ANNA HAZARE AND THE INDIAN DEMOCRACY

I brought it out, a few months earlier, in an article (How Proud Should We Be of Indian Republic at 62?) that despite the dream and objectives of the Indian Constitution, brought into force on 26 Jan 1950, the lot of the common Indian has not changed even 61 years later. The article was based on facts and figures (say, from UN Human Growth Index Report) rather than my perception or anyone’s bias. One of the main reasons that I found responsible for it is that the Indian style of democracy is not representational at all. With the multiplicity of parties and the average percentage of voting pattern in constituencies pan India, an elected representative, on the average, represents only 10 percent of the voters. These 10 percent too do not elect the MPs/MLAs on some issues that would make the lot of the common Indian better. The major issue, in our elections, as seen from the trend of the last two decades, is primarily the denigration of the previous or other party/candidate; so much so that our politicians nowadays talk about the inevitability of anti-incumbency factor as much as, say, the chances, in the bad old days, of one’s contacting cholera whilst traveling through an area hit by the cholera epidemic.

This single factor has made our elected representatives not just immune to the hopes and aspirations of our people but has also made them arrogant. Hence, even though we coined a phrase ‘public servant’ in the Constitution (the term used to describe a person who holds a government position either by election or by appointment), no one holding a government position has ever considered oneself a servant of the public. Both the elected and the appointed public servants have mainly been serving their own interests and those of their families. As far as the public is concerned, the main job these so called servants have ascribed to themselves is to exploit the public either collectively or by polarising it. Sardar Patel’s essay on British Policy had just three words: Divide and Rule. The modern Indian public servant did exactly the same. Elections are fought and appointments in government are made more on issues of caste and creed than on detailed programme and plans to improve the lot of the people.

Wikipedia describes governance (what governments are supposed to do) thus:

“The word governance derives from the Greek verb κυβερνάω [kubernáo] which means to steer and was used for the first time in a metaphorical sense by Plato. It then passed on to Latin and then on to many languages.”

Steer towards what? A government must steer the people and the country towards a better and more secure future. However, because of the self-serving nature of the Indian democracy, our public servants have steered the country towards chaos, poverty, corruption, polarisation and inefficiency.

An Indian electorate, it can be thus argued, does not exercise a choice when he goes to vote. After an average 10 percent elect the government, they are helpless and defeated by those who were to serve them. The result is that as a nation, we are a dismal 141 in the Human Growth Index. However, the elected representative, just like the appointed representative or even more so, often gives vent to the supremacy of the parliament. Recently, if you recall, Kapil Sibal and Manmohan Singh endeavoured to display this arrogance based on the mistaken notion of such supremacy; at least until people’s power, under the leadership of Anna Hazare manifested itself into a sobering effect for the government.

Team Anna has, directly or indirectly, conveyed to us that the momentum of the movement has now encompassed (or at least aimed at) much more than Jan Lokpal Bill, wherein the government and the so called civil-society differ over six points and not merely the inclusion of the PM and the judiciary in the ambit of the bill. People’s expectations, as manifested in the large crowds and rallies across India, have risen to the point of hope for 1.2 billion Indians, good governance, and a responsive democracy rather than only in numbers. To that extent each one of us should welcome the movement and await its strengthening, as opposed to its abatement that the politicians seek. I am not going to extol the good points and good fall-outs of the movement. By and large, the media has done it extensively.

I am, therefore, going to concentrate on the pitfalls and other considerations of the movement vis a vis the Indian democracy. I feel that if these are not taken into consideration, we may again have our hopes and aspirations belied despite the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

The first and foremost is that it even though it may not have been originally intended, it has degenerated into a we versus they movement. The government’s mishandling of the response to the movement, Anna’s arrest etc, made it even more so. The movement is, therefore, seen as a expression of our contempt towards the elected representatives particularly the ‘corrupt‘ and the ‘inefficient‘ UPA government. Whilst all this is totally justified, it has the potential to change the focus of the movement into a narrower objective of tasting victory by bringing the politicians to heel. The media has even started keeping a score sheet such as Anna – 1, Govt – 0.

The other reason why the movement must steer clear of we vs they is that people at large (and not just the politicians) must share the blame for the rot or loss of character of Indians. Indians are, by nature, opportunists. From our driving habits of being just a few feet ahead of the next vehicle by hook or by crook, to getting ahead in business, school, college, debates, contests, and indeed life by taking short-cuts has come to be seen as a national character. Of course, the politician, or the bureaucrat, or the businessman is a crook but he/she does not stand apart unlike as portrayed in the movement. He is of the same stock as we are (We Are Like That Only). We have to do many a thing ourselves whilst asking this of him/her. We too have to show equal discipline in our individual and social lives.

The second is that our middle-class, the main pillar of the movement, has become quite impatient. It is true that we have been conditioned to it. But, the catch here is that in its impatience it may very well regard some quick wins (as passing of Jan Lokpal Bill) as the ultimate solution to set right our democracy. I laboured over the current shortfalls in Indian democracy to bring home the point that, at best, the movement and the passing of Jan Lokpal Bill can be only the beginning and not an end by itself.

The third is potential for polarisation. One reason why we have been exploited by the netas, babus and the like is because we can be easily exploited. The government after failing to peter out the movement by disdain, high handedness, and by labeling Team Anna as corrupt itself, will surely stoop to polarising it on lines of religion, caste and creed. We Indians are easy prey to such tactics.

Pic Courtesy Mail Today

The fourth is the rights of the minority. The movement must not get bloated in the belief that surging crowds, mobocracy and rights of the majority are all that matters. Indeed, once of the shortcomings of our current interpretation of democracy is the contorted belief that the rule by the majority is always right. We must be able to listen to that small voice of reasoning even when we are riding high on the wave of public support. In this, it may do us good to remember that the movement is primarily that of middle class and the majority is still the poor.

Lastly, the need to strengthen democracy. Civil disobedience cannot be the dharma of the Indian people, a cure or remedy for all ailments of democracy. We have to finally make our institutions stronger and then respect them.

I, like all other members of middle class, am breathless and excited abour Anna movement. I do wish it strength. But, at the same time I pray that it would steer clear of pitfalls as enumerated above and give serious thought to the considerations of this article.

Jai Hind

© 2011 – 2016, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  1. Great article. you are right at pointing out the flaws…

    as far as I am concerned, i am not criticizing Anna…i support India against corruption…I hate the Govn’t version of Lokpal bill…i do not want it….but at the same time i don’t like the Jan Lokpal bill as it is now either…I don’t want a selected institution stronger than the elected govn…it has to be modified…good thing is that there is a website where people can suggest modifications…if some one does not like Jan Lokpal please go and protest there…

  2. A very logical and analytical write up which I enjoyed reading, and agree with for the most part. Thank you.
    The government would need to display more honesty of purpose and less arrogance / high handedness, for the ‘we’ versus ‘they’ to gradually go away, and go away it must for there to be a lasting and meaningful solution. People from all faiths, castes, backgrounds, professions, parts of the country etc are together, as one, so far. This must be maintained, you are right. There may be division presently only by economic/power strata with the upper crust remaining away as they are the ones who gain if status quo is maintained. This is only to be expected and is precisely what needs to be overcome.

    Thanks again.
    Cmde (retd) Ashok Sawhney

  3. A very thought provoking insight to a situation looming large. Tact and care is probably now the crucial step ahead – for both parties.