So is Anna Hazare’s fast and movement something that will undermine democracy? Or is it simply the weapon of last resort left to a citizenry that has seen systematic weakening – and near dismantling – of many democratic institutions?
Over a year ago, I wrote “Requiem for a Country”, a post on some remarkable observations made by Dr. Ambedkar and Dr. Rajendra Prasad. One of Dr. Ambedkar’s points of view struck me as being very insightful: that satyagraha and non-cooperation are the “grammar of anarchy”. In the interesting comments that followed that post, I further stressed that in a constitutional democracy, one has to use the tools given to us to seek redressal, and resorting to other means is not desirable. Not everyone agreed, of course.
I still stick to the point of view. But one can’t help but be in awe of what Anna Hazare has done. He has managed to bring together an apathetic nation, and has managed to infuse a sense of purpose into the people. It is very clear that this man has struck a chord with a people desperate for some semblance of change, craving for a symbol and a cause that would enable them to forget their everyday priorities of caste, religion and language. For that, and for the courage to take a stand, he deserves our honour, gratitude and support.
But where does this all end? No one really knows. Uncomfortable and distraught as I am at the fact that as citizens and voters we have undermined our own constitutional democracy by electing, time and again, the worst possible people to represent us, I am equally uncomfortable with the fact that some NGOs, Magsaysay award winners and activists would now dictate policy. I am terrified of the self-righteous who, in my experience, can be as intolerant and blinkered as the worst bigot you can find.
And is corruption such a big issue to the average Indian voter? I know it is big, but is it big enough to overcome the primary considerations – language, caste and religion, with some electoral freebies thrown in for good measure – of the people of this Great Country? We will find out soon enough. Our fellow citizens in five states have the opportunity to actually make a difference in their states. They have the tools, the means and the opportunity to drive the change everyone says India wants. Let us see what they do.
Having said that, in all fairness I must also admit that all the commentators and observers who are wary of this phenomenon that Anna Hazare has generated – and I include myself among them – have failed to come up with any alternative or even a half-way credible solution to set things right. All they keep talking about is how dangerous it is to bypass elected representatives, and undermine the electoral process. And such arguments, without any alternatives, simply reek of hand-wringing helplessness, and only serve to add credence to the alternative of action. “At least we’re doing something” seems to be the dismissive rejoinder to our notes of caution – and I can’t really blame the people for making that response. After all, see where six decades of constitutional democracy and elected representatives have got us. Surely anything would be better than this lot.
Hard to fault that argument. Except on one count. Where did this corrupt lot come from? Did they impose themselves on us? No. We elected them. We chose them. We applauded them and cheered when they made other illiberal decisions, drafted other draconian laws and nominated some distinctly dodgy people to certain positions of power and responsibility. Yes, we got them there. We had the gift of universal adult suffrage, which other countries are still fighting for, and we systematically squandered it away. Half the population chose not to exercise the right to vote, and the other half elected the very people that we heckle today. What makes us think that a different bucket of water from the same well is going to taste any better? We traded a bunch of white-skinned exploiters for a bunch of dark-skinned exploiters, and we now want to trade in the latter for another bunch with the same skin colour, but with apparently more integrity. But we can never have the ability, as Dr. Rajendra Prasad rightly said “…to devise any yardstick for measuring the moral qualities of a man, and so long as that is not possible, our Constitution will remain defective”. The wave of enthusiasm sweeping across this country has its hopes underpinned on the fact that activists and “award-winners” will prove to be of better moral calibre than our politicians.
So, will anything change for real? I don’t know. We deserved the governments we got, and I dearly hope I am wrong, but all precedents point to the fact that we will also get the NGOs and activists we deserve.