Anna’s pathshala: In democracy, people are ‘king’

Sadly many still don’t understand this simple truth


Prasanna Mohanty | August 23, 2011

Anna has baffled most politicians, a large number of public intellectuals and middle-class heroes like Nandan Nilekani, Aruna Roy and Arundhati Roy. Every now and then we hear Anna’s movement being described as ‘undemocratic’, ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘anti-parliament’.

But is Anna’s fast and peaceful people’s movement around him to bring in an effective anti-corruption mechanism, the Lokpal, really against democracy, constitution and parliament or is it that our understanding of these words that is flawed?
One doesn’t really need to be either a constitutional expert or a political scientist to decipher this. In fact, the answer lies in the simple statement that Anna has been telling people: In a democracy, people are ‘king’; public representatives (the MPs) are ‘sevak’ (public servants).

Lay men, women and youngsters flocking to Anna or taking candlelight marches across the country understand this simple truth which most of our politicians and public intellectuals are unable or unwilling to, for whatever reasons.

Noted jurist Fali Nariman said the other day that ‘people’ come before ‘parliament’, implying that people are the sovereigns not parliament. Had that not been the case, we wouldn’t be holding parliamentary elections every five year and deciding who will be sitting in parliament to make laws.

Parliament came in because that is what people of India decided to set up while deciding on how they wanted to be governed. And this was codified in our constitution.

Now, ‘constitution’ is the mother law “we, the people” gave ourselves in 1950 to ensure that the said parliament govern us in a certain manner, not in any other.

The constitution was, therefore, drafted by “we, the people”. It is not a divine diktat. It is not divine. Had that not been the case we wouldn’t have amended it more than 100 times!

So, ‘people’ come even before ‘constitution’. One fine day, people of India may decide to, say for example, go for ‘presidential system’ of governance. At one point of time, the BJP was advocating that view. There could be others who may join the chorus. Everywhere in the world constitutions are rewritten, some for better, some for worse. But that is another issue altogether. It only demonstrates that ‘people’ come before ‘constitution’. It isn’t the other way round.

And all this because of another simple truth. Ours is a democracy. There could be no better definition of democracy than what Abraham Lincoln said: Democracy is of the people, for the people and by the people. That is the political philosophy “we, the people” decided to retain when the British left. If anyone has any doubt, proceedings of our constituent assembly will clear it.

The politicians, especially when in power, tend to forget this and arrogate themselves to be the ‘lord and master’ simply because we come from hierarchy-based feudal society. Democracy was brought to us by the British (if we ignore the so-called ‘village democracy’ of yore that some propounded but never proved, not even in the voluminous debates in the constituent assembly), after years of being ruled by sundry kings, queens, zamindars and their henchmen. Secondly, because we have granted too much privileges to our representatives. Thirdly, framers of our constitution either forgot or thought it not necessary to put strong checks and balances on them by way of a ‘code of conduct’.

The collective impact of all this is that we know that JMM bribery happened but none was ever punished. That is why cash-for-votes happened but none is jail until now. That is why more than 150 individuals facing serious criminal charges sit in parliament. That is why Lokpal bill doesn’t get passed for 42 years and yet our politicians in power and the co-opted public intellectuals call Anna’s fast ‘blackmail’ and ‘danger to democracy’.

Not that they don’t understand the true meaning of democracy, constitution and parliament. They do. But they don’t care.

It is the arrogance of the ruler that has gripped them.

See how politicians talk about corruption only when they are 'not' in power. When in power, they behave exactly in the same arrogant manner. Had that not been the case, the Lokpal could have been brought about by any of the UPA, NDA, National Front, United Front, Janata Party governments in these years.

As for the co-opted public intellectuals, they know which side of their bread is buttered. Not a word more is needed to explain their behaviour.

Anna’s movement has happened and is important because of the fact that once-in-a-five-year election has failed to act as an effective check-and-balance system or bring about responsible behaviour from our representatives. They feel no compulsion to listen to the people who have elected them to do their bidding.

And Anna's movement has proved that conclusively.



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