AUTHOR:

ADITI SINGH,
Student,
National Law University, Visakhapatnam

CO-AUTHOR:

ABSTRACT

Democracy is the government of the people, for the people and by the people. The basis of a democracy is people itself. Since, it is the people that form the heart and soul of a democratic country, it is important to pay attention to their opinion. This concept of listening and forming a consensus about the views of the people gives rise to the concept of Public Opinions. Public Opinion encompasses the attitudes, views and values that the individuals hold towards politics, international events, administration and personalities. Public opinion should form the backbone of a democratic nation. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Public Opinions in a democratic nation have been continuously ignored. The political outlook of the bureaucrats suppresses the ideology of the people. This research works to highlight the importance of Public Opinion in a country. It begins by theoretically defining the term ‘Public Opinion’ and continues to present a practical approach of the same. Political outlook on Public Opinion has also been given importance. Various theories that have been based, theories discussed and the significance of public opinion has been mentioned with respect to various political thinkers.

Besides talking about the theoretical and practical meaning of Public Opinion, the article takes an Indian specific approach. The researcher goes on to discuss the contemporary stand of Public Opinion. Media trials, election ideology, political parties, Public uprisings to unjust legislations have been linked to public opinion. The Right to Information Act has also been included as a tool which the public can utilize to keep a check on the government and bring forward their point of view.

The article concludes with strategies and the way in which public opinions can be revived. Significance in modern times has been emphasized and motivates scope for research on similar lines.

Keywords: Public opinion, democracy, significance. Practical approach, contemporary stand, political outlook 

Introduction

“Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much.”

Abraham Lincoln

In the words of the political scientist Harold Lasswell, “The open interplay of opinion and policy is the distinguishing mark of popular rule.”[1] Public Opinions are the heart and soul of a country. A democracy being run on the basis of the people, needs to have a system in which the views of the people are not just heard, but also respected and adhered to. Public Opinions began to fulfill the same purpose. Finding a systematic way for the people to voice their opinions has always been difficult. Since, it is not the majority point of view, all sections of the society have to be respected. It has never been possible to come up with a plan that satisfies the needs of the people and does not go unruly at the same time.

According to Lord Bryce, “Public opinion is a congeries of all sorts of discrepant notions, beliefs, fancies, prejudices and aspirations – it is confused, incoherent, amorphous, varying from day-to-day and week to week. But in the midst of this diversity and confusion every question as it rises into importance is subjected to a process of consolidation and clarification until there emerge and take definite shape certain views, each held and advocated in common by bodies of citizens. It is to the power exercised by any such view, or set of views, when held by an apparent majority of citizens, that we refer when we talk of public opinion as approving or disapproving a certain doctrine or proposal, and thereby becoming a guiding or ruling power.”

In a democracy, public opinion becomes even more important. They not only decide what the people desire, but also how the people want the government to progress. Public opinion is not just limited to elections and newspapers, but has taken a step forward. They have figured out ways like media trials, public uprisings and other outrage to voice their opinions. Not all of them are decent and legal for the country but, it has had drastic effects on the country. The article moves forward on the political aspect and the significance of the public opinions.

The brilliant Spanish writer Jose’Ortega Y Gassett in his Revolt of the Masses goes a step further and says “Never has any one ruled on the earth by basing his rule essentially on any other thing than public opinion.”[2] So, based on the ideas people have about public opinions, we can safely say, Public Opinions is one the principal unwritten organ of a successful Democracy. A democratic government can run peacefully and effectively, if the wishes of the public are respected. Public Opinion is the tool that helps to sustain this goal.

However, in the current struggle for power. The importance and the significance of Public opinions has been lost. Politicians are working to satisfy their hunger for power and money. Executives are failing every day to implement the policies. And the only independent organ of the country, the judiciary finds itself overburdened. In the end it’s the people who suffer. It is these theories that have been put to test in this research. Various approaches have been discussed, and more importantly, a contemporary view of public opinions has been presented. It is good to begin from the beginning and then explore the changing perspectives and impact of the same.

Public Opinions

In the process of reaching a consensus about the implementation and effective working of Public Opinions, Political scientists and thinkers have successfully strived to reach certain definitions, which encapsulate its essence in a true and absolute sense. “The concept ‘public’ can be best understood by distinguishing it, in a sociological way, from kindred terms like crowd, mob, mass and electorate.”[3] Public is a stable and more civilized entity as compared to all other categorizations of people. As stated by various thinkers, “public includes the vast number of human beings of a country but it has special reference to their political characteristics and behaviour.”[4] Public has been present in society ever since society came into being. Aristotle and Plato both have given their views and called the public as a forever changing phenomenon.

The story with opinion is also not much different. The Greeks have called opinion as a diversified and multiple ideologies that are never constant and keep on evolving with time. Both words combined lead into an entirely new term that works on uplifting the society. Public Opinions works on the front of social change. In a democracy, public opinion drives the government. “The fact that public opinion is a tremendous social and political force is vindicated by the growing use of techniques and devices for enlisting public opinion in favour of the administrative policy of a country”[5]

 According to Habermas “The public sphere was constituted in discussion which could also assume the form of consultation and of sitting in the court of law, as well as in common action, be it the waging of war or competition in athletic games.”[6]

Even after its extreme importance, Public Opinion has a number of limitations. Sir Robert Peel satirized “that great compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong-feeling, right feeling, obstinacy and newspaper paragraphs which is called public opinion”.

Public opinions have a number of limitations, but their importance is equally significant to look at. “Behind all the laws and institutions of the democratic state is the power of public opinion”[7]

Public Opinion is not about collective responsibility. It is about multiple individual ideas that need a platform to be heard. “The only entity worthy of the name of public opinion is something generated by interactions in such a structure and which is “effective” in the sense that people in positions of power judge it to be worth taking into account.”[8]  There is no bar to accept or reject government policies. It is about voicing their concerns “constancy, as to give rise to the possibility of affecting action, directly or indirectly, toward the object concerned.”[9]

Approaches to Public Opinion

Public Opinion is not a new concept. It has been a part of society for a long time. Thinkers have named it differently. But the essence remained the same. The essence of Public Opinion boils down to three important points. These are Beliefs of the public in the authorities governing them. Second, a list of facts and pointers as to where and when the authorities could not handle the situation. They act as proof that there is some problem with the working of the government. And last being the will of the people. This will give them the right to have a say in the working of the authorities. The belief, the list of facts, and the will of the people gives them a direction to work for their country.

Traditional Approach of Public Opinion

E.M. Sait observed, “there should be no question about what we mean by calling opinion ‘public’; we mean, in the light long established usage, that it is the opinion of the community, the opinion of the people.” The traditional view of Public Opinion was based on generalizations. The majority opinion was paid attention to. The minorities felt neglected and their needs were not at all represented. Lieber defined it as “the sense and sentiments of the community, necessarily irresistible showing its power everywhere,” which “gives sense to the letter and life of law; without the written law is a mere husk.” 

Least importance was given to the voice of the people. Their opinions were considered secondary. The opinions were based on a consensus of the people. The minorities didn’t feel that they were equally represented. A homogenous opinion seemed to miss out on minor details. Such was Rousseau’s idea; he assumed a society of men, generally enlightened and honest, active in their own political interests and free from fractional associations. One ideology was considered as a uniform ideology. According to Lowell, “if any minority withholds consent, or gives it grudgingly or unwillingly, the prevailing opinion cannot be called public.”[10]

“An ideological liberal consistently favors liberal policies and opposes conservative policies; a moderate consistently favors middle-of-the-road policies and rejects ideological extremes.”[11]

The function of republican politics is to make possible, indeed to require the transformation of interest, “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens.”[12] Crucible politics was originally based on majority opinion.

The traditional view was a biased opinion. They did not consider public opinion as an opinion of the people at large. It was based on the ideas of aristocracy. The suppressed classes continued to be suppressed. To compensate for the discrepancies of the traditional view of public opinion the contemporary view of public opinions was brought to light.

Contemporary Approach to Public Opinions

To overcome the challenges of the traditional approach of Public Opinion, the thinkers resorted to the Contemporary approach. An approach that didn’t just include the ideas of the majority. But the minorities are also given a chance to express their views as well.

Any collection of individual opinions is now designated as public opinion. “Such a public need not represent a majority, need not coincide with the electrode, and may not be well advised, depending upon the observer’s standards or point of view.”[13] The contemporary view did not differentiate between segments of the society. In a society that works according to the diversity of sections. The unions have mentioned, “as we see it, the term public refers not to one great mass of persons living in a community, a state, or a nation, but rather to various groups of secondary contact… We use it to indicate various interest groups, especially those marked by the secondary group characteristics. Therefore, we shall speak of publics rather than a public.”[14]

Public Opinion is considered as an amalgamation of thoughts. It represents a rainbow of ideas that have a right to be heard and represented. A division of power, and a representation of hierarchy, does not mean diffusion of the right of to speak.  William Albig defines public opinion as, “the expression of all those members of a group who are giving attention in any way to a given issue.”[15] Contemporary Approach is a variety. It upholds free flow of thoughts. Another striking feature of this approach was the link between reality and beliefs. The misjudgments by the governments can be prevented and corrected through effective public opinions. Thus, Contemporary approach to Public Opinion brought forward the actual colour and essence in a democracy.

INDIAN SCENARIO

After having a look at the presence of Public Opinion since times that society began, it becomes imperative to trace back the roots of Public Opinion in India. Public Opinion seems to be a characteristic of a democratic nation only. But that’s not the case, the voice of people matters in all nations and at all times.

The early Vedic society had entire freedom. People could form unions, express their concerns, even upturn the people governing their lives. This freedom was curtailed for a few sections of the society in the later Vedic Period. Similar trend was sought during the Sultanate times, the Persian culture robbed the opinion of the public in certain matters while continuing to serve the demands of the public in other matters. Even during King Akbar’s rule in India, People had the privilege to voice their concerns. With the advent of the Britishers, the entire scenario of Indian sub-continent changed.

People were no longer considered as a part of the society. They were treated as mere slaves and subjects. Their voices did not matter in any case. They had to live with whatever limited opportunities that they were provided with. Their say in administrative position, executive position or even legal stance did not even exist. The first blow of agitated public opinion was seen through the sepoy mutiny in India. What followed this is evident in every history book.

Being under the rule and the tyranny of the Britishers, made Indians realize at least one thing- The government and leaders learnt what not to do in a country. The leaders learnt that the public mattered in every case. They must not undermine the voice of the people. Hence, soon after independence, the Constitution of India, considered India as a Democratic nation. A nation where people had an equal say in governance. Public Opinion became the guiding light in India.

The political parties respected the demands of the people. The trend started when the congress came into power and has continued ever since. Governments that ignored public voices, could not remain in power for a long period of time.

The times changed; unorganized public opinion had to find a more civilized way to voice their opinion. Various ways such as newspapers, radios, televisions and social media all have evolved over the time. However, with this evolution came dilution. Each time a new method was added, the weightage and the quality of public opinion degraded. Before we jump into the impact of public Opinion, it is important to have a look at the various methods and ways in which public opinion can be expressed.

Ways of Public Opinion

Public Opinion has been present for a long time. But the regularized manner of its expression began recently. Public Opinion has been defined in a comprehensive manner. But the mode of expression still remains unknown to the readers. Before we move forward with the significance and drawbacks in the system of Public Opinions, let us first know what are the modes of expression of Public Opinion.

Views can be formed instantly, but regularization needs effort and time. In a similar fashion, public opinion has been present in the society since times immemorial. People have expressed their voices through protests, outbreaks, wars and even slogans. Words like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ were a form of expression of Public Opinion. Over the years steps and initiatives were taken to regularize sudden and random gushes of public opinion.  Various agencies began publishing public opinion, and have created a strong impact on the society. These agencies are a trace of regularized public opinion. But not the only ways of expression. Some of these agencies are as follows.

Newspapers and Press

Newspapers have been a basic medium of portrayal of views. The facts and opinions mentioned in the newspapers were honest, impactful and soulful. The ideas mentioned in the newspapers could be accessed by everyone, due to their reasonable prices. Due to their availability, they were even accessed by the politicians, leaders and other aristocrats of the society. For a long period of time, newspapers were the only authentic source of information and place to systematically voice their opinions. Grievances are ventilated and views expressed by the public. [16]

“But in the midst of this diversity and confusion every question as it rises in importance is subjected to a process of consolidation and clarification until there emerge and take definite shape certain views, each held and advocated in common by bodies of citizens.”[17]

Newspapers were a mode of expression, accessible by all, but not understood by all. People who could not read were disadvantaged. Newspapers are one of the oldest means of expression of Public Opinion. Thus, it continues to form one of the most influential means as well.

Radio and Media

As time passed, newer ways of voicing public opinion were discovered. Print media and newspapers could not satisfy all the information transfer. Public Opinions were curtailed since words in written format cannot always convey emotions. Facial expressions and voice tone also play a huge role in this respect. To overcome this communication barrier, people resorted to advanced ways. First the radio was discovered, where the news readers and the people could present their ideas in a coherent and strong manner. Since newspapers restricted their use only to the people who could read, it reduced their effect, impact and reach. On the other hand, the audio-visual method of the media made it easier for the people to understand.

Interviews could be conducted with various leaders and influential people. These can be considered as platforms for exchange of views. The emergency of the creative powers of the spirit of the people is the highest remedy for political ill.”[18]

Just like the newspapers, audio-visual methods began to be influenced by the majority. Public opinion no longer remained independent and apolitical. News and radio channels began favouring a particular party or the government, instead of conveying what the people feel. Even these methods became corrupted.

Political Parties

Besides the transfer of information, press and media have had a deep impact on the public. To express their opinions, political parties began combining people. They congregated people on the basis of common ideologies. “The resolutions passed by various associations are valuable as an index to public opinion.”[19] Mob Violence is prevented due to organization in these parties. They represent point of views, and combine people on similar lines. They educate people on various important political agendas and act as a medium of connection between the public and the country.

They act as a storehouse of perspectives; each political party presents a view of a different section of the society. These cannot serve as centres of self-interest.

Political Parties envisage what people want. After independence, India mainly had one party for governance, Congress. The people soon felt the need to have parties that represented their views. This led to the formation of BJP, Akali Dal and many others. These examples portray how political parties are not just tools of management and administration. They are a mode of expression and the people considered it as a way of expressing their interests. Political Parties convey what the people want and they can have in the near future. From a mode of expression of interest, political parties have grown to become a medium of profit for the leaders.

Educational Institutions

Besides large-scale institutions, even initial level institutes like educational institutes serve as a centre of expressing public opinions. They teach or help people channel their views in the right direction. While providing an open platform for expressing views. “Logic comes to be replaced by fanaticism, liberty by authority and independent judgment by rigid discipline.”[20] These institutions serve as centres of upbringing. These institutions are much more than knowledge systems. They act as a platform to converse and present diversified opinions. “The ideas received by students at these stages stick on to the rest of their lives. The educational institutions instruct and teach the future citizens or rather the leaders of the country.”[21]

 

These are just some glimpses of some aspects of ways to attain and express public opinion. Public Opinions are not just about ideologies. They have successfully been centres of information.

 Political Aspect and Impact

“As opposed to Western Europe where public opinion first appeared as criticism towards apolitical and literary issues aiding in the formation of a mature and critically rational public opinion, in India it saw its genesis in wholly political and national issues and thus the sectarian character. It is only understandable that Flourishing of Art, painting and theatre were not given much attention in a country which was waging a war for its independence”[22]

From the very onset of Independence, “public opinion polling has been closely wedded to the study of popular democratic politics.”[23] Public Opinion in politics is as unlimited as the public opinion itself. Elections form the soul of our politics, and it is in these elections that the voices of the people can be heard.

The first instance of the public being the guiding light, is that it is the people that choose their leaders through direct voting instead of any other method. This gives them a chance and platform to express freely. The task doesn’t end after voting. Public does not rest. It tries to determine the outcome through ‘Opinion Polls’. These polls are much more than just numbers, they determine the wish, the belief and the wants of the people. They instead of being based on facts are based on the will of the people and shows where the wind blows during the process. 

“Public opinion as measured by sample surveys and public opinion “effective” in the political arena, while often reasonably convergent, are hardly the same thing and can at times diverge remarkably.”[24] These opinions have been accepted by the individuals in the country to a large extent. Because of their large-scale acceptance, their impact is also deep on society. Public Opinions through polls or any during the election course act as a driving force of the thoughts of people. They even exhibit the wants and wishes of the people. “Few politicians consult poll data to find out what they should be thinking on the issues, or to carry out errands. But they have very little interest in flouting the will of their constituency in any tendentious, head-on way.”[25] They do not influence the election results but definitely impacts the public, the country and the government leaders as well.

Opinion Polls and Exit polls play a huge role in the politics of the country. They work on the basis of the people rather than being controlled by the aristocracies. Being calculated on numbers rather than being calculated on random guesses. They portray the public in an accurate manner and politically impact the country in both positive and negative ways.

 Influence of Public Opinion

Public opinion is a tool which ensures that the government does not go off tracks. It acts as a link between the people and the government. “It is only under the pressure of public acts in the welfare of the community as a whole.”[26] After independence, there was a constant tussle between the government in power and the opposition. The government tried its best to work for the welfare of the people to stay in power. If they stop working in the right direction, the opposition will soon usurp their power. This made Public Opinion a little less significant in the society. As time progressed, the opposition grew weaker. The struggle of power between the congress and BJP soon died down. A number of coalition governments started being formed. Each trying to collaborate with each other rather than trying to bring down the government in power. The government thus, lost the fear of being driven out of power. The leaders began working for their own benefit instead of working for the people.

It was in these scenarios, that the significance of Public Opinions increased multifold. Since the political parties and the opposition could not make the government work for welfare, the public took it in their hands. Through newspapers, radios, media channels, NGOs and other instruments, people began voicing their concerns. Outbreaks against unjust laws and policies followed. Opinion and Exit Polls, unrest in the country all became ways for the people to put forward their views. The country was back on track, due to the concerns presented by the people. 

However, all was not that simple and sorted. Public Opinion also began having some deep negative impact on society.  “The vernacular has failed miserably to voice and form the true rather been responsible for the embitterment different.”[27] States began having unrest due to publishing incorrect views. The religious bias was printed in newspapers. The condition was going from bad to worse. Instead of an honest opinion of the public being voiced, the press became a medium to turn people against people instead of trying to work for their betterment. This agitation did not work in favour of the country. Government had to ban vernacular press which published such conflicting views. The aim of public opinion is to bind people together for common good, not the other way around. “The ugly turn this agitation took should be a pointer to us regarding the necessity of formation of true public opinion. “[28]

 

Public Opinion forms the backbone of democracy and proves effective in continuation of the democracy in a civilized and systematic manner. Public Opinion is necessary in shaping democracy in the right direction. “However, just like the role of police in a welfare state is essential but too much interference and power to the police can lead to degeneration of the welfare state into a police state. Similarly, a tremendous shift in the structure of public sphere can hinder the working of true democracy”[29]

 Contemporary Views

“The true test of the success of democracy lies in providing equality and freedom of expression irrespective of status or occupation.”[30] As Habermas has said “The coffee houses not merely made access to the relevant circles less formal and easier; it embraced the wider strata of the middle class, including craftsmen and shopkeepers.” He further adds ” Ned Ward reports that the wealthy shopkeepers’ visited the coffee houses several times a day, this held true for the poor one as well.” The times have evolved but the sectarian view in the country remains to be prevalent. Parties are still formed on caste basis instead of ideology and welfare.

“The clouded view shows us public opinion both as a misguided tyrant, hazardously crushing its minority, and as an intelligent savior, understanding the needs of its people. But despite the degree of value which we may set upon it, we conclude that public opinion remains the latent or active sovereign of the affairs of state, real and unyielding, and it is not to a removal but to a shaping of this sovereign through increasing enlightenment that we must direct our course.”[31]

Media Trials

Media is the best resort for people who cannot read. Newspapers could not be accessed by the people. But the extreme reliance on the media has begun corrupting it in every respect. Instead of giving honest ideas about the same, the media started manipulating people in all respects. The interviews which were supposed to act as a link between the people and the government, became a hub of party politics. “It is often remarked that the quality of serious political ‘journalism’ is steadily declining, with a dilution in it’s substantive political content to the detriment of the democratic process.”[32]

The line was crossed when the media began interfering in the path of justice. Media trials have been increasing day by day. In criminal cases, the media often labels a person as guilty and innocent without even waiting for the court to declare the verdict. Such behaviour is neither competent nor credible. It places the life of a person at stake. Since, even if the person is considered innocent by the court, the public already considers him as guilty. Media has begun corrupting the minds of people along with working against the spirit of an honest public opinion.

Instead of factually reporting cases, the tool of public opinion has been corrupted to an extent that not only affects the welfare of the country at large but also affects the mindset of the people. Not to add, they have become the protectors of justice, when that is not what they were supposed to do. The most prominent example of the media corrupting justice is the Black Friday Case. The actual account of the Bombay blast case was turned into a movie that was released while the trial was in process. The movie labelled the suspects as the guilty. The judiciary faced a blow, and had to work under constant pressure from the public. The public sentiments began affecting the decision of the judiciary. The visual medium has been seen as more potent, and despite their training, judges could not be expected to remain immune from public opinion, roused to indignation by a purported exposure of those “truly guilty”.

A more recent account of the same, can be seen in the Arnab Goswami case. The media tainted the evidence and the proofs in such a manner, that all pointed against Arnab. The media labelling Arnab as a fugitive not only affected his career, but his image and his life in the long run. Though the judiciary did not get affected by the media, it definitely put down the media and the press in general. These instances do not do any benefit for the public opinion. They are just entailing to put forth public opinion on the wrong front.

Public Uprisings

Public risings might seem unconstitutional but they are not. Since people have the right to move and form associations throughout the country, the public also has a right to voice their opinion. “Indeed, the premise that underlies his methodology is that ideological principles like liberalism and conservatism in particular, are the primary basis of constraint in the belief systems of mass publics.”[33] “The partiality and diversity of perspectives in an extended republic makes it unlikely that a high degree of issue constraint would occur naturally.”[34]

One of the most important public uprisings that has proven beneficial for the country at large is the Nirbhaya Rape Case. In 2012, when a daughter of India was brutally raped, the government continuously tried to delay justice. Women from all sections and parts of the country came to the streets and peacefully protested. Their solidarity for the victim, and anger towards the government was portrayed in the most solid way possible. These uprisings could actually move the government and create an impact as well. In 2013, due to continued public pressure, the government had to amend the rape laws of the country. The new anti-rape law, The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, made the laws more stringent.

The public uprisings, when done in a civilized manner, can be an effective mode of communicating the views of the public. However as soon as these uprisings turn violent or harass any individual of the community, they cannot be treated as a viable method of communication. Public Opinion has to be respected and upheld, but not at the cost of peace in the country. In the current times, strikes, uprisings have increased, they do show a disagreement with the government but have also proven ineffective. The stance is difficult to decide. It will be left to the situation to decide as to whether the protest was done for the welfare of the society, or just to induce chaos in the society.

Legislative Perspective

This is the most sought weapon used by the public in the 21st century. Ever since the views of the public began being ignored, the people began boiling up with anger. The government continued to formulate laws that just increased the miseries of the people. The dream of a welfare nation that was seen was lost in the unjust policies of the leaders in power.

The government comes up with laws that are not at all in favour of the people. In the current times, the unjust laws have increased continuously. The recent CAA and the Farm Bills being the exact representation of the same. “How much influence in real life political processes can be claimed for public opinion as currently measured, and is this a good thing?”[35]

The citizenship amendment act wants to divide people on the basis of religion and ethnicity. The public retaliated in the way of peaceful protests. These protests however turned into not so peaceful outbreaks. Stone pelting, attacking the police, were some of the instances. Such a protest can never convey the correct attitude of the public, nor can the demands of the people be met by following a drastic approach. “By analyzing the interpretive frameworks and stylistic conventions deployed by news media when reporting different types of disastrous events, it is presumed that we might expose key components of a risk-related public discourse which has the potential to lead individuals to perceive threats from hazards which hitherto had remained beyond the limits of sensible apprehension.”[36]  Similar was the case with Farm bills proposed by the government. The farm bills triggered the most important section of the society, the farmers. Farmers had to take to streets to propose against the state tyranny. The process of mediation has been failing and the people have resorted to steps like strikes and protests.

Working against the government is not a choice but the need of the people. When all the policies and the laws go against the welfare of the people and the government fails to listen to the people and their demands, people resort to protest. Though the researcher does not completely support the idea of violent protests, it has been often observed that protests in a peaceful manner have successfully pacified the government. Protests have been used to protect the country from being turned into an autocratic state.

The simplest lesson in all of these examples is, of course, “that effective opinion can upon occasions depart widely from populist opinion. It may be surprising that it does not do so more often. A second lesson is that such disjunctures are natural.”[37] “They have a meaning of their own, and cannot be taken to show that somehow either form of opinion has been incorrectly assessed, provided we keep in mind what each version addresses and fails to address. What one makes of the discrepancy in normative terms, of course, cannot be solved empirically.

The newer perspective for the contemporary view of the Public Opinion is up for debate. They are changing everyday and are presenting contrasting views. They have been growing. They do fulfill the needs in certain cases but is not the appropriate way to achieve the motive.

 Right to Information Act

Public Interest Litigations (PIL) and the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 are two tools which are available to the people to express their opinions. Public Interest Litigations can be filed by any individual of the country. The PILs are a mode for the people to complain. They can question the government on the policies of the government, unjust ideologies in place and even the loopholes in the system. “In Indian law, it means litigation for the protection of public interest.”[38] This public interest is protected by allowing a free follow of public opinion. “PIL allows for any individual who claims a violation of one of her or his fundamental rights, as enshrined in the Constitution, to bypass the local courts and appeal directly to one of the state’s High Courts or to the Supreme Court.”[39] Borrowed from the U.S, The provision of PILs continues to benefit the country. It helps the people to present their opinions without being swayed by the majority. Each person can present their views by filing a PIL individually. The judiciary takes note of them and works in the right direction. PIL is one of the oldest and the most civilized and systematic provisions that allows people to voice their opinions and also give them the right to be heard.

Another legalization that made the government more transparent and accountable was the Right to Information Act, 2005. It is the “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises mechanisms, processes and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences.”[40] The people of the country have a right to know about each and every act that concerns a public life. They can demand information about any policy that is a public policy. However, this comes with certain restrictions. Any information that relates to the security and integrity of the country cannot be compromised to the people. But any other information can be demanded and has to be reverted back to by the authorities. 

The Right to information is a lawful tool, provided by the government itself, to the people, to express their opinions. Public opinion is a matter that has been legalized by legislation. “Democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which is so vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.”[41] “This Act has the potential to provide immense possibilities for developing accountability and transparency in decision-making and the utilization of public funds.”

These tools were formed for the betterment of society. They gave a legalized and factual and constitutional approach to the concept of Public Opinion. “This mechanism may serve as a model for other developing nations to pursue in their efforts to address the needs of the disadvantaged sections of society, thereby contributing to the prosperity of democratic institutions.”[42]  Even though they have some roadblocks to overcome, they are trying to benefit society in the most effective way possible.

 

COMPARISON WITH WORLD

India has not yet evolved to its complete extent. Public opinion is growing but is not able to unleash its entire fervor. There can be various reasons which can be attributed to these setbacks. Democracies around the world have not only taken cognizance of public Opinion, but also learnt to implement them in the right direction. It would be difficult to compare India with each and every flourishing democracy in the world. Let us limit our approach to just western Europe for the research.

Western European countries, being some of the most successful democracies of the world, possess some distinct features. Features which India fails to emulate. These features could help India move in the right direction if implemented soon enough. One of the major factors that prohibits growth in India is its deeply rooted casteism. The failure to attribute importance to public opinion is “not so much due to ignorance of aspects of growth and progress; rather, it could be attributed to the continuous failure of efforts to bring about a significant paradigm shift in the social structure. Which is still as rigid and unyielding as it was at the time of its inception during the Rig- Vedic age.”[43] In western Europe as the time progressed, the social, economic and religious stratification gave way to a unified approach. While in India, even after 7 years of independence people are fighting among themselves rather than for each other. This stringent attitude towards differentiation among people in India stops them from having a strong and unified public opinion.  By neutralization of differences, a society can have a clear conscience. This leads to a critically sound reasoning. This reasoning leads to an effective result and useful publication of thoughts.

India is still lacking in a strong public opinion due to its weak foundation. It is high time now. People need to learn from the west, and inculcate good values from them. Time is ripe, and the people should strike.  This comparison was not done to highlight the positives of Europe but to make the reader realize the drawbacks of Indian system. India is still learning and should learn from the right sources. The democracy in India is new, and has the availability of time to reform itself.

 CONCLUSION

Beginning from a clueless approach towards Public Opinions, the researcher has successfully created a concrete picture about the same. Definition, nature and scope have been elaborated upon. The approaches towards public opinion have been referred to. To express these opinions, methods that people resorted to have been comprehensively talked about. A theoretical ideology is supplemented by practical perspectives. It has been difficult enough to sustain public opinion, keeping it alive in a democracy has been even a more tedious task.

The essence of the entire research lies upon the significance of Public Opinion in a democracy. After talking about theories and approaches, an Indian specific picture, makes the research relatable and engaging for the reader.

Owing to the lack of favourable circumstantial conditions for creating an unbiased and rational public sphere at the time of its origin this partisan and sectarian attitude of the public sphere has now become deeply ingrained in the mindset of the public sphere in India. The pillars of democracy in the form of secularity and equality are being eroded by this nasty play of sectarian and caste-oriented outlook.[44]

 

Working of Indian democracy for the last sixty years has demonstrated that the elected representatives – the servants of the people- have failed miserably to provide responsive, clean, efficient and egalitarian governance and public administration to the common people. Now the informed citizenry should take hold of the baton to make India a developed country. To conclude one can refer to the words of Sadhguru-

“Possibilities of going beyond limited identities are much bigger today than ever before because technology has made geographies porous. It’s time individuals identify with nations because that’s the largest piece of humanity we can address right now.”

[1] Harold D. Lasswell, Democracy through Public Opinion (Menasha, WI: George Banta Publishing Company, 1941, Volume 15

[2] Ram Prakash Sharma, Democracy and Public Opinion in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science , April-June, 1957, Vol. 18, No. 2 , pg 136

 

[3] Vishwanath Prasad Verma, Public Opinion and Democracy, The Indian Journal of Political Science , October-December 1956, Vol. 17, No.4, pg 311

[4] Ibid, n 2, pg 312

[5] Ibid, n2, pg 318

[6] Richa Tiwari, HABERMAS’S VIEWS ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PUBLIC SPHERE IN A DEMOCRACY: Its Possible Relevance in Understanding the Public Sphere in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science , JULY – SEPT., 2006, Vol. 67, No. 3, pp. 639-650

[7] Ram Prakash Sharma, Democracy and Public Opinion in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science, April-June, 1957, Vol. 18, No. 2 , pg 136

[8] Philip E. Converse, Conceptions of Public Opinion in the Political Process, The Public Opinion Quarterly , 1987, Vol. 51, Part 2, Oxford University Press,  pp. S12-S24

 

[9] Ibid, n6, pg 136

[10] George E. Marcus, Democratic Theories & the Study of Public Opinion, Polity , Autumn, 1988, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 25-44, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Northeastern Political Science Association.

[11] Ibid, n8, pg 26

[12] The Federalist, 10, p. 62.

[13] Varun Shivhar, Public Opinion and Democracy, Laws in India, Legal Services In India.

[14] George E. Marcus, Democratic Theories & the Study of Public Opinion, Polity , Autumn, 1988, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 25-44, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Northeastern Political Science Association.

 

[15] Ibid, n12, pg 30

[16] Varun Shivhar, Public Opinion and Democracy, Laws in India, Legal Services In India.

[17] Ram Prakash Sharma, Democracy and Public Opinion in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science , April-June, 1957, Vol. 18, No. 2 (April June, 1957), pp. 135-140, Indian Political Science Association

[18] Ibid, n16, pg 321

[19]Ram Prakash Sharma, Democracy and Public Opinion in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science , April-June, 1957, Vol. 18, No. 2 , pp. 135-140

[20] ibid

[21] Ibid, n19, pg 139

[22] haberman

[23] Philip E. Converse, Conceptions of Public Opinion in the Political Process, The Public Opinion Quarterly , 1987, Vol. 51, Part 2, Oxford University Press,  pp. S12-S24

[24] Ibid, n24, pg 20

[25] Ibid, n24, pg 22

[26] Ram Prakash Sharma, Democracy and Public Opinion in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science , April-June, 1957, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 135-140

[27] Ibid, n28, pg 137

[28] Ibid, n28, pg 137

[29] Ibid, n34, pg end

[30] Ibid, n33, pg 642

[31] Virginia Rankin Sedman, Some Interpretations of Public Opinion, Social Forces , Mar., 1932, Vol. 10, No. 3, Oxford University Press, pg 350

[32] Lavayana Singh, ROLE OF MEDIA IN MAKING AND EXECUTION OF PUBLIC POLICY IN INDIA,

 The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 74, No. 2 (April – June, 2013), pp. 309-312

[33] George E. Marcus, Democratic Theories & the Study of Public Opinion, Polity , Autumn, 1988, Vol. 21, No. 1, The University of Chicago Press,  pp. 25-44

[34] Ibid, n 39

[35] Philip E. Converse, Changing Conceptions of Public Opinion in the Political Process, The Public Opinion Quarterly , 1987, Vol. 51, Part 2, Oxford University Press,  pp. S12-S24

[36] Iain Wilkinson, News Media Discourse and the State of Public Opinion on Risk, Palgrave Macmillan Journals, 1999, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 21-31

[37] Ibid, n 42, pg 20

[38] Mohd Haris Usmani, Public Interest Litigation-Legislative Perspective, Legal Services India Blog, accessed on 13th January, 2021.

[39] Zachary Holladay, Public Interest Litigation in India as a Paradigm for Developing Nations, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, Indiana University Press, pp. 555-573

[40] Kamla, ROLE OF RTI ACT IN MAKING GOVERNANCE ACCOUNTABLE AND TRANSPARENT, The Indian Journal of Political Science, April – June 2012, Vol. 73, No. 2, pp. 321-330

[41] Ibid, n 46, pg 325

[42] Zachary Holladay, Public Interest Litigation in India as a Paradigm for Developing Nations, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Indiana University Press , Vol. 19, No. 2 , pp.573

[43] Richa Tiwari, HABERMAS’S VIEWS ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PUBLIC SPHERE IN A DEMOCRACY: Its Possible Relevance in Understanding the Public Sphere in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science , JULY – SEPT., 2006, Vol. 67, No. 3, pg 641

 

[44] Richa Tiwari, HABERMAS’S VIEWS ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PUBLIC SPHERE IN A DEMOCRACY: Its Possible Relevance in Understanding the Public Sphere in India, The Indian Journal of Political Science , JULY – SEPT., 2006, Vol. 67, No. 3, pg 641

 

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