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Float a political party, Mr. Hazare!

Yadha Praja, Tatha Rajya!

Mr. Hazare’s protests at Jantar Mantar and the subsequent caving in of a supine government have set a dangerous precedent.  A lakshman rekha was crossed, but the transgression was roundly praised by our citizens, the government and the opposition.  During his hunger strike, Mr. Hazare ensured that the “movement” remained insulated from India’s political class.  A line was being drawn in the sand.  We were told that this was a movement by “civil society.” The implication there being that politicians weren’t of the society.  In some of my interactions, I’ve been told by citizens that the politicians did not represent them.

So I inquire — these politicians just sort of descended from the heavens and onto their respective thrones in New Delhi, did they?

Today, the most corrupt and incompetent government in this country’s history holds office at a time when political apathy among citizens is at an all time high.  When cases of mismanagement and malgovernance are highlighted — most tellingly after 26/11 — the first reaction of our citizens is to disengage from governance, when they should have been re-engaging. Shamefully, after innumerable candle-light vigils and endless poetry, 60% of Mumbai didn’t bother to turn up to cast their votes in the general elections held five months after the most heinous crime was orchestrated against the city’s citizens.  In India today, we vote on reality shows, not general elections.

Mr. Hazare may have succeeded in inducing a raucous, but misguided group of individuals into joining his movement, but what does that really mean in the context of the world’s largest democracy? In an interview, Mr. Hazare stated that he didn’t even think he could save his security deposit, let alone win, if he contested elections. And they say he represents India!  Further, Mr. Hazare seemed to blame the likelihood of his loss on bribes offered to voters by potential political opponents in exchange for their votes.

But for this concatenation of circumstances to materialize, there has to be an equal and opposite bribe accepted for every bribe offered.  And if India’s voters — members of our “civil society” — are themselves willing participants in the institution of political graft, then why is Mr. Hazare’s rage directed entirely at India’s political establishment? Does our civil society bear no responsibility?  Our ancient texts tell us — yadha raja, tatha praja (as a leader, so his people).  But in our representative democracy, our country and its leaders are of the people.  Yadha praja, tatha rajya!

Mr. Hazare’s credentials as an “anti-corruption crusader” are known to all.  But the most important education he can impart to India’s restless populace is that sustainable change for the better can only be the product of engagement — not disengagement — with the governance of the country.  Participating in electing India’s representatives is a part, but not the full extent, of this engagement.  Building and empowering institutions that make a democracy work requires patience, perseverance, and above all, a belief in the system of government that we have chosen for ourselves.

To that end, we must call upon Mr. Hazare to engage in the governance of the country by floating a political party (or joining one, if he believes that the barriers to entry are prohibitive).  Mr. Hazare must give India’s electorate the benefit of deciding for itself whether or not and to what extent it believes in his message.  If what his followers say is indeed true — that he “represents” India — it should follow that he will be able to address the many social and economic ills that plague India when he is empowered with the people’s mandate.

But attempting to hijack legislative due process by inserting himself into the equation without representation undermines our way of life.  And those of us that believe in the sanctity of our democratic republic must unabashedly stand up to voice our opposition to it, even as we haul up this government’s ambivalence towards corruption and malgovernance.

Related reading: Nitin Pai: Against Lok Pal and the politics of hunger strikes; Amba Salelkar: The Jan Lokpal Bill: Good intentions and the road to hell; Indian Express editorial: Rs 100, a sari, a bottle.


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14 Responses to Float a political party, Mr. Hazare!

  1. @filter_c April 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    On my blog: Float a political party, Mr. Hazare! Yadha Praja, Tatha Rajya. http://j.mp/dLotNp

  2. @Krupakar_m April 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    RT @filter_c: On my blog: Float a political party, Mr. Hazare! Yadha Praja, Tatha Rajya. http://j.mp/dLotNp

  3. @HinduIDF April 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    RT @filter_c: On my blog: Float a political party, Mr. Hazare! Yadha Praja, Tatha Rajya. http://j.mp/dLotNp

  4. @nilimdutta April 11, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Float a political party, Mr. Hazare! http://t.co/oMmHJZI @filter_c (Rohan Joshi) on #Anna

  5. @donamit April 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    RT @filter_c: On my blog: Float a political party, Mr. Hazare! Yadha Praja, Tatha Rajya. http://j.mp/dLotNp

  6. Karthik April 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    Every problem requires multiple curative and preventative methods. The problem of a corrupt society needs a good curative measure like an ombudsman, as much as it requires preventative measures like clean political parties (like Loksatta of AP), clean politicians (like many of the independents who stood…but lost), value based educational reforms so that the prajaa looking down upon taking shortcuts in their daily activities, administrative reforms, and police reforms.

    The conundrum is a chicken and egg problem – To improve our society, honest people need to lead our democracy selflessly at all levels; but for honest people to lead our democracy, society needs to be first improved in its ethics. As you’ve rightly put, Indian society is no angel – a lot of our dishonesty at the top levels of power is simply manifestation of dishonesty at the lower levels.

    In my opinion, this dishonesty is not something inherent in our DNA, but a consequence of policies which have kept our society illiterate, poor and overcrowded, resulting in most people unable to look beyond the narrow halter of their daily needs and self interests.
    Universal suffrage made up of a majority who can’t look beyond their narrow daily needs will never be able to do anything for the common good or national interests.
    The current democratic setup has no reason to really solve these problems – they allow the crassest to come to power easily with a few sympathetic noises and some freebies, as we see in TN.

    So, how to address these root causes?

    It’s possible to clean up society by replacing illiteracy with value based education and poverty with self sustaining economy.
    For such drastic educational and economic improvements, we need really honest and broad visioned politicians, bureaucrats and policymakers at all levels, down to the taluk block office clerk.
    Such policies require a multipronged approach – some curative, some preventative. How to get such good people into the system? For that, the bad guys need to be removed or controlled. A start has to be made somewhere. That’s exactly what Lokpal is about.

    Hazare’s movement is just one prong of this set of solutions – one side of a polygon. Others are implementing other faces.
    The bill still has to pass through the same democratic process that all other bills (like IT act, CBI act) have done so far. So I don’t see what is the danger to democracy you’re talking about.
    Your article is basically a meaningless question … like asking “Why is Filter Coffee blogging only about politics of India, and not Ayurveda of India?”.

    As for your sarcastic usage of the term civil society, some silly semantic pedantry has been introduced – some variation of stupid logic like “if they’re civil, are we uncivil?”. Is this really a good argument at all? It sounds childish.
    Well, you can call them anything you like – if you don’t like civil society, call them “common men” – didn’t hear any sarcasm around that so far and all the existing parties love that term!

  7. Rohan Joshi April 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Karthik —

    Appreciate the detailed feedback. I would briefly just say this:

    1. I have felt that apathy is a bigger threat to our way of life than corruption in our society. If the governed don’t feel the need to engage in the governance of the country, it is no wonder then that those that govern can’t be bothered to do anything. We cannot outsource governance of the country as we would IT or business functions. There is just too much at stake.

    2. Hazare’s methods cannot be a side of the polygon — to use your analogy — if that polygon is the Constitution. There is a role for NGOs, pressure groups, and the like in highlighting issues that require consideration, but that does not mean that one can hijack legislative process because one favors a certain arrangement to the detriment of others. It absolutely endangers our democratic republic.

    3. On the use of the term “civil society,” the term is not mine, but I employ it in jest to many in the mainstream media that throw around the term to represent a vague collective that best suits their argument. It was not used as a slight against civil society, but against some folks in mainstream media.

  8. Karthik April 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    My opinions :
    1. There’s apathy and then there’s apathy.
    If you’re referring to social apathy – lack of concern for suffering of other people – I see its root cause as poverty which makes people selfish. There’s little a law can do for this, but it can help. I see Lokpal as one solution – not THE solution, not even a great solution, but it’ll help – to reduce poverty arising out of administrative negligence.

    If you’re referring to apathy of people about obvious mal-administration and misuse of privileges, I feel this is not inborn apathy but a consequence of ineffective redressal mechanisms all these years. Fear overcomes our drive to do what is right. RTI has helped to some extent. But let’s not forget so many RTI activists who’ve been killed. Even now, one has to think twice before complaining, because the people in power – the same ones who’re misusing it – have a lot of power to make life miserable to those who complain.
    And it’s next to impossible to get genuine action against lower level administrative cadre, because they form a thick old boys network. Suspensions are revoked and misusers reinstated within 3-4 months! I’ve observed this time and again.
    Lokpal has one curative answer for this – whistleblower protection and suo moto powers.
    It’s very easy to criticise apathy from an ivory tower without laying a roadplan – but when one gets down to answering the “how”s for this problem, one ends up something akin to what lokpal is giving.
    The preventative measure, in my opinion, is intense educational reform. When as children, we are made to not question things in school and disciplined by fear more than self discipline, we’ll follow exactly this behaviour even as adults.

    2. You’ve understood the comparison wrong. By polygon, I mean the set of solutions, where each side is a solution with a different angle and different focus.
    When the problem has become about the constitution itself – how to prevent misuse of our constitution and democracy – we cannot expect a 6 decade old canon to give all answers.
    Lokpal is a amendment to our constitution to cater to our modern society’s imbalances. Even constitution has to evolve to solve new problems. Our constitution does provide for a lot of what-if situations (which is why it’s the longest!), but it relies a lot on the integrity of its enforcers – this is the weak assumption in today’s India.

    Secondly, I disagree with the statement “hijack legislative process”. Our legislative process requires inputs from experts, and this input has been asked time and again. A good democracy requires inputs from those it claims to govern for the common good.
    The telecom reforms of 80s, the RTI implementation, NREGA implementation, the economic liberation of 90s – all these took inputs from experts. How is this any different?

    The only difference I see here is that a set of well meaning people realised our constitution is yet again being misused by its enforcers through a powerless ombudsman bill, and asked for amendments.
    3 out of 5 committee members are active parts of administration – 2 active supreme court lawyers, 1 active lokayukta. Kejriwal was until recently an IAS officer. The only member of the much reviled “civil society” is Hazare – and I think the only reason he’s there is to retain people’s trust in it – so in a way, they’re actually helping the administration by egging it on with people’s faith.
    This bill will go through the exact procedures that all other bills have. It still has to be ratified by all these parties that you see as protectors of our constitution (and most of whom will likely oppose it on the excuse that it’s against our constitution, when the real reason is to protect their corrupt lifestyles).
    So where is the problem here?

    Some opinions about future misuse have been voiced. That other people may blackmail the government in similar manner for wrong causes.
    It’s like saying I should not go file a complaint in a police station for a genuine reason, because that will encourage even the bad guys to go file complaints for wrong reasons!
    I’m sure a large part of our administration – abusive as they are of their powers – know when a cause is right and when it’s wrong, when it’s popular and when it isn’t, just as our cops know when a complaint is genuine and when it’s frivolous.
    It’s possible that maybe this tactic will be misused 20% of the time – like the jat reservation protest or separate statehood demands. But one has to be objective here and keep in the mind questions like “what percentage of the time is this tactic likely to be used for the wrong reasons? and what are we going to do when the tactic is wrong?”. It’s never a good idea to see the world in black and white, give simple answers like this tactic may be misused, so we’ll never take this route. If this is the attitude, then we should drop entire democracy and entire universal suffrage, because they’ve also been misused.

    Other democracies go for referendums – they’re a great way to get to know opinions of people on big issues between elections. A referendum would be a good device for our problems. I think the only reason it’s never been done in India, is due to the logistics of this exercise. So maybe, another good cause to fight is introducing effective referendum policies.

    Lastly, I find it ironic that you complain about apathy, but when people finally (that too it’s a small group and it’s atleast 2 decades too late) come and complain, you ask why’re they complaining when everything’s going fine (is it really going fine?). Damned (by one group) if we do, damned (by another group) if we don’t! You mean you actually want an even bigger problem like total civil disobedience?

    3. There’s a tendency in our society to go for ad hominem attacks. This article wasn’t so bad, but I’ve seen articles from skeptics like Manu Joseph of Open magazine where the fact that Hazare was “only a driver”, that the movement was held next to a public urinal, and that the audience included some “impoverished” poets form the basis for why he thinks this moverment is wrong! I think if discussions are objective and issue based instead of denigrating the people involved, it would be much better for our society and much better at floating our heads above collective stupidity instead of sinking into it.

    It’s easy to get lost in details in such things, so I’d like to tell my overall view on this. The most effective solutions to a corrupt society lie in things like educational reforms, reducing poverty, and electoral reforms.
    The goal is to make all 1.3 billion of us to believe innately that “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking”.
    It requires a lot of effort, debates and a lot of steps – most of them out of the box – but we also don’t have all the time in the world. For all these efforts, India needs to maintain and grow a strong economy first and foremost. Our demographic dividend has a shelf life of another 40-50 years. Within that period, in an increasingly competitive globalised world, and amidst an increasingly hostile neighbourhood, we need to take all measures we can – big and small, curative and preventative – to improve our society as fast as possible.
    I would rather welcome change and then find more solutions to negative consequences of that change, than not make any change at all because there’s always a chance it may fail. It’s about seeing whether the cup is half full or half empty. Isn’t this how we live life and improve ?

  9. Devang Sheth (@bruiselee) August 18, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Float a political party, Mr. Hazare!: http://t.co/oou1QFM | A good argument, which, alas will fall on deaf ears.

  10. @filter_c August 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Wrote this in April 2011 about the need for Anna Hazare to join the political mainstream. http://t.co/GhPzIYv6

  11. Srikanth R. (@_R_Srikanth) (@_R_Srikanth) August 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    RT @filter_c: Wrote this in April 2011 about the need for Anna Hazare to join the political mainstream. http://t.co/GhPzIYv6

  12. Vidyut (@Vidyut) (@Vidyut) August 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    RT @filter_c: Wrote this in April 2011 about the need for Anna Hazare to join the political mainstream. http://t.co/GhPzIYv6

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