Public Dissent A Necessity

Non-violent public dissent is an important democratic characteristic that vibrantly reflects the nature of a democratic system that is continuously evolving and transforming to meet the needs of people. Contrary to popular assumption, the presence of public dissent does not imply failure, rather it demonstrates the stability of a strong democratic system that has the confidence to embrace and accommodate constructive and critical public dissent. In an ironic yet critical way, public dissent is an indicator that measures the effectiveness and activeness of a democratic system. It provides information to ascertain whether a democratic system allows its citizens to publicly express their grievances and if such grievances thereafter are addressed in a meaningful way.  

The absence of public dissent does not mean that the system by itself is good or complete, nor does it show that it is effectively meeting the needs of the people; it only demonstrates the presence of an acute condition which does not allow or encourage people to democratically express their grievances and needs through non-violent dissent. In such a condition, there is a tendency to structurally suffocate, stagnate and strangulate the creativity of the collective imagination. Hence, when there is no public dissent, the system ceases to be dynamic and it reaches a point when it stops responding to the needs of the people. Consequently, there is very little development of human life.

I must bring to public expression observations of some developments in the context of the state of Nagaland. Dimapur – the de facto business capital – has been experiencing acute problems of power supply. It has now reached a point, where Dimapur is receiving only 8 hours of electricity – read as 1 hour of electricity every three hours – for the past 14 days, and till date, no reasonable explanation has been offered by the government to the public. Naturally this shortage of power has had social and economic consequences. Still, during this same period of time, various news reports in both Naga and Indian newspapers have identified, questioned and raised concerns regarding use of fund allocations in various governmental departments. Yet, in all these, the public has been quiet, it has been voiceless.     

The public silence is very concerning. After all we are talking about issues that affect their very quality of life – every day life. It is as if the public is paralyzed, unable to move, unable to express itself. But why, what has caused this gross degree of indifference? It is fear, is it over dependence, is it about political and economic patronage, is it about survival, is there fear of reprisal, is the environment not providing space for democratic dissent or is it just plain complacency and pure laziness to assert and demand what is due to every individual. What ever the cause, the result of this public silence to hold the government accountable is threatening the very fiber of democratic governance. The absence of democratic public dissent in such circumstances is only undermining the very democratic framework of what constitutes a dignified life.

Sadly, I must conclude that democracy is NOT alive and well in Nagaland. What one needs to understand is that this public silence cannot even be termed as ‘politeness.’ The very fact that the public are unable to demand their very basic infrastructural needs such as electricity is disturbing. The reality that the public remains silent to issues of misuse of resources by the very public institutions that have been created to serve their needs is a silence that cannot be defended. There seems to be a very misplaced understanding of right and wrong, a perverse perception of governance and definitely a misconstruction of priorities. One can’t simply comprehend why one can muster the will to demonstrate on vague issues of delimitation and yet lack the will to demand for basic and concrete needs such as electricity, good roads and democratic accountability.

It the end, it is self-evident. Naga society is indeed comfortably corrupt and lacks the integrity to stand for what is right and to compassionately transform what is perceived as wrong. The absence of democratic public dissent reveals the missing dimension of an active democracy. It exposes that power is in the hands of a few, and that the majority are dependent on them for survival. Perhaps public dissent has already been purchased by the powers that be?