ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Dignity of Public Institutions


In the political sphere it is interesting if not intriguing to come across words like “insult.” It is interesting in the sense that it is used in relation to a public institution and the reference to individuals occupying these institutions is in the background. This was evident in the public use of this kind of language by the Indian Prime Minister who suggestively used this word in order to establish a relationship between the morally painful feeling of insult and the “innocent” Government of Jharkhand. This can lead to an interesting point of inquiry. Can public institutions be insulted and, if yes, what are the grounds on which the claim to have insulted the public institution be taken to be morally valid?

Arguably, public institutions do not inherently possess an element of moral sensitivity that can produce the feeling of insult. This is because they are mere physical structures. Similarly, it will be absurd to say that institutional procedures suffer from human insult although they could be abused by human beings. One may not deny the fact that these procedures can be quite insulting and humiliating depending on who is handling them. Thus, these institutions due to their public nature acquire an abstract character as they do not belong to one single person. These two dimensions necessarily disallow any association of the feeling of insult to an institution. If this is the case where one cannot stick insult to a public institution then how does one understand claims such as “the government has been insulted”?

The claim to insult has a purchase only on the condition that a public institution undergoes the process of personification at the cost of robbing the state of its democratic essence and republican character. Or, they are put in a concrete relationship with a single person or a group of persons holding institutional power. It is a person whose negative feeling of insult or affirmative sense of respect gets transposed onto the institution. It is in this sense that the language of insult gets stuck to these institutions. Institutions are an embodiment of these public persons who make moral claims.

But making a claim that “institutions are being insulted” is only an inadequate or an incomplete claim. It becomes complete and valid when it is based on sound reasons. Put differently, an insult is an unfair moral allegation that is attributed to a government that has a relatively better record in good governance. This unfair allegation seeks to show no respect for the good work that a government is doing. Insult in this sense is disrespect expressed towards the government that has the evidence of doing good work for the people.

Thus, a claim to have been insulted is not an arbitrary claim. It has to be backed by sound reasons, drawing its force from the broader principle of justice. If the claim is not backed by sound reasons, such a claim acquires the “distinction” of being an unfair allegation supported by prejudice and not the principle of justice. Sound reason can emerge from the timely and sincere action of the government; in the present case, the Government of Jharkhand. A state exists through conditions such as penalising tax evaders or punishing those who were responsible for mob lynching. Prompt action on the part of the government agencies to prevent violence in cases of such lynching would enhance the public esteem of the institutions. These conditions in a liberal set-up are necessary for the state to enjoy respect and trust of the people. For the governments, existence conditions, such as penalising and punishing, also become its moral conditions that can eliminate the grounds on which the claim to insult is mounted. We have to acknowledge the fact that these conditions, by and large, are absent in many state governments, including in the present Government of Jharkhand. The claim to insult that is not supported by the timely and continuous action against mob violence would prevent us from taking up the critical appraisal of the government’s performance. For critical appraisal, those at the decision-making level need to step back.

Stepping back is an active process of self-assessment or self-examination that the ruling party is supposed to take up on a regular basis. Stepping back does not mean stepping away from the constitutional norms that are laid down for protecting the security and guaranteeing the well-being of the citizens of the country. This would provide an opportunity for the government to improve upon its performance and offer better governance. Naturally, this would eliminate the grounds that the opposition tends to use for subjecting the ruling government to criticism. Stepping back and reflecting on one’s performance helps eliminate the need to convert fair and legitimate criticism into a matter of insult.

Updated On : 15th Jul, 2019


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