Democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Popular opinion plays a significant role in the government. The power of opinion manifests itself not only in politics but in almost all the spheres of human activities and thoughts. It controls our religious beliefs, our social habits, our moral and ethical outlook. People want to make their voice heard and to manage their own affairs. So loud and continuous is the demand of the people that rightly or wrongly all states now claim to be based on the opinion of the governed.
Public opinion is the opinion held by the people in general on any important issue. People are not made in the same mould like a lot of bricks. It would have ill-suited the wants of the world, if it had been so. Consequently, even in the same country, men differ in disposition and manners and opinions. Their sentiments, aims and objectives, thinking, all differ. It is necessary for us, therefore, to cultivate a generous spirit of forbearance and tolerance towards those who may think and act differently from ourselves.
Public opinion must be based on reason and must aim at the good of the community on the whole. lt cannot be called public opinion unless it is substantially shared by the dominant portion of the community. This does not mean that all people must think alike and in the same way; all that is signified is that on the essential points they must be in agreement though on non-essential matters they may differ,
A vigilant public opinion also plays an effective role in keeping the government of the day alert and active. Democracy, after all, is participation in the administration in a responsible manner. The democratic problem said the well-known commentator Lindsay, “is the control of the organization of power by the common man.” The citizens of a democratic country must be “thinking men and women” possessing independent opinions and capable of taking intelligent interest in public affairs. It has been rightly said that the success of a democracy depends upon the ability, character and, what is no less important, the power of discrimination which the people are expected to possess. In fact, democracy is reduced to an empty show if the citizens begin to behave likes sheep and dumb cattle and develop the crowd mentality of being driven whichever way the leaders dictate.
The people generally have also an important role to play in democracy—that of intelligent critics, and no democratic government worth the name can afford to ignore or bypass public criticism. If it were to commit, his folly, it would soon become unpopular loss it hold on the people and hence its majority in the legislature. Thus the public shares the role of the opposition whenever occasion demands it.
Public opinion may be passive and false or active and real. It is claimed in theory that all governments are ultimately based en the opinion or sanction of the governed. But we find that in practice the people’s rights are often trodden down and tyranny and oppression are allowed to continue. The government does it not because the people want it to do so but because they are too idle, too uneducated and too disunited or timid to oppose the government. Such public opinion is passive and false and not an active verdict. But when we find people alert, intelligent and determined to let the government know their will, when they want to exercise actively their voice in the management of their country, we have an instance of true or active public opinion.
True public opinion is formed by and expressed through the press, the platform, political parties and educational institutions. These have sacred duties to perform, duties on which depends the ultimate good of the entire community. The press today wields a tremendous influence, So it should support the causes and movements and condemn the wrong one’s and thus teach people to form correct opinion. A free and fair press ventilates the grievances of the public. Thus a healthy relationship develops between the people and the government through out an unbiased press. Political parties also help to create and regulate opinions. No less important part is played by the educational Institutions which train the minds of the young people who will be the citizens of tomorrow. It has been said that modern Germany and China have been made by their universities.
The field for the exercise of public opinion is very wide. However its power is most felt in social and political spheres. It has assumed great strength. The voice of the people is the voice of the God. It is the inexorable voice of destiny that has now made itself felt everywhere. It is people’s will as expressed through the elections that appoints the government and can dismiss the government at the polis It now serves as a check on the high handedness of governments. With the gradual awakening of the masses it assuming an unthinkable proportion and potency.
It is necessary that the young and the growing minds should imbibe the spirit of fellow-feeling, the spirit of tolerance, the habit of compromise, and show due regard for the feelings and opinion of others without which a democratic society cannot function, let alone succeed. When there is true awakening of the people, we shall have the real and conscious public opinion. And justice will reign on earth and truly will the voice of the people be the voice of God.