Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Public debate


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Public debates are an integral part of democracy. They encourage a free flow of ideas leading to constructive and healthy arguments between people holding differing view points. In Meghalaya this has seldom happened. Pressure and interest groups have all along imposed their diktat on the citizenry. Such diktats are laced with threats, thereby compelling unwilling compliance. This culture of imposition of views by a minority group on the majority without public consensus reeks of tyranny. It erodes the fragile tenets of democracy in a region where democracy itself is constantly under assault.

The recent debate on whether to have festivities on a Sunday has two sides to it. There is the church which has expressed its reservations on such festivities being held on what is construed to be a day dedicated to prayers and church- attendance. There are other interest groups which have gone to the extent of issuing a diktat to the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum (MTDF) to call off its scheduled concluding programme on Sunday November 6. Political parties which have never been known to have a mind of their own have jumped into the populist bandwagon to say no fun on Sunday. They want to please the so-called ‘loud voices’ with the hope of gaining votes.

Meanwhile the Shillong Press Club (SPC) has stepped in to mediate between the two opposing viewpoints. The SPC organized a public debate on the theme – Festivities on Sunday? This was an opportunity for the antagoanists to publicly air their view and argue out their position cogently. Unfortunately they decided not to do so. The debate became a rather one-sided affair. Nevertheless a beginning has been made to bring contentious issues into the public domain instead of relying on press releases or of firing the gun from a newspaper/cable news channel. This is a healthy initiative. Those with dissenting views on any issue should have the courage of conviction to defend those views. The unwillingness to do so exposes an intolerant, fundamentalist mind-set which is the anti-thesis of liberalism and democracy. Many countries are today opting for democracy. Why should Meghalaya regress to the dark ages of despotism?

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