So, let's hang Anna before Afzal, shall we?

On Friday, they once again targeted the Gandhian. Called him names. Said he was black-mailing them. The charge is not new. The last time we heard it, in August, this is what we said.

bvrao

BV Rao | September 13, 2011




For leading the people in revolt against parliament, for threatening to desecrate the temple of our democracy, for challenging the supremacy of its high priests, for forcing parliament to discuss a bill for one whole holiday and for succeeding in reviving the dead culture of debate in our august houses...for all these misdemeanours and more Anna Hazare is undeserving of our mercy.

Some fortresses are so sturdily built that the only danger they are exposed to is from the inside.

India’s parliament is one such.

The imposing, some might even say intimidating, sandstone structure is unwrinkled by the ravages of time and hides its 90 years (foundation laid in 1921) admirably. Quite befitting India’s parliament, the temple of our democracy, as our honourable members don’t forget to mention.

In its 59 years of operation, independent India’s parliament was under serious external attack only once, in 2001 when a heavily armed bunch of Pakistan-aided terrorists almost took control of it. Providence and a few courageous Delhi police personnel saved the country from complete paralysis, ignominy and doom.

It is too scary even today to contemplate what could have happened if they had succeeded in taking hostage our entire political, executive and legislative leadership.

There was national outrage at Pakistan’s gall. Silly options such as all-out war were seriously considered and thankfully given up before the incident faded out of national conscience. So much so that it will soon be the 10th anniversary of the attack and Afzal Guru, its chief architect, will still be around because the government worries about the “danger to peace” his hanging might cause.

Yes, that was a deadly attack on our democracy. But, if you believe our politicians, parliamentarians, intellectuals, large sections of civil society and the media, the second, bigger and more sinister external attack on parliament has just happened... and is still in progress.

This attack is worse not because a foreign hand has propped up a new terrorist or that he carries more lethal physical weaponry than Afzal Guru.

This time it is more dangerous because the terrorist comes from deep within India’s intestines, from a village called Ralegan Siddhi, of which very few heard just a few months before he launched this terrible, terrible attack on India’s “representative democracy”, it’s “constitutional framework”, the “process and flow of law-making” and the “sovereignty of parliament”.

This new terrorist wears a kurta-dhoti and a Gandhi topi (fancy dress, as one eminent editor describes it),  takes to the streets to force his point, burns sarkari bills that could be put to better use for our daily ablutions and talks about agitations, dharnas and fasts at the drop of a hat (the complete grammar of anarchy), commands the support and firepower of millions of citizens (also called the self-centred, self-obsessing, despise-worthy and good for nothing – definitely not a revolution – “middle class”) and boy-oh-boy he wants to desecrate and defile the sanctum sanctorum of our democracy by imposing his will -- and bill --on parliament.

There are other crimes too, such as his total disregard for the present government’s “inclusive” agenda and his adamant refusal to send a signed invitation to India’s Muslims and dalits to join his fast at Ramilila ground. Some Muslims and dalits did turn up on their own volition, but that didn’t prevent the deep divisions and disquiet the movement caused among these groups each time he sloganeered “Bharatmata ki jai/Inquilab zindabad/Vande mataram”.

By all accounts, Anna’s attack on parliament was more ferocious. Afzal failed on both fronts: he could not as much as leave a scratch outside on the temple’s edifice. Nor could he jolt the priests inside its hallowed and privileged precincts to serve the Deity of Democracy better, speaking of which there is extreme disagreement as to who this Deity might be:

Most priests say “Process and Procedure” is the Deity,
Some say it is the Standing Committee.
Some priests think the Deity is the Constitution,
Others claim they are THE Deity because they won an Election!
And have unbridled powers of Legislation,
Which no mere mortal can ever Question!

But, stupidly, Anna and his small band of intellectual charlatans did. They insisted that if the MPs are the priests and parliament the temple of India’s democracy, the people are its Deity because some thick, old book said something on the lines of “We The People of India...Give to Ourselves….”. Forget about other offenses, just for suggesting that the Deity should have a say in the proceedings of parliament, Anna should be externed to his village and administered a dose of his own medicine: 795 whiplashes, one for each member of parliament that he sought to undermine.

It is the nature of Deities to be dumb. They are not supposed to see, say or demand. That’s just not their job description... show me one book that describes a talking, fasting, blackmailing and bill-spouting Deity. No, not that rightwing Hindu mythological tripe, but one socialist, secular, democratic republic book anywhere in the world that has such a demanding Deity!

Let’s get back to Anna. As I was saying, Anna’s attack was a total failure as far as damage to the physical structure of the temple is concerned…perhaps because he didn’t intend to cause any in the first place, but why give him the benefit of the doubt. As for internal damage, Anna succeeded in shaking the priests of parliament to their boots, even forcing them to discuss a bill for an entire holiday without disruptions. That definitely can’t be good for parliament’s prestige!

Having got used to working less and less with each passing year, especially in the last two decades and busy walking out all the time (for the amount of walking they do, why are so many of them so out of shape?), used to writing their own rules of behavior which can be bettered by school children at a cricket stadium, and being the only group of employees in the country who can double their salary for doing less than half the work in each session in just one resounding chorus of “ayes”, the priests of parliament were suitably miffed.

They asked Anna that if he was so popular and so badly wanted to write the corruption law why doesn’t he win an election and earn that right. And asked who? Asked the party which has given us an unelected prime minister from the Rajya Sabha with a virtual domicile in Assam, a true lie if ever there was one. Asked the party whose home minister is facing a serious charge of turning electoral defeat into victory by some unknown magic and the party that nominated Mani Shankar Aiyar, India’s unacknowledged Shakespeare, to the Rajya Sabha under the “literature” category after he was thrashed in the election.

But that’s hardly relevant because once you become a priest of parliament, howsoever you become one, you have the “privilege” to say and ask all kinds of questions without fear of law or libel as applicable to the rest.  And this “privilege” is so easily breached by the outside that just about everybody around Anna is today drowning in privilege notices till recently.

Serves Anna and team right for getting parliament to work at gunpoint. You do understand parliament’s pain when its sovereignty as the supreme legislating body of the country is challenged. For that Anna and his team need to be handed down the stiffest punishment but wait, are they really guilty as charged? Even if it is true that Anna blackmailed parliament by insisting his bill should be passed or considered, isn’t it possible that he was only exhibiting his legal and constitutional inability to do it himself? Is it material whether he grovelled before parliament or growled at it, as long as the the fact remains that he did not pass the Jan Lokpal bill in his people’s parliament at Ramlila? Because he just can’t? Don’t all blackmailers demand only what they don’t have or want what they themselves can’t create?

Is it possible then that the Anna movement was not challenging parliament or its powers but questioning the work its members were doing, actually, not doing? That this rising of the people is not about the temple or its sovereignty but about the practising priests therein?

Just how exactly has this one single act of Anna’s anarchy diminished the prestige of the two august houses preserved through testing times? Testing times such as when one prime minister bribed five MPs to win a vote of confidence in the early 1990s and another, more recently, won it under very dubious conditions when crisp new notes totaling Rs 1 crore were flashed in parliament which only demonstrated the rising valuation of MPs rather than their value? Of course, in both cases parliament quickly restored its prestige by doing precious little and pretending nothing much had happened. It would have been that way but for the courts of the country which have, by the way, started overreaching their jurisdiction as well, resulting in at least six MPs having to take their job of enhancing the prestige of parliament all the way to Tihar jail.

Our parliamentarians have made other personal sacrifices, too, to maintain the dignity of parliament. For all the talk of their sovereignty being compromised by Anna, these members can’t even say what they want to say and think unless asked to think by their parties. That might have reduced the House of the People to a House of the Parties but it keeps the sovereignty of parliament intact by taking people, personal opinions and passions out of the debate. Sometimes that might mean that one bill is discussed over nine Lok Sabhas and 43 years (what’s four decades in a democracy’s life even if it means 4/6ths of its life?) while at other times it might mean passing 17 bills in two hours flat (McLegislation, anyone?).

Talking of undermining parliament, it doesn’t seem like it needs Anna’s help.  From all the evidence on hand it seems to be doing fine on its own. For his unsolicited help and for exposing democracy to danger and disaster, Anna Hazare deserves no mercy.

So, let’s hang Anna before Afzal, shall we?

(A version of this article appeared in the September print issue of Governance Now magazine. The issue, titled “This is about the priests, not the temple” takes a close, hard look at parliament’s performance over the years. To book a copy of Governance Now, call Neyaz on +918860901537 or mail him at neyaz@governancenow.com)

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