Anna, an anarchist?

Myths and misconceptions

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | April 8, 2011



Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death against corruption has, predictably, unnerved many.

The ruling clique is annoyed but has used mild language to denounce him. The spokespersons of the Congress, which leads the UPA government, have described the fast as “unnecessary” and “premature”, never mind 42 years of prevarication in setting up a Lokpal that Anna wants to fight corruption in high places. Anna’s demand comes in the wake of a series of big-ticket scams – CWG scam, 2G scam, Isro spectrum scam, CVC appointment scam, Adarsh scam, Hasan Ali and his blackmoney scam and so on.

But it is the acolytes of the government who have gone the extra-mile to demonise Anna.

One editor was piqued enough to write “A comic revolution of an obsolete man”, saying among other things that “We must not underestimate what television can do to an absolute farce”.

One newspaper editorial was headlined “They, the people” with a sub-head: “Illiberal, self-righteous sound and fury isn’t quite the weapon against corruption”.

A policy wonk wrote “Of the few, by the few”, saying: “Sometimes a sense of unbridled virtue can also subvert democracy” and that “There is something deeply coercive about fasting unto death. When it is tied to an unparalleled moral eminence, as it is in the case of Anna Hazare, it amounts to blackmail”.

This policy wonk went on to add “But B R Ambedkar was surely right, in one of his great speeches, to warn that recourse to such methods was opening up a democracy to the “grammar of anarchy””.

There it is. Anna’s fast amounts to nothing less than “anarchy”.

Spokesman of Samajwadi Party Mohan Singh added his bit by declaring the fast as “Fascist tactics”.

So what is so wrong about one man’s fast to pressure the government to set up an apex corruption watchdog?

Surely, a functional and proud democracy like ours, which is beset with corruption of a very high order – involving ministers, bureaucrats, even high court and supreme court judges ­- deserves a corruption watchdog to fight the menace. What’s so alarming as to headline it as “Activists call for Lokpal as Supercop, Superjudge”?

The burden of their arguments is this:

  • That in a functional democracy like ours, Anna can’t go on fast to coerce the government to draft a Lokpal Bill of his liking.
  • If that were to happen it will strike at the very root of our democracy and constitution. After all, they argue, our constitution says it is the job of the legislature to frame laws and haven’t we elected and sent our “representatives” to the parliament for the purpose?
  • If Anna is indulged, it will set a bad precedent and open a floodgate. What Anna represents is anarchism.

 

It is easy to expose the hypocrisy behind this stand. Here is how:

  • For 42 years, all the political parties which have held office since 1960s have failed to enact the Lokpal. There is, in fact, no independent and empowered body to fight corruption. The CVC is an advisory body and none other than former CVC Pratyush Sinha has said on record that it has no power.
  • NAC is a non-constitutional body comprising mainly of civil society activists. Since 2004, it had dictated terms, drafted and redrafted several laws – NREGA, RTI, Forest Rights Act and now the Food Security Bill. Why no political party, no editor and no think tank objected to NAC? How will Anna’s inclusion in a committee to redraft the Lokpal be any different?
  • After 42 years of trying, the government has come up with a Lokpal Bill which gives no suo motu power to register an FIR, investigate and prosecute the corrupt to the Lokpal. It can only take those cases referred to it by the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and send back its “recommendations”. Precisely the way the CVC was drafted and allowed to die an undeclared and premature death.
  • Who is an anarchist? Anna or Sharad Pawar? Pawar is a member of the GoM to redraft the Lokpal, who is perceived to be corrupt and whose name routinely comes up for his links with all kinds of shady characters and corruption cases for several decades. Why nobody objects Pawar’s presence in GoM or the council of ministers?
  • True, people have elected Pawar and others to Parliament and constitution says legislators are supposed to make laws. But, look at their track record. As deposed CVC PJ Thomas pointed out in the apex court, 153 MPs have criminal cases pending against them and yet they continue to make laws for the people. Something is clearly wrong with our democracy that keeps electing corrupt and criminals to parliament term after term.
  • To accept the argument that people should have no say in making laws implies that people’s role in a democracy ends with casting of their votes. This is a flawed understanding of democracy and the constitution.
  • Anna has clearly stated in his letter to the prime minister: “What are we asking for? We are not saying that you should accept the Bill drafted by us. But kindly create a credible platform for discussions – a joint committee with at least half the members from the civil society suggested by us”. This stand has been reiterated by Anna’s lieutenant Arvind Kejriwal several times in the past four days. What is wrong with that?
  • In any case, after a bill is drafted, it will go to the union cabinet, then to parliament, which will refer it to the relevant standing committee. Then it will be debated in both the houses before being consented to and notified as a law. How does Anna’s demand then undermine parliament or the set procedure?
  • Here is a last word to all the doubting Thomases and ignoramuses of the world. All the landmark and progressive laws in the past decade – the RTI Act, the NREG Act and the Forest Rights Act - were drafted by the civil society. In some cases, even the statement of objects was written by the civil society. The parliament merely attached its stamp of approval.

Don’t believe me? Ask the prime minister.

By the way, this is how “anarchy” is defined by the Oxford dictionary: 1. A state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems; 2. Absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.

Origin: mid-16th century: via medieval Latin from Greek anarkhia, from anarkhos, from an- 'without' + arkhos 'chief, ruler'

And here is a quote from the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics by Lain Mclean and Allister McMillan, 2009 about anarchism: “The earliest developed theory of anarchism, although not by that name, was An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) by William Godwin. He said that the governments keep their power only by misleading and corrupting their subjects. As individual human reason and judgment grow, and they lead necessarily to justice and rights, governments will become less and less capable of doing this. They (governments) will eventually vanish.”

Think this over.

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