The press conference of the top four judges of the Supreme Court, led by justice J Chelameswar, makes one recall a quote attributed to the 19th century German Philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
As shocking as the developments of January 12 were (which is certain to become a defining moment in Indian history), it was a manifestation of frustration that runs deep in the Indian society. Since the current government came to power, dissent has been stifled and constitutional institutions have been systematically weakened.
Over the past three years, the independence and impartiality of the most sacred institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, Election Commission, and now the Supreme Court have come under cloud. As the judges rightfully cautioned in the press conference, this weakening of constitutional institutions doesn’t augur well for Indian democracy.
The malaise, however, is much deeper and is prevalent across the society where anyone who opposes the government is painted as anti-national. The lack of political maturity and prudence by the government was displayed by the prime minister himself on numerous occasions, including the recent Gujarat Assembly elections when he implied that former PM Manmohan Singh was guilty of high treason. The PM neither substantiated his claims nor apologised for his baseless allegations.
(From left) Supreme Court judges Kurian Joseph, Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi and Madan Lokur. (Credit: PTI photo)
The agenda of the government appears to have abandoned its primary duty of administration and upholding the Constitution. In the name of unity and nationalism, the government is unwittingly promoting a monolithic society that is devoid of diversity. It appears more interested in it’s age-old slogan of "Hindi, Hindu, Hindustani" rather than being concerned about the looming economic crisis as jobs are being lost in lakhs, compounding the already existing agrarian crisis.
Perhaps in a bid to cover up their incompetencies, the government is systematically weakening the constitutional bodies that have been designed to ensure checks and balances in our democracy. In this light, the press conference by the judges is being viewed by many as a cathartic release of the pent-up anxieties of the society at large.
While the three pillars of democracy are clearly in disarray (with yesterday’s press conference making it amply apparent), the fourth pillar offers no solace. In fact, the Indian media can best be described by the Telugu proverb, "Meka Vanne Puli (a tiger disguised as a goat)". The media, especially the TV channels instead of empowering the citizens and upholding civil liberties often deride them.
For instance, popular journalist Arnab Goswami questioned senior advocate Indira Jaising about her presence at the judges’ press conference and asked her in what capacity she attended it. The tone of such statements creates an image that a common citizen cannot be seen with any voice that questions the government.
Taking a cue from rabble rousing channels that stoke rabid nationalism, the more lumpen elements that support the government intimidate dissenting voices. They too can be described as "Meka Vanne Puli" as they defend their hate speeches and even slurs as freedom of speech. The government, meanwhile, continues to paint a glossy picture of the country with the help of an ever-obliging media.
As Indian democracy finds itself at the cusp of a constitutional crisis, another Telugu proverb which most Telugu mothers, including mine teach their children after narrating moral stories comes to my mind - "Nijam Nippu Lantidhi" - which means truth is like fire. Justice Chelameswar, an ardent connoisseur of Telugu literature and poetry, was perhaps driven by this proverb when on Friday he gave voice to what common citizens have been ruminating for along time.
As a child, my mother explained to me that the proverb meant that truth like fire cannot be contained for long and those who try to manipulate it only burn their hands. I am indebted to my mother for that. If only the members of the ruling party could recall what their mothers must have taught them, in their own languages, we could all see the truth about ourselves.
The truth that we are a plural society and not a monolith. The truth that our beauty is in the mosaic of cultures. The truth that dissenting against the government is not tantamount to treason. The truth that we can have differences of opinion and yet live amicably. And the unpleasant truth that we falsely believe we are free.