In a democratic country public opinion is of the highest importance. Democracy has been defined as the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Hence the views of the people on various issues play a crucial role in determining the nature of government. The people express their views through the ballot box. They elect their representatives which form the government and they continue to be their leaders and rulers so long as they enjoy their confidence, and public opinion as expressed through the press, the radio and the television, favors and supports them.
The people get the kind of government they desire. If public opinion is enlightened and well-informed regarding the current issues and problems, the government would also be efficient and progressive. Public opinion plays a crucial role in a democracy. In a number of western countries, there are gallop polls from time to time to know the opinion of the people on important issues facing the nation. If the government loses the confidence of the people, it has to resign and fresh elections are held.
Thus public opinion plays a decisive role in determining the fate of the government. but public opinion is not always reliable. The people in general are fickle, ignorant and are usually moved by their feeling and not by their power of reasoning. They lack the power of logical thinking. Hence it was that Aristotle, the well-known Greek philosopher, referred to “democracy” as “monocracy”. Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar has clearly demonstrated that the people are fickle, inconstant and highly unreliable. They are generally with the last speaker .first, they are with Brutus and then with Antony who addresses them after Brutus. They fail to understand the principle for which Caesar was killed and so want to make Brutus and Caesar. The opinion of such people cannot be relied upon. Therefore, for the success of democracy it is essential that people are enlightened and well-informed. They should have a correct understanding of the problems that face the country and cast their votes a=on the basis of merit and be not swayed by considerations of caste and religion. However, this is rarely the case.
The people can be easily misguides, emotionally excited and their views distorted, Carried away by their passions, they often indulge in hooliganism and destructive activities. Clever politicians and orators can easily exploit them to gain their own ends. This is more so that case in a country likes India, where the masses are by and large illiterate and ignorant. They indulge in agitations on flimsy grounds. Usually, such agitations are entirely uncalled for, and cause considerable harm to the nation. This ignorance and fickleness of the people is the greatest danger that faces democracy in India today.
As a matter of fact, formation of correct and reliable public opinion is essential for the success of democracy. In this respect the press and other media of public communication can pay a significant role. Indeed, press is the most important means for the formation of public opinion. By reporting current events and interpreting them to the readers, it helps them to taken an intelligent part in the affairs of the country. It teaches the public to make such demands upon the Government as are of common interest. It also tells them to press the Government to postpone some action which is likely to go against the public interest. So, really speaking, press is a very vital agency of education in a democracy.
However, if the press functions in an irresponsible manner, it may do much harm also. If it presents distorted views, the public may be misled. It can inflame public opinion. It can degrade the tastes of the people. Some newspapers are only interested in pushing their sales. They use fiery language and give hot headlines which readily attract the attention of immature minds. Such people fail to discriminate the right thing from the wrong. They are things as they are presented by such newspaper. in this way, much harm is caused to the very cause which they stand to serve. In India the press behaved in such irresponsible manner in the days just before the declaration of emergency. In this way, lawlessness and disorder were encouraged. That was why after the declaration of emergency, strict press censorship was imposed. This irresponsible conduct of the press harmed the cause of democracy itself. Indeed, it is now generally recognized that some curbs are necessary to prevent this misuse of the freedom of the press.
The press has unlimited power. It should not misuse them. It should work in very responsible manner. It should restrain public feelings on controversial issues and raise the standards. It the forces of disruption are not to thieve, courageous and constructive action is essential .poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, suffering etc., cannot be accepted any more as normal conditions of life. Press can play a very effective and valuable role in his respect. Thus it can help us to develop the inner strength necessary for securing a just social order.
It is regrettable that in India, the people are misguide and exploited in various ways. Hence public opinion, at least in this country, is not always reliable.