by - suraj sharma on Sunday, January 02, 2011
With one smooth stroke of rhetorical fluency Badri Raina (Dec 19th, Open Page/Isn't Dissent...), with a little help from Voltaire, dismissed all the profundity of Arundhati Roy's anarchist statements by 'allowing' her the right to disagree with the official view of Indian state on the issue of Kashmir.
Like Arundhati Roy, the author's critique is unique only to the extent of articulation - and if it is novelty of articulation that counts as opinion these days, then I invite the reader to ponder upon a few inconsistencies and contradictions I found within the article.
Beginning with the title - I do not know what the inclinations of the author are on the ideological compass of the political landscape but even the moderately informed thinker will have a hard time digesting the fact that dissent is (being proposed as) the essence of democracy. Any dissent, I believe, pervasive enough to become the essence of any political ideology (not just democracy) will only dissolve that ideology - and the political framework it supports - into an order-less, hopeless mess. Dare I also mention, that for it to be a democracy in the first place, some people must "agree" with each other. Dissent can not be the basis for any kind of social contract except a mutually endorsed anarchy. Therefore, dissent is not the essence of democracy.
The same contradiction also resonates with the last paragraph where the author tries to point towards the First Amendment of the American Constitution as a possible solution for a more liberal inclusion of dissenting voices into the public consciousness. The author seems to forget, that in America too, the freedom of speech isn't absolute. The doctrine of "Clear and present danger" continues to protect the constitution and state but since they are the world's oldest democracy, their tolerance for radical speech is obviously higher than ours and the two relative values can't really be compared.
It is true that dissent is the humble acknowledgment that every decision can become an object of revision, but what is perhaps more true is that dissent for the sake of dissent will never allow us to find out when it is the right time to revise our basic decisions such as the decision to constitute ourselves as a democracy. Whether the ideals enshrined in the constitution are open to such revision remains a matter of debate until we're old enough (as a democracy) to express dissent against the basic structure doctrine of Indian Constitution or upon finally being in agreement that we have all reached the ideals we sought.
Its almost a dirty job but someone has to do it by reminding the author that perhaps in "India" Arundhati Roy is exalted as a revolutionary but in "Bharat" she has made the blood boil of many a tax-paying-citizen who is yet to understand the nuanced difference between Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism. Religion and Nationalism therefore, remain for the majority of our country folk, the equivalent of what Plato called "Noble lies" and contribute more to the stability of the country than most liberals would have us believe. The Government of India has once again, swallowed a bitter pill by charging Roy with Sedition.
The author accuses the Indian state of sinking to a new low in democratic self confidence and I want to ask - was our democratic self confidence ever higher than this? A nation that was wrenched from the hands of a world power on the principles of non-violence and peaceful dissent must always be wary of those very principles working against it as it moves towards more emancipatory levels of inclusion.
To diffuse peaceful dissent peacefully is the call of the hour and although I myself do find the charges of sedition leveled against Roy a trifle extreme, I reluctantly acquiesce knowing the sensitivity of the issue and the fragile nature of our unity-in-diversity.