Thursday, August 25, 2011

Democracy and demands: The case against Anna

Anna Hazare's reported call on August 24 for a "gherao" of Parliament deserves condemnation. Adequate consideration has been shown to Anna and his suggestions. He and his supporters ought now to allow Parliament to function. If they continue on their present path, they will be setting dangerous precedents.

Anna Hazare, howsoever well-intentioned, is functioning on the basis of certain fallacious propositions. The first dubious proposition is that elected representatives need to do the bidding of Anna, and the large number of people gathered to support him, on the principle of popular sovereignty. Even leaving aside the questions whether popular sovereignty vests in the venerable Anna alone and whether Anna's approach on the Ombudsman question is the only possible reasonable approach, there is another issue here. This is that there is a difference between being a representative of a constituency and being its "deputee". A chosen representative is entitled to the use of his or her own judgement about what is in the interests of the people. That is what they are chosen for. They are not meant to be attorneys doing a client's bidding.

The second dubious proposition which a large section of the media has swallowed is that Anna's tactics, strategies and activities are party-politically neutral and reflect no tacit political affiliations. They do. This is obvious from his selective political targeting and certifications. It is more than a little strange that He remains silent on the question of there being no ombudsman machinery in many states, including some states governed by the principal opposition party at the Centre.He appears to have got around this by suggesting that even in the states, the ombudsman machinery machinery ought to be created only through a parliamentary Bill, when his advisers are sufficiently well-informed on Constitutional matters to know that there would be questions here about Parliament's legislative competence to legislate on this subject in relation to individual states.

The third dubious proposition that Anna is implicitly playing with is that Indian parliamentary democracy may be challenged without limit even where it has given more than adequate space to Anna and his colleagues. I think Anna is inviting trouble that could put India's democracy and constitutional dispensation, painstakingly built up, back by several decades.

The fourth dubious proposition put forth by Anna is that there is a strong Gandhian element in his activities. This does not seem to be the case. Gandhi's struggles involved respect for his opponent. And whatever one of his religious associates may think, Anna needs to be reminded that Gandhi did not use fasts as a weapon during his civil disobedience campaigns. The fasts were usually on other issues, not in the course of mass activity. Anna's views on the death penalty are not quite Gandhian.

Even on the question of how long Anna would fast or remain at Ramlila Grounds there have been conflicting statements by Anna and his supporters. First it was to be 15 days. Then he said he would remain at Ramlila Grounds until the Bill was passed. Finally he said he would FAST until the Bill was passed. Now one of his associates has said that there must be written assurances before the fast would be broken. Anna needs to realise that he is now holding the country and its Parliament to ransom and that too for a cause on which his demands have been substantially conceded. I think this is most unfair and most un-Gandhi-like on his part. Now is the time to stop this tantrum before it goes any further. He may, if he prefers, think of suspending it indefinitely and re-examine the matter once the Parliamentary deliberations are over.

This blog post is by Anil Nauriya.

The issue of bringing the states under the Lok Pal bill seems to have been addressed today. There does seem to be a tendency to add on demands every day. However, this has not diminished the level of popular support that the movement has attracted. Do write in with your views. -Neelima.


vbalki said...

I have not followed the details and nuances of the whole lokpal affair, but I do think that Rahul Siddharthan has pointed out a key fact, whatever be one's stand on the Anna Hazare phenomenon: namely, thst the anger of the common citizen at this drifting, dysfunctional government is legitimate.

As regards the numerous misgivings about the Anna 'movement' that have been listed by many keen and knowledgeable observers: it may well be true that some of the tactics used may lead to a subversion of that sacred institution, democratic parliamentary procedure. But that same institution has not prevented known criminals from standing for election and getting elected with money and goonda power. It is easy for analysts to say, "Well, then, elect the right people!" But all of know that this remains pie in the sky in today's scenario. What is the solution? Indulging in more lofty debates on the fundamental principles of parliamentary democracy and how they ought to be protected at all costs, while the house burns down beyond redemption? As I said, I am not conversant with the nuances of these matters. But it seems to me that the critics of the Anna movement have little to offer by way of concrete, workable remedies other than a broad exhortation to everybody to "go out and vote". So, while we see their point about the negative aspects of l'affaire Anna, what IS their alternative solution? Referring the matter to another high-level committee of "experts in governance"?

Neelima said...

So Anna, if not actually India, is the solution to all the ills that plague India?