Criticism integral to democratic process : CJI

CJI N V Ramana, delivering the17th P D Desai memorial lecture, said, “Mere right to change the ruler once every few years by itself need not be a guarantee against tyranny. The idea that people are the ultimate sovereign is also to be found in notions of human dignity and autonomy. A public discourse, that is both reasoned and reasonable, is to be seen as an inherent aspect of human dignity and, hence, essential to a properly functioning democracy. Day to day political discourses, criticisms and voicing of protests are integral to democratic process.”

He further added, “We live in a democracy. The very essence of a democracy is that its citizenry has a role to play, whether directly or indirectly, in the laws that govern them. In India, it is done through elections, where the people get to exercise their universal adult franchise to elect the people who form part of Parliament, which enacts laws. Incidentally, we, the Indian people, gave ourselves the universal adult franchise from day one of the coming into existence of our Republic, unlike some of the advanced democracies.”

Continuing, he said, “In the 17 national general elections held so far, the people have changed the ruling party or combination of parties eight times. In spite of large-scale inequalities, illiteracy, backwardness, the people of independent India have proved themselves to be intelligent and up to the task.”

Speaking on the civilisational importance of the rule of law in a democracy, the CJI linked it to a “strong and independent judiciary”. “The judiciary is the primary organ which is tasked with ensuring that the laws which are enacted are in line with the Constitution. This is one of the main functions of the judiciary, that of judicial review of laws, which is part of the basic structure and cannot be curtailed by Parliament,” he said, adding that the task of upholding constitutional values must be shared equally by the judiciary, the legislature and the executive.

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