Guiding Light: Dissent in a democracy

In our constitution, there is a beautiful right given to the citizen. It is called the ‘Right to the right of rights’. This means if the Government passes a law or does anything that infringes on the rights of the citizen, the citizens have a right to criticize, protest and agitate against your own government. They can do what it takes to make the Government change its mind. This is a meaningful right in a democracy. At the same time, in a country like India people are going overboard with this right. If a transport system has to be put up, there is a protest. If a nuclear power plant has to be put up, there is a protest. People want all conveniences.

Still, there is a protest against anything and everything. In fact, it seems like if you have to be a political leader you should be able to call a bandh and enforce it, whether you believe in anything or not. Strangely you gain credibility and fame. Where else but India will you find governments of states encouraging a bandh? A few years ago, the Chief Minister of a State was sitting in a protest. It is a strange and funny situation. The people who are supposed to govern are trying to close down society and create a hassle for everyone just because a few people feel like their rights are being trampled upon. These protesting people think that they can trample upon the rights of all of us.

Mahatma Gandhi weaponised ahimsa and used protest strategically because foreigners were ruling us. Now it is our own elected governments. Once the government is elected, support it. Even if you cannot support it, please don’t go on this mad spree of bandh-s. What is necessary is that we don’t look at those who call for bandh-s as leaders but only those people who can get things done. Leaders lead with a sense of responsibility. If we understand this, the problem of frequent hartals will be brought under control and the right to the right of rights will be used responsibly.

(The writer is the founder of Aarsha Vidya Foundation. You can write to him at

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