Practitioners of state-sponsored shutdowns should rather not criticise Kejriwal’s radical tactics
Ashish Mehta | January 21, 2014
It happened in April 2006 – not too far in the past. The issue at stake was whether to allow further construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada. The central government had appointed a committee, headed by then water resources minister Saifuddin Soz, and on the basis of its report the supreme court was going to take the decision. But there was speculation that the Soz report might not be favourable, given the tardy rehabilitation of the project-affected. Never mind the fact that the Congress and BJP are on the same page when it comes to this “lifeline of Gujarat”, but chief minister Narendra Modi decided not to take the matter lying down, and do something about it.
What did he do? He sat on a hunger strike. Going by The Hindu report, “About 300 others, including State Bharatiya Janata Party president Vajubhai Vala, several Ministers in the Modi Cabinet, party office-bearers, leaders from various districts, representatives of the chambers of commerce and several non-government organisations joined Mr. Modi. About 3,000 people were also sitting on a dharna and relay fast on the Gujarat University ground here (in Ahmedabad).” (Read the report here)
Let us not go into the merits of the demand (it was eventually met – the friendly match on the Narmada has always been fixed in advance), we will focus here on the method. More specifically, the question whether a head of state going on a hunger strike, fast, dharna, demonstration or other modes of protest is fair or not.
Though BJP’s chief leader in Delhi seems to have suffered from a momentary memory loss, the incident is not in the too distant past and news reports can be searched on the net. Those of us who covered the hunger strike remember well that no charges of anarchy were made even by the opposition. Nobody spoke of governance getting ignored. It was an issue that mattered for people, the chief minister – with popular mandate – wanted to deliver a certain result but (crucial part) had exhausted all options within the constitution to achieve that. As a last resort, the head of a government decides to do what a dharna implies – that is, give up the comforts of shelter, food and all that, and sit there in the open to exert moral authority (if any) to achieve a goal. Anything wrong there? Any law broken?
Modi is just an example. Mamata would be a better example. All parties have done far more anarchist things than Kejriwal’s “tamasha”. How would you see the oxymoronic “state-sponsored bandhs” in which the ruling party calls for a bandh and the state machinery down to the poor policeman goes all out to ensure the shutdown?
Harsh Vardhan has called Kejriwal’s protest demonstration anarchy. (We are referring to the man who could have been the CM purely for rhetorical reasons, knowing well that his Congress counterparts too have made the same noises.)
Let us not go into a form of radical politics called anarchy that is not supposed to carry the pejorative scent it does (Gandhi too has been interpreted as a model anarchist), but wasn’t it the case that Aam Aadmi Party’s precursor, the Anna movement, had seeds of this same thing, call it anarchy or otherwise? When top leaders of the BJP went there to bask in the reflected glory of a stunningly popular movement (which should have come from them but did not), did not they know of the anarchist and vigilantist tendencies of Hazare, Kejriwal and others?
Even the first month is not over and the AAP government is attracting the charge of anarchy, of abandoning governance, of running a ‘tamasha’ and a popular reality TV show 24x7. This piece is not to justify Kejriwal’s or Somnath Bharti’s ways. But to make two simple points.
One, as illustrated above, AAP’s critics – BJP, Congress, others – have done far more anarchist things than the modest dharna Kejriwal is staging. In fact, they have created the dangerous variant of anarchy by misusing or weakening the institutions of the state. Kejriwal, even his detractors will admit, has no intentions of doing so.
Two, as with its previous version, AAP is reflecting a feeling common among people that what could have been achieved via politics-as-usual has been achieved, but the pending problems – like police within the Delhi government’s ambit or controlling nefarious elements of organised crime in parts of south Delhi or stinging the corrupt officers – need radical ways. As for those leaders and opinion-makers who’d like to advise them to tone down their radicalism, didn’t they celebrate those Jantar Mantar days as exuberant expression of people’s will?
The way Congress and BJP, from Vasundhara Raje to Prithviraj Chavan, are falling over each other in copying Kejriwal, don’t be surprised if more and more chief ministers take to the streets in the days to come.
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