PEOPLE—THE ONLY CENSORS OF GOVERNMENTS
There are governments of men who are sincere, honest and true, just as there are governments run by self-seekers, demagogues, and power-obsessed tyrants. There are monarchies, oligarchies, dictatorships and democracies. Who serves as a check on all types of government, good, bad or indifferent? Who acts as the final arbiter and the ultimate determinant of their worth and performance? The plain answer is—the people. The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government. The legal sovereign, that is, the authority constituted or set up by law, may have a will of its own and may enforce it for some time, but it is the political sovereign (who lies behind, and limits, the legal authority) that ultimately prevails.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the doctrine of “popular sovereignty” emerged as an expression of resentment of the people against the despotic authority of kings and their reliance on the theory of Divine Rights. The concept of popular sovereignty attributes ultimate sovereignty to the people. Rousseau was its great exponent, and it became a slogan of the French Revolution. The American Declaration of Independence and the U.S. constitution incorporated this principle in the preamble by affirming that Government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. Popular sovereignty has since then become the basis and watchword of democracy.
The general will and popular sovereignty are admittedly vague, indeterminate and diffusive concepts, but these do convey the basic idea of who is ultimately supreme. Since the electorate sits in judgement over the performance of the Government at the time of elections, it is called the final censor and the real sovereign.
A President a Prime Minister or a dictator may establish any number of organizations, small or big, to create the impression that his policies and actions are approved by representatives of various sections of society. But this is just for appearances. How can handpicked men and loyalists speak up for the people as a whole? When the time comes for the final censor—the people—to have their say, nothing else counts. What is more, their assessment and censorship is sound and effective. Of course it is the final word.
Significantly, the people’s judgment is mature and fully warranted even when they are largely illiterate. The people know how to punish and teach a lesson to leaders who abuse their authority and power and who tend to become arrogant and arbitrary in their conduct. When Mrs Indira Gandhi and her colleagues abused their power and betrayed the trust reposed in them, the people threw them out in the March, 1977 general elections and gave an opportunity to the Janata Party, even though it was a conglomeration of irreconcilable constituents. When the Janata leaders fell out among themselves and proved inept inefficient and unfit to govern the country well, the people firmly rejected them, thus asserting themselves once again, and in an unmistakable manner.
The Indian electorate’s rebuff to Mrs. Gandhi affirmed the dictum that censure is often useful, and praise may at times prove deceitful and misleading. There is also a grain of truth in Swifts comment that “censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent. It is the eminent people whose actions, which have a direct impact on the people, are subjected to final censorship by the ultimate arbiter. A government whose actions are repeatedly censured by the people does not last long, because every government is ultimately answerable to the people. A censured, rejected government loses all credibility.
Public opinion is a great force—far more powerful than any other. In fact, public opinion has been described as much stronger than the mightiest power on earth. As time passes and as education and general enlightenment spread, public opinion becomes more and more influential and decisive. The Press reflects it, faithfully in most cases. In the West the ouster of the Shah of Iran a decade ago is quoted as a notable example of public opinion acting as the final arbiter of the destiny of a powerful, arrogant Shah who thought no one could harm him and that he was destined to rule his country for ever.
If public opinion is well organized and clearly articulated, it acts invariably as a mighty censor. There is, however, the danger of public opinion being misguided in the heat of the moment. Calm and cool judgement is sometimes not given by the public when, for instance, they are swayed by momentary passions, anger and deep resentment over a specific act So the public voice too, has its limitations and all public verdicts need not necessarily be perfect or unexceptionable. But such exceptions apart, the general proposition that the people alone are the final censors is well-founded and universally accepted.