagore spoke passionately, of social issues being the primary problem of India—this was in 1917, when he had opined that India had never had a sense of nationhood; note that he also wrote our current national song, ‘Jana Gana Mana…’ to celebrate and commemorate the occasion of the British Durbar of Calcutta in 1911.

A highly readable Keki Daruwala with his brilliant expressive and evocative poetry is only seen through a brief non-descriptive article. Dr Amartya Sen the economist, and TN Krishna of Karnatic music stray from their areas of specialisation, indeed genius; are seen making trivial comments on contemporary social issues with little legitimacy or expertise—note that Charles Lindbergh the aviation hero was roundly condemned for expressing his opinion relating to World War II, and was effectively asked to shut up.
Somehow the impression seems to be given that difference, doubt, and argument are endemic in India. Recall Joan of Arc, who was a hero to many, and a witch for those who burnt her at the stake. Kepler, and later Copernicus had ‘revolutionary’ new ideas of the solar system, in opposition to the earth-centric view of our universe—they were barely tolerated.

Even in Ram Rajya, the Indian ideal of governance, a washerman cast doubt on the purity of the royal family. When Swami Sivananda sang “don’t read, Govinda”, who is the agnostic and who the dissenter? There is a reference to the multitude of religions that have evolved in the past two millennia in India; hasn’t Christianity spread into hundreds of sects in different parts of the world?
In a democracy, there is bound to be dissent; subterranean in a dictatorship—human beings are not clones. The hidden purpose of the book appears to show that there is an explosion of dissent in the current political regime; it is forgotten that India has a powerful judiciary, which permits dissent so long it is legal, and it protects individual against the wrath of the state.

It is sad that so much attention has been given to so-called political and cultural differences; so little on the tragedy of India that after 70 years of independence, the citizen is in poor shape, every Human Index is low—our politicians have collectively failed us.
Somerset Maugham once said that reading a thousand books, without learning anything is worse than ploughing a thousand fields—he perhaps did not reckon for books with little to learn from them.

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