Vice President Hamid Ansari has expressed concern over attempts to curtail the voice of dissent in democracy, specially of NGOs in the country in last few years.
“In the globalising world of today and in most countries having a democratic fabric, role of civil society in the articulation of dissent has been and continues to be comprehensively discussed; so does the question of its marginalisation or suppression,” the Vice President said.
He was addressing the First Ram Manohar Lohia Memorial National Lecture organised by a city university here last evening.
“Dissent as a right has been recognised by the SupremeCourt of India as one aspect of the Right of Freedom of Speech guaranteed as a fundamental right by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” he said.
Ansari said the apex court has observed that the restrictions on the freedom of speech must be couched in the narrowest possible terms and that the provision of Article 19 (2) is justiciable in the sense that the restrictions on it have to be ‘reasonable’ and cannot be arbitrary, excessive or disproportionate.
Referring to the civil society concerns on the issue, Ansari said, “Despite the unambiguously stated position in law, civil society concerns about constraints on the right of dissent in actual practice have been articulated powerfully.”
Referring to the new reporting requirements for NGOs, he said, “Nothing is more fatal for disagreements and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden sub-texts or 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. Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the contents of the claim.. This has serious consequences for dissent,” he said.
“Every citizen of the Republic has the right and the duty to judge. Herein lies the indispensability of dissent,” he said.
On to Lohia, the Vice President said for over two decades, he was the ‘stormy petrel’ of the Indian politics.