Opinions aren't dangerous in a democracy
Opinions aren't dangerous in a democracy

Amit Kapoor

A democracy's very resilience stems from the fact that you can celebrate opinions you don’t agree with. This clearly highlights the value of diversity - to be willing to accept ideas that one doesn’t necessarily agree with.

What must be emphasized is that the real value of opinion is the absolute right to be wrong and be wrong without fear and where there is no vindictiveness or its threat doesn’t exist.

My previous column, "Will anything change with the new prime minister” got some positive comments like how this was worth a larger discourse, how it could change the country for the positive and how an action agenda needs to be set to get the idea in motion.

What, though, came as a surprise were the not so positive comments - or, I should say, the near threats or direct threats from the bureaucracy to refrain from such articles because they seemed to believe that opinions and ideas are dangerous; that they can lead to the downfall of the world’s largest democracy.

This compels us to look afresh at the true meaning of democracy. At the core is free speech - the right to an opinion, the right to disseminate the opinion and the right to be heard. One thing, though, is definitively true: that no curtailment of ideas can happen or should happen.

Quite remarkably, we don’t have to agree with each other’s ideas, thoughts or writings. We should be fight to protect the right to tell, suggest, criticize and debate. Thus, we can clearly state that the entrenched power of democracy is its free speech and the ability of the people to self-correct whenever and wherever required.

At times one finds the dichotomy difficult to fathom and understand. On the one hand, we proudly suggest we are the world’s largest democracy with the largest number of people voting. But we also have numerous restrictions - implicit or explicit - and straight-jacketing. One cringes at the thought of real freedom of speech when there when there are so many restrictions.

One seemingly faces so many restrictions from a section of the bureaucracy that it is trying to curtail our right to free speech that one would like to ask a few questions:

* How free is our speech when we are beaten down and threatened, if even implicitly, by the very people who are paid to serve us?

* How can we go about changing the country when the bureaucrats would work overtime to find you, work against you and think that even discussing an idea could bring down the world's largest democracy?

* How can we progress without celebrating non-conforming ideas as the status quo wouldn’t work?

My own case is trivial and only serves as an example. But it represents countless others whose voices are silenced or never even whispered from fear of bureaucratic reprisals.

One needs to understand and appreciate that the only way India's big and difficult problems would be resolved is by having misfits and rebels in the system, debating their ideas and carrying the best of those forward. How on earth can we imagine that we would have solutions when we push such people down and not appreciate their points of view?

Ideas being freely given seem to be seen as threatening in the febrile imagination of some bureaucrats as if these could affect the government's foundations. This is exceedingly short-sighted.

They can threaten me, intimidate me, take away my position, demean me, hurt me professionally or affect my credibility, but the bureaucracy cannot take away my ability to opine and contribute. It makes the understanding stronger that it is the bureaucracy that a threat to this country, not ordinary citizens who opines his ideas to take the country forward.


Update: 21-April-2014