Truth is the weapon to counteract power and obviate the predisposition to tyranny
Justice D Y Chandrachud arrives to attend Chief Justice of India Justice Dipak Misra’s farewell function on the Supreme Court lawns in New Delhi. Credit: PTI File Photo
Justice D Y Chandrachud’s speech on “Speaking truth to power,’’ made last week, was a seminal assertion of the power of truth to drive and sustain societies and of the need for citizens to wield it as a shield and weapon to keep their societies free and democratic. The judge’s speech was at once moralistic, academic, philosophical and political but had a jurisprudential underpinning as he was exploring the need for the citizen to assert his right to speak to power. It was also a comment on contemporary society when he proposed that the citizen had not just the right but the duty to question power in the interest of truth, because governments increasingly monopolise power and try to support it with falsehood. Truth is the weapon to counteract power and obviate the predisposition to tyranny because “democracy and truth go hand in hand, and democracy needs truth to survive.’’
The judge’s assertions may seem to be abstractions, but they become relevant in the present global and national scenarios where freedoms are shrinking, rights are eroding and truth is suppressed. He has cautioned that truth, as determined by the State, may not always be free of falsehood, and that “one cannot only rely on the State to determine the ‘truth’.” He has made some practical propositions to recover truth from the post-truth world, in which “there is a contest between ‘our truth’ vs ‘your truth’, and a tendency to ignore a ‘truth’ not in alignment with one’s perception.” This can only be done by strengthening public institutions, ensuring that the media is free, creating an educational system that instils in children the temperament to pose questions to power, and by acknowledging and celebrating the plurality of opinions. It is also the citizens’ duty to protect the integrity of elections, which are the bedrock of democracy. Intellectuals also have the responsibility to expose the “lies of the State’’ and it is important to hold governments in check and guard against falsehoods, false narratives and fake news.
Since the world is increasingly divided along social, economic and religious lines and we live in “echo chambers or bubbles where people are only exposed to the viewpoint they agree with and never coming into contact with an opposing one,” it is necessary to listen to and accommodate other views and sentiments. This will also make it incumbent on people to be kinder and more sensitive to those around them. A State which has “Satyameva Jayate’’ as its motto makes it obligatory for its citizens to ensure that truth prevails over falsehood. The judge’s assertion that the best armour for the State and the citizens is truth should not go unheeded.