On 30 June, while delivering the17th Justice PD Desai Memorial Trust lecture, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana spoke at length about the importance of dissent and accountability in a democracy. He said:
"It has always been well recognised that the mere right to change the ruler, once every few years, by itself need not be a guarantee against tyranny."
CJI Ramana further went on to quote legal scholar Julius Stone as he pointed out that “elections, day-to-day political discourses, criticisms and voicing of protests” are “integral to the democratic process”.
"Law as a tool of social control, which is backed by the sovereign is a double-edged sword. It can be used not only to render justice, it can also be used to justify oppression."Chief Justice of India NV Ramana
Lawyers, Judges, Activists Welcome CJI's Remarks
CJI Ramana's remarks on seeking accountability from a democratically elected government have received appreciation from fellow judges, lawyers, and social activists.
Senior lawyer Indira Jaising, while talking to The Quint, said that CJI Ramana's remarks reiterate that democracy is the basic feature of the Constitution and is not just about casting of a vote every five years.
Ms Jaising further echoed CJI's viewpoint which believes that democracy is sustained when judges do justice "without fear or favour".
Retired Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, Justice Govind Mathur, told The Quint that he was happy to hear a strong and determined voice from the judiciary.
Justice Mathur, who himself is celebrated as a "protector of civil liberties" within the legal fraternity, said that CJI Ramana is very right in saying that for the judiciary to apply checks on governmental power and action, it has to have complete freedom.
Social activist Harsh Mander, while speaking to The Quint, said that while the comments of CJI Ramana are welcome, we now have to see whether the central government would behave with "greater restraint".
Mander further pointed out that we're living in what scholars characterise as "electoral autocracy" where the executive heavily clamps down on dissent.
"Anti-CAA protests, farmers' protests, and Bhima Koregaon are the examples of how the executive not just crushes but gravely criminalises dissent."Harsh Mander
CJI Ramana's speech also became a tool for the Opposition parties to ask tough questions and seek accountability from the ruling government.
While people from both within the legal fraternity and beyond have welcomed CJI Ramana's assertive speech on democratic accountability, everyone awaits the translation of these words into practice.
An optimistic view would be eagerly waiting to see how the remarks made by CJI Ramana would impact the adjudication of key issues on civil liberties – Kashmir petition, petition challenging CAA, and petition challenging constitutionality of sedition.