The Broad Mind | In Defense of “Anarchy”

By Rajeev Mantri

Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption in government has mesmerized India. While he has been able to capture the attention of the mainstream media and attract widespread mass support, cutting across regions and identities, he has also been criticized for his tactics employing satyagraha, civil disobedience and fasting. Moreover, there are strong arguments that Hazare’s demand of a Jan Lok Pal will not mitigate or eradicate corruption. If India continues on this path, our country will descend into anarchy, we are told.

I agree with the position that Anna Hazare’s demand for a Jan Lok Pal will not do much to get rid of corruption – in fact, if anything, it will probably worsen the problem. But the sanctimoniousness and certitude of the policy analysts and commentators in deriding the public movement against corruption and individuals who are associated with the Hazare movement is something which is cringe-inducing. Some of these critics believe that even in such situations one must exclusively adopt constitutional means (“file a case”) to make a point, that Hazare’s antics are delaying the enactment of crucial legislation, that the ensuing chaos could turn India into a country like Pakistan.

There is a common thread in this line of argument – it stems from a consistent, robust faith in legal and constitutional processes in a democratic republic, which is laudable and indeed necessary. But this reasoning fails to account for the context of the heightened public outrage. What is it that Anna Hazare has done, no matter how strange his policy prescription, that has captured the imagination of and galvanized an otherwise moribund nation that tends to shrug off and forget not just big corruption scandals but even terrorist attacks?

What is it that the Government of the day has been doing to politically manage Anna Hazare – and critically, has the Government itself been acting in a moral, constitutional way?

Samar Halarnkar, writing in Hindustan Times, notes that there are 35 pending Bills before Parliament, including 32 new ones such as legislation on the Direct Tax Code and Goods and Services Tax. If Parliament keeps getting stalled, most of this legislation won’t be passed even in this session.

But what we should also remember is that it was this very Government that first wasted an entire session of Parliament by stubbornly refusing to constitute a JPC probe into the Telecom scam, and then eventually giving in to the demands of a united Opposition.

Reports have been emerging that the highest echelons of the Congress-led UPA government had a role, of commission or omission, in the 2G scam, including the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. There might be good reasons why the Congress-UPA doesn’t want a free and fair investigation into the whole episode.

Mr Halarnkar should also do well to remember that among the “blockbuster reforms” that the government is proposing is the Food Security Bill, that will further expand the entitlement economy created since 2004 and decimate India’s fiscal position.

The economy is slowing and tax revenues will probably decline but the Congress-UPA government just cannot help but continue to dramatically increase government spending on all sorts of programs that are supposed to “help” the poor, but have been conclusively established to fail in achieving their stated goals. By delaying economic reforms, the Congress is setting the stage for social instability and anarchy.

The double standard of the Congress-UPA government in invoking the primacy of Parliament in drafting laws and legislation couldn’t be more opportunistic – as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley pointed out yesterday, the government has been quite deferential to members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The NAC is an extra-constitutional group also made up of civil society members – the only difference is that these members are hand-picked by the Congress leadership. Yet, this group has an extraordinary say in what should or should not go into legislation. The NREGS and the Food Security Bill is the brainchild of this group.

Dissent and peaceful, unarmed protest is justified and legitimate in a democratic polity, and the government-controlled police shouldn’t be abused to muzzle such protest.

Yet, earlier this year, the Congress-UPA Government stooped to the level of sanctioning the use of force against unarmed, peaceful crowds who had no track record of indulging in or inciting violence. In an Orwellian moment, the Government proceeded to lodge Anna Hazare in Tihar Jail with Suresh Kalmadi and A. Raja. After public outrage, the Government was forced to permit his release. Moreover, Congress spokespersons have been desperately trying to brand him, variously, as corrupt, Maoist, Anarchist and Fascist. When even blaming the Sangh Parivar failed, the Congress has invoked the “foreign hand” theory behind the anti-corruption stir. Earlier, a Minister went to the extent of flatly denying that there had been a telecom scam at all.

Every arrogant and wild statement like that only further erodes whatever little shred is left of their credibility. At this delicate moment in national politics, India’s citizens don’t even know where the head of the coalition government Sonia Gandhi is, what has happened to her or when she might return to India. The legitimacy and authority of Manmohan Singh and the Congress-UPA government is at an all-time low. Indeed, calling an election is the only constitutional way out of this situation – but this is not an argument we’ve heard from strict adherents of the Constitution. All we’ve heard are laments that should this carry on, India will descend into anarchy.

Today, we have a government that has conclusively demonstrated over the last 7 years that it isn’t interested in reforms, and some have argued that Congress-UPA could go down in history as the administration that reversed India’s rise on the world stage. This is a government that will opportunistically and selectively apply moral principles and legal-constitutional statutes to suit its own narrow political ends, a government that is trying to stymy dissent not just on the ground but on the Internet.

Thanks to the economic policies of the Congress-UPA government (or should we say the unelected, extra-constitutional National Advisory Council?), India is on the inflation treadmill – we should be very worried because escalating food prices have been shown to trigger riots.

This government has been instrumental in using State power to create anarchy – in BR Ambedkar’s famous words, the government has espoused the grammar of anarchy. Is it a surprise then that the people of India should also take to “anarchy” to hold their government accountable?

Follow Rajeev Mantri on Twitter @RMantri

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.