It came as a pleasant surprise that the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, while speaking on the 150th anniversary of the said high court, talked of dissent and its importance in a democratic society.
The immense importance of what he said can be gauged from the fact that The Indian Express (March 14, 2016) thought it fit to relegate to sidelines what the president of India and chief justice of India said on the occasion, reducing their speeches to a mere footnote.
The speech of the Allahabad HC chief justice is all the more welcome if one recalls what his father (Y.V. Chandrachud) had to say on the value of dissent in the infamous ADM Jabalpur (or Habeas Corpus), which strangulated the right to dissent and in one stroke took away what the chief justice feels to be a right worthy of protection.
What makes the observation even more significant is the fact that not only he but the entire judiciary is still shackled by the judgment in ADM Jabalpur, as it holds good till date and is binding.
Shall we assume that he is debunking the judgment and holding it to be an ugly pimple on the face of the Indian judiciary? If he could quote Amartya Sen, what prevented him from referring to ADM Jabalpur and criticising it as being against the very basic structure of our Constitution which, according to him, is also to respect dissent?
It would have been highly appreciated if he had come out bravely and boldly against the dictum of the judgment. He would have won accolades from all who cherish and uphold the protection of the right to dissent.
It would have been in the fitness of things had he, in clear and unambiguous terms, pleaded for a review of the said judgment which continues to hang as a sword of Damocles over the heads of all who hold dear the right to dissent.
Not only that, talking of the right to dissent in extremely ambiguous terms, as the chief justice has done, is yet another aspect that has dangerous potents. He has not talked of the extent of that right nor of its limits. Talking in general and ambiguous terms is not legal language.
We are already facing a situation where the right to dissent has become a burning topic without there being a clear line of control.
It is precisely because of this ambivalence that while to some Kanhaiya Kumar is a hero, to others he remains a villain or anti-national. Consequently, the bail order passed by the Delhi High Court in Kanhaiya’s case is generating avoidable heat and has become a subject of both appreciation and deprecation. And while we are on the subject, what prevents the Supreme Court, if it feels that ADM Jabalpur has gravely gone wrong on the right to dissent, from reviewing the same suo motu?
Unfortunately, it has become a fashion to give mere sermons. History shows how those proclaiming basic human values and the virtues of independence of thought, right of action and liberty to dissent, succumb to the pressure of forces destructive of those values and how the laws of the land were/ are easily manipulated/ interpreted, be it ADM Jabalpur or in a recent case, converting a fine into compensation and extending time, again and again, to somehow make the defaulters obey the order, and in the process, the Yamuna-like mythical Saraswati is rendered dry and dead by the very forces which should guard its survival and existence.