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Democracy is all about free speech, divergent views, tolerance and accommodation. But unity in diversity alone sustains a democratic nation. Democracy is by the people, of the people and for the people. However, everything gets decided by majority opinion in a democracy.
From panchayats to Parliament, a representative of the people gets elected on securing highest number of votes. A political party, or a coalition of parties, forms government, if it gets support of majority of members in a legislature. A law gets enacted only if it is approved by a majority of members in the House.
The Supreme Court decides mundane, important as well as constitutional issues based on the opinions of majority of judges on the bench. Howsoever one may like or is convinced about minority views, what holds good is the majority view.
Thinness of majority does not diminish the sanctity of a decision, law, or a government. But in India, there has been a tendency, fuelled by the compulsively contrarian intelligentsia, to undermine the majority view. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. But does it make every view of a contrarian fundamentally right?
Indian National Congress shaped India’s freedom struggle and democratic structure. Sadly, it could neither achieve unity on its idea of India nor could it accommodate divergent views. It led to India’s vivisection, murders of millions of partition-forced migrants and assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
In the 1930s, INC dramatically expanded its membership base, especially after winning provincial elections in 1937, from 6 lakh to around 40 lakh. In 1938, Subhas Chandra Bose was nominated INC president. He championed nationalism in the freedom struggle.
In 1939, Bose sought re-election on the twin agenda — launching a nationwide struggle against the Federation and opposing welltrenched leaders by branding them as compromisers. Mahatma Gandhi and a majority of Congress Working Committee members supported Pattabhi Sitaramayya’s candidature for party president. Bose got elected with 1,575 votes. Sitaramayya, despite the support of Gandhi and other stalwarts, got only 1,376 votes.
Gandhiji called Sitaramayya’s loss his personal defeat, triggering inner-party turbulence. Those in the minority controlled the party narrative. Wounded by sharp comments, Bose resigned. The minority view trumped the majority. A new trend took root in democracy — having majority support was one thing, but the reins of real power lay with those who penned and propagated the narrative.
Congress and Gandhiji repeated the experiment when it came to choosing the first prime minister. By April 1946, Gandhiji had made his choice — Jawaharlal Nehru. But the overwhelming majority favoured Sardar Patel, who got support from 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees. If Patel had the majority, Nehru had Gandhiji. And we know who became the PM. The cardinality of majority view in democracy was lost forever.
While framing the Constitution, the contentious Uniform Civil Code was fiercely debated. The majority supported UCC. It was staunchly opposed by Muslim leaders, especially Hussain Imam from Bihar. B R Ambedkar repudiated Muslims’ claim that Shariat law was immutably and uniformly in vogue for centuries across the country.
Ambedkar said till 1937, the North West Frontier Province, United Province, Central Province and Bombay followed Hindu law on succession issues. But he bowed to the minority view and agreed to place UCC in Article 44 in Directive Principles chapter of the Constitution. The majority view again lost.
Parliament codified Hindu personal laws in 1955-56. There was an overwhelming demand for similar codification of Muslim personal law. Muslims opposed it. Nehru came to their rescue. He did not support it saying the Muslim community was not yet ready for codification of its personal laws.
Since then, demand for UCC has grown shriller. The Supreme Court has repeatedly told governments, since 1985, that UCC is a must for India. In the Shah Bano case in 1985, the SC had said, “A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to law which have conflicting ideologies.”
In Sarla Mudgal case, the SC said in 1995, “Where more than 80% of citizens have already been brought under codified personal law, there is no justification whatsoever to keep in abeyance, any more, the introduction of uniform civil code for all citizens in India.”
Yet again in 2003, the SC in John Vallamattom case highlighted the desirability of achieving the goal set by Article 44. There is little chance of the majority’s wish and repeated exhortations by the SC bearing fruit till the sanctimonious intelligentsia pen and propagate a narrative on UCC.
All these events have fortified an unsustainable democratic cloak. It squeezes the majority view while expanding and legitimising the minority view. Opposition to a minority view, especially if it has got the approval of the contrarian intelligentsia, is made to appear unfit to be part of free speech.
A minuscule intelligentsia constantly attempts to portray social media as a referendum platform or a parallel Parliament sans accountability or duty. If your views or actions oppose theirs, they don’t hesitate to flash the “you know who I am” card, a common tool for those intoxicated by their minor fame or infamy through frequent appearances on television channels.
There was some recent drama in Delhi enacted by a famous rights activist-lawyer accompanied by an academic-psephologist-politician. A constable stopped the duo from attending an anti-CAA protest. The lawyer exhorted his comrade to shoot a video of the policeman. Then he said, “You know who I am? I am so and so. I am an advocate in Supreme Court. Now this matter will go to Supreme Court. You better understand this properly.” What will he tell the SC judges if they refuse to entertain his petition?

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