Pragmatic | It is the Anna-rchy stupid!

Ends do not justify the means

Imagine this scenario. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the patriarchal Kashmiri separatist leader who offered prayers for the slain al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, decides to protest against Indian “occupation” of Kashmir by hoisting the Pakistani flag at the Red Fort on 15th of August at 7.30 AM. OK, let us leave the Pakistani flag bit out of this for a moment. It is too provocative.

Say, Mr Geelani wants to offer Namaaz and read verses from the Quran to 5000 people from the ramparts of the Red Fort as a means of protest against the Indian government. He says that Indian government must accept his position on Kashmir completely as he is the sole repository of knowledge and wisdom about Kashmir. Because he claims to speak for the people of Kashmir, the democractically elected government of India must either accept his demands or allow him to go ahead with his plans for protests at the Red Fort.

Meanwhile, some of Mr Geelani’s supporters gather in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York and stage a protest against the Indian government. The US State department spokesperson asks government of India “to exercise appropriate democratic restraint in the way it deals with peaceful protest”.

As we all know, the right to protest peacefully is enshrined in the democratic ideals of the Indian Constitution. While you may not agree with the demands or cause of Mr Geelani, you would of course never deny him the right to protest in the Indian Republic. Right. Yes. Agree.

Most of the readers of this blog will be aghast at this proposition. Of course not. How can Mr Geelani lay claim to any public space in Delhi for his protest? Are there no rules and laws in this country that must be followed by the likes of Mr Geelani, and enforced by the government of India?

By now you have got the drift. This is not a rhetorical argument but has direct parallels with what Mr Anna Hazare and his team of supporters are trying to say about their plans to publicly protest against corruption on 16th of August, a day after the Independence Day celebrations in Delhi.

Considering the size of his protest and the date, Delhi Police refused to grant him permission to use Jantar Mantar and have offered the Jai Prakash Narayan Park in Central Delhi instead for a duration of three days. Delhi Police requested them to go to Burari (on Delhi’s outskirts) or some other location if they wanted it for a longer period. Mr Hazare’s supporters refuse to accept this legal order. Rather than challenge it in court, Mr Hazare instead chooses to write directly to the Prime Minister of India. So much for following the constitutionally available means of challenging government orders in this country.

A couple of public-safety and public-order related issues need to be highlighted here. Mr Hazare’s planned protest is a public event and is no different from a show by Rakhi Sawant as far as public order and safety is concerned. Who is responsible for maintaining public order at the venue? If there is a violation of public safety, who is answerable for that lapse? It is duty of the statutory bodies like the Delhi Police to take that call, however disagreeable we may find those decisions.

Notwithstanding the inconvenience and the intrusion of privacy, the average bloke gets himself frisked at checkposts of Delhi Police and takes alternative routes when some of the roads are closed for security reasons. That is the law of the land which we have chosen to follow for the sake of public order and safety. Mr Hazare and his team are not special to be treated differently.

Independence Day and the days preceding it are days of high security alert in Delhi. It has been so from the days of Punjab insurgency in the 1980s. All leaves of policemen and policewomen are cancelled, reserve police and trainee recruits are drawn in for duty to prevent a terror strike in the Indian capital. When that overextended police force would get a well-deserved break after the Independence Day, Mr Hazare and his team have burdened the same cops with more onerous duty at the end of it all.

Lest it be mistaken, Mr Hazare is fully entitled to protest. Delhi Police is fully entitled to regulate his protest in terms of venue and time. Mr Hazare is fully entitled to seek legal recourse to get the orders of the Delhi Police rescinded. What Mr Hazare is not entitled to, is to threaten to take to streets or to take his own life, if he doesn’t agree with government orders.

Oh, by the way, some of you will turn around and say: How can you compare Mr Hazare and Mr Geelani? One is fighting for a righteous cause while other is a secessionist. If Mr Hazare and his supporters think that their cause is righteous to justify the use of any means, so do Mr Geelani and his gang of supporters. Even bin Laden believed that his cause was righteous and moral and his supporters contend that it justified the use of all means.

This reminds me of the famous anecdote of GB Shaw.

Shaw was at a dinner party with some very lah-di-dah people. Somehow, the conversation turned to slack sexual morals (in the George Bernard Shaw version, this was in the 1930s).

He asked one of the ladies present: “Madam, would you sleep with me for one million pounds?”

“Well, for a million pounds, Mr Shaw,” the lady replied, “perhaps I would.” She and the other guests laughed.

The conversation turned to other topics and, later, George Bernard Shaw whispered to the lady: “Madam, would you sleep with me tonight if I gave you £10?”

“Mr Shaw!” replied the woman, deeply offended: “What sort of woman do you think I am?”

“Madam,” Shaw said, “we have established what sort of woman you are. We are merely haggling over the price.”

In a similar vein, by supporting Mr Hazare’s tactics, we have established what the principle is. We are merely haggling over the cause and the protagonists.

Remember, it is for good reason that one of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite maxims was “Ends do not justify the means.”

Additional Reading: For more substantive takes on the debate, please read Nitin Pai’s FAQ on the Anna Hazare and Jan Lok Pal issue and Mr B Raman’s views on the subject.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.