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.