NEW DELHI: Dissent is a “safety valve” of democracy and the “blanket labelling of dissent as anti- national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy,” Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud said on Saturday. Delivering a lecture in Ahmedabad on ‘The hues that make India: From plurality to pluralism,’ Justice Chandrachud said the use of state machinery to curb dissent instils fear and creates a chilling atmosphere on free speech, which violates the rule of law and distracts from the constitutional vision of a pluralist society.”
“The democratically- elected government offers 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,” he added. Justice Chandrachud’s comments come at a time when the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Population Register exercise have triggered protests in many parts of the country. Many Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have dubbed the protesters as anti-national.
“The destruction of spaces for questioning and dissent destroys the basis of all growth — political, economic, cultural and social. In this sense, dissent is a safety valve of democracy,” he said. Justice Chandrachud was part of a bench that had in January sought a response from the Uttar Pradesh government on a plea seeking quashing of notices sent to alleged protesters to recover losses caused by damage to public property during anti- CAA demonstrations in the state.
“A democracy welded to the ideal of reason and deliberation ensures that minority opinions are not strangulated and ensures that every outcome is not a result merely of numbers but of a shared consensus,” he said. Chandrachud said the “true test” of a democracy was its ability to ensure the creation and protection of spaces where every individual can voice their opinion without the fear of retribution. “Inherent in the liberal promise of the constitution is a commitment to a plurality of opinion. A legitimate government committed to deliberate dialogue does not seek to restrict political contestation but we l - comes it,” he said.