In a nation as diverse as India, it is voices like Gauri’s that governments need to heed.

Gauri Lankesh Why the Right and the Left need voices like hers more than they concede
Voices Opinion Thursday, September 07, 2017 - 13:32

Democracy is by definition a victory of the majority. Majority simply means what most voters want, and not necessarily the demographic majority. That would be the BJP helming the Centre, and the Congress, the state of Karnataka.

Having been voted in by most, for their stances on various issues, they would then act thusly, catering to their voters, their supporters, their base and therefore ensure their future. This is basic.

The thing though, is that a government, state or central, is not a government just for the majority. It is for all people. Those who voted for them, and those who voted against them, as they knew not what the verdict would be in advance. While a political party is for its base, a government is for all.

However, the reality is that, having been elected by the majority, the government mirrors their desires, sentiments and aspirations. Establishment equates to the majority. Worse, on key issues in India, even if the individual elected representative were to have a contrarian voice, the party whip ensures that he is co-opted.

So, what happens when one wants the other thing? More public transport, not flyovers. Bazaars, not malls. Kannada, not Hindi. Local governance not MPLADS? Women in power, not Husbands-of-Councillors? Public toilets, government schools that educate, open markets for farmers, regulated real estate, decentralised development?

Then one would be in a minority; no elections are won on these planks and no government, no matter how large its majority even attempts to champions these issues. Democracy is cruel, that way.

These would be labelled, in all honesty, as anti-establishment choices and minority voices. Minority lacks privilege, platform, agency and leverage to communicate needs, so most people just acquiesce and align with the juggernaut that is majority government. That doesn’t improve the status quo though!

How, then, can a government for all people be made to listen?

The answer is in the 3rd, 4th and 5th pillars of democracy, without which, civilised society can come to naught. The justice system – (removed working) for all, not differentially for the rich and poor. The media – vox populi, not just Doordarshan. And the citizens themselves – voters and eternal overseers of the government.

These pillars – the justice system, the media and active citizens –  if they do their jobs unfettered, will echo the voice of the under-represented in government – be it children, tribals, women, Dalits or farmers. A justice system that merely toes the elected is travesty, it needs to uphold the constitution and deliver to its spirit. A media that resounds the voice of the state instead of amplifying the voice of the people is redundant. And citizens, who vacation until election day instead of holding their elected representatives accountable beget the substandard governance we have today!

Being agreeable doesn’t agree with democracy. And that is precisely why Gauri Lankesh was so crucial to the functioning of the state and nation.Regardless of one’s affiliations, her consistently anti-establishment stance was core to democracy, especially one as diverse as India.  She was an oddball, a so-called rebel, and she and her kind, often mistaken as delinquents, are the real sticklers for the Constitution.

They are not anti-national, they echo the disenfranchised voices of the nation. They are the great levellers, for there is no democracy without equality and freedom and neither of those can be voiced by the majority, which is first among equals in any society.

She and the anti-majority do what citizen stalwarts did in yesteryears, by getting Sati and child marriage outlawed, by winning suffrage for women in Europe, by freeing slaves in the US, and now by annulling the instant Triple Talaq in India.

Trouble makers and heretics of the day, for they dare go against the grain, are celebrities and heroes of tomorrow. Rare as they are, they must be cherished and nurtured simply for the irreplaceable and collective institutional value they add to a diverse democracy. For how can a nation as manifold as India possibly speak in one majority voice?

She was a genuine democratic article. Her life was the sound of voiceless peoples. Our silence will be the death of democracy. 

(Views expressed are personal.)

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