Dissent is today being labelled as anti-national. The essence of freedom and democracy is dissent. In countries that say there is no dissent, there is no freedom. In a democratic society, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. Dissent as a right has been accepted by the Supreme Court under right of the freedom of speech. In 1950, the People of India gave themselves a Constitution that promised to secure to all citizens, inter alia, “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” This was given a concrete shape by the specific rights guaranteed by Articles 19 and 25 and the associated framework ensuring their implementation. The past six-and-a-half decades have witnessed the manner, and the extent, of their actualisation.
The quest for correctives often found expression through assertions relating to freedom of expression and its concomitant, the concept of dissent. It is concept that contains within it the democratic right to object, oppose, protest and even resist. Cumulatively it can be defined as the unwillingness in an individual or group to cooperate with an established authority, social, cultural or governmental. In that sense, it is associated with critical thinking since, as Albert Einstein put it, “blind faith in authority is the greatest enemy of truth”.
In a democratic society, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. In that sense, the right of dissent also becomes the duty of dissent since tactics to suppress dissent tend to diminish the democratic essence. In a wider sense, the expression of dissent can and does play a role in preventing serious mistakes arising out of what has been called “social cascades” and “group polarisation,” which act as deterrents on free expression of views or sharing of information.
In the globalising world of today and in most countries having a democratic fabric, the role of civil society in the articulation of dissent has been and continues to be comprehensively recognized. Nothing is more fatal for disagreements and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden external agendas. The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you of taking their ideas seriously.
“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst.” These words by Justice D Y Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, which last week ordered that five human rights activists arrested by Pune police on charges of involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence, be kept under house arrest, have gained big importance at a time when protests and voices against the establishment are heard in increased decibels across the country.
The order stayed the police’s attempts to move them to Pune amid growing protests. The apex court also issued notices to the Union and Maharashtra governments, seeking their replies and observed that those arrested are prominent rights activists, professors and lawyers. The SC ordered the five activists to be kept under house arrest till 6 September. Till now, no credible evidence has come to light that these HR activists intended to either engage in or incite violence-provisos integral to a charge of sedition. It is her case that they only reiterated what millions of downtrodden and suppressed people have been demanding.
The fact is that over the last two decades the market-friendly policies have come to dominate the Indian ruling class concerns, and the expression of any views whatsoever inimical to those policies or their consequences for the vast mass of Indians has been tended to be seen as anti-national activity. Recently, over 100 military veterans in an open letter to the powers that be, said, “Dissent is not treason. In fact, it’s the essence of democracy.” In an attempt to speak against the “clamp down on free speech and the all-pervasive climate of fear, intimidation, hate, and suspicion”, nearly 114 veterans wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi stating their dismay at the divisiveness and current state of affairs of our country.
“We can no longer look away. We would be doing a disservice to our country if we do not stand up and speak for the liberal and secular values that our Constitution espouses. Our diversity is our greatest strength,” they said.
With BJP and its Hindutva allies’ pitch for raising Ram Temple at Babri Mosque site, India is limping back to 1990s situation when Hindu extremist brigades attacked the 500-year old mosque to make ground for Ram temple. Though the case is in the Supreme Court but the BJP, through media and other public media has launched a huge campaign to attract the attention for the temple building. As the BJP leaders are pushing for a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya through legislation, the Bajrang Dal is all set to recruit 25,000 volunteers for a movement to be launched in Ayodhya. Bholendra, the secretary of Awadh region in the VHP said, “The Bajrang Dal will be recruiting 25,000 volunteers by December 18 and events are already being organised in 100 locations in the Awadh region. These volunteers will be ready to march to Ayodhya anytime for Ram mandir construction on the orders of the top saints.” The BJP and its allies led by senior Hindutwa leaders L K Advani, Umma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi conducted a similar march in 1992 that resulted in the demolition of the mosque. The demolition of the mosque was followed by a bloody campaign against Muslims across many states, mostly in Maharshtra where 3000 Muslims were massacred by Hindu extremists. Media’s unconditional and unprofessional support to the Hindu extremists can be understood from the fact that the opponents of the move are openly questioned on the issue of their faith. The Hindutva brigade has no respect for the court as is evident from their din on the mosque-temple dispute. They have already refused to accept the Supreme Court decision on Sabarimala issue. This is the brute display of the majoritarian mindset undermining the rule of law—a dangerous edge that the country is being pushed to.
Much to the thrill of the BJP, the media, more particularly TV news channels, are following the Hindutva agenda quite religiously. The Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir dispute is a subject of prime time discussion of almost all news channels—both Hindi and English—on daily or alternate basis ever since assembly elections for five states were announced. It goes without saying that Ram Temple is a political slogan for the BJP to garner support in elections. It is the Ram Temple movement that saw BJP’s rise to power in 90s. However, the slogan had lost steam since its expulsion from power in 2004. It is for this fact that the party fought 2014 general elections on development and corruption issues. But having utterly failed on its promises of development and freeing country from the corruption, the BJP has fallen back upon the Ram Temple mantra. The BJP foot soldiers in the media are questioning publicly the faith of the people who dare to question the Hindutva forces. This new-found aggressiveness is to the fore unmistakably, a typical reminder that in the uocoming general elections the emotive issues would be exploited to the fullest extent by the Hindu extremist brigade. Last month, RSS chief Moham Bhagwat, at the customary Vijayadashmi address at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, came out with a newly invented demand urging the Narendra Modi government to bring in a law for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site which is under litigation for long. It reflected a new line of going over the head of the apex court to reach out to the Hindus regardless of what the court may rule. “Mandir Wahien Banega” is the latest slogan of the party. Many a keen observers believe that by linking faith with the “Mandir Wahien Banega” slogan, the BJP-led Ram campaign is aimed at influencing the Supreme Court as well where Hindu judges are hearing the case. This is merely an election game which the people should understand. The sane elements need to join together to save the country from sacrificing it at the altar of power politics.
World diabetes day and Kashmir
Like all other parts of the globe, world diabetes day was celebrated in Jammu and Kashmir too on Wednesday, last. Different awareness programmes, seminars and functions were organized on the day by the health departments, SKIMS and other related institutions in the valley. But most of these functions were held in the capital Srinagar only where people in large numbers participated. But the way the deadly disease is catching up the people across the state, the campaign should have been more broad-based, comprehensive and more-focused, particularly in rural areas. Though no proper survey has been conducted to find out the magnitude of the dangerous disease, medicos believe that almost eight percent of the population is presently suffering from diabetes while 24% others lie in the risk zone vulnerable to falling prey to the deadly disease. The most disturbing fact is that youngsters are more prone to diabetes. Diabetes is worldwide disease. While type 1diabetes cannot be prevented, the type 2 variant is indeed preventable if the right lifestyle options are adopted. Diabetes, known as a ‘lifestyle disease’, is spreading its tentacles dangerously across Jammu and Kashmir. The lives of thousands of people have already got seriously affected by this disease. If greater efforts are not undertaken to control the ailment, we may have to confront another health epidemic. Doctors and health experts have warned of the outbreak of this pandemic disease if not confronted well in time.
Unfortunately, a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy food choices and lack of physical activity have all contributed to an increase in diabetes cases. The same factors are at work in Kashmir and national health authorities need to consider ways and means to prevent the spread of the ailment here. What is worse here that more than 50% diabetic patients are not aware that they are suffering from diabetes? They come to know about the disease only when other organs of their boy get affected by the disease. Women and children are more prone to this disease. There is need to sensitize the women also because the disease could easily transfer to the child. Though, at present, there is no direct cure for diabetes, the thrust should be on stabilizing blood sugar levels. For this there is need for a comprehensive awareness campaign to aware people so that they can take care of themselves. Diabetes is a non-communicable disease, the state needs to launch awareness campaigns to identify the risk factors that can lead to the ailment. Experts note a healthy lifestyle is essential in preventing diabetes; healthy eating and physical activity are particularly highlighted. Experts have also called for regular screening of blood sugar levels to check for any signs of trouble. With a lazy lifestyle and traditional dietary habits, it is essential to immediately start addressing the dangers posed by diabetes and other ailments linked to unhealthy lifestyles. If we look at the size of food in Kashmir including wazwaan, we have the habit of taking heavy and high caloric diets with zero physical activity. We use a lot of cooking oil and we take a lot of carbohydrates like wheat products, rice and then we do not adhere to an active lifestyle. Besides we have been using machines for farming, cars to travel, TV to entertain ourselves replacing old traditional methods of compulsory exercise. The habit of exercise (a way to burn calories), is very less as the culture has not developed here yet. Add processed foods to it, it is sure lead to diabetes in children. Rather than wait for a full-blown epidemic, it would be wise for the state and health practitioners to help spread awareness about the benefits of eating healthier and staying fit amongst all age groups, especially youngsters drawn to junk food.
The state health department and primary institutions of medical health should take all these things into consideration and launch a massive awareness campaign all through the year to tackle this deadly disease.
Uncertainty over government formation
Uncertainty looms large on government formation in Jammu and Kashmir. Though some circles claim that a new government of hotchpotch coalition is likely to be installed in the state any time by the end of October, there is no definite word on as who would lead the government. The speculations about the new government had strengthened after hints by dropped by some aspirants of chief ministerial post. However, the latest from the BJP point-man is that there is no possibility of government formation and the Governor’s rule will continue. Ram Madhav was recently in Srinagar and his latest statement is deemed as BJP’s failure to get required support for the government it wanted to install in Jammu and Kashmir. There are many a claimants/ aspirants of the chief minister’s post. Altaf Bukhari of PDP and Sajjad Lone of Peoples’ Conference (from Kashmir) are deemed as ‘front runners’. A section of PDP legislators are ready to break away from the party but they want their own party man to be the chief minister with Altaf Bukhari as their choice. BJP, however, is silently acting on a plan to get its own man installed as the chief minister.
Minister of state in Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Raina is the BJP favourite. A BJP (Hindu) chief minister in a Muslim-majority state would be a big boost for the party ahead of next year’s general elections. For having failed to keep its election promises made in 2014, BJP is looking for some emotional issue to woo back the Indian voter. While five PDP MLAs who have rebelled against Mahbooba Mufti publicly are not averse to any chief minister from BJP, other “rebel” MLAs from the valley, however, have serious reservations. They believe that supporting BJP’s agenda of Hindu chief minister would cost them heavily. That is making the formation of the new government a difficult proposition. In disagreement between the BJP and PDP (rebel), the two-member party chief Sajjad Lone perceives a chance for himself. Sajjad’s dream of becoming the chief minister is for two reasons. First, no PDP or BJP MLA wants to go back to the electorate for fresh elections. Second, Governor’s rule for prolonged period too is not an option before New Delhi. In such a scenario, in his estimation, there is enough chance for him to emerge as alternate choice.
He is reported to have held meetings with several PDP MLAs and sought their help. Knowledgeable sources however reveal that BJP is not too keen to see Sajjad Lone as chief minister. But being their most trusted ally, the BJP leadership has told him that if he could manage support and get the required numbers, the party would support him. A strong lobby in the party believes that it would give rise to many questions for the party at national level. They say that ahead of next year’s general elections the BJP cannot afford any messy situation in Jammu and Kashmir. “If the state needed a chief minister from the valley only why Mahbooba was toppled then and the state was plunged into serious crisis” is a question that would be posed to the BJP even by its own cadres. BJP cadres think that there is a chance for their party to pitch for its own chief minister. But where are the numbers and wherefrom these will come is something that the party leaders have no answers. Mahbooba Mufti had, some time back, accused New Delhi of using NIA for breaking her party. That gives one the sense that BJP is working on influencing PDP legislators to get the required support.
Ram Madhav’s latest assertions that Governor’s rule will continue makes one to understand that BJP’s game-plan has seemingly gone to smithereens.
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