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On Anna Hazare’s fast

“Something is rotten in the state, but…”

Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death campaign against corruption has inspired commentary and discussion in mainstream media and on social media platforms.  NDTV has wholeheartedly thrown its weight behind Mr. Hazare’s campaign.  RTI activist and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal vowed to turn Jantar Mantar into Tahrir Square.  And film actress Priyanka Chopra called the campaign “an uprising.” Jantar Mantar has metamorphosed into a celebrity congregation, just like Wankhede Stadium had on April 2.  But how many have actually read the draft of the Lokpal Bill?  How many really understand what the Lokpal is, and what such an institution means to our democratic republic?

But away from all the demagoguery and rhetoric, writers and bloggers are asking the tough questions that those on the bandwagon have found too inconvenient to address.  Of these, articles and blogposts by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Offstumped and Reality Check India deserve special mention (as does Mr. Mehta’s 2010 essay, “What is Constitutional Morality?”)

The intellectual bedrock to some of this discussion can also be found in Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on the Constitution and the Republic. Below is an excerpt from his writings in 1794:

But, without entering into so wide a field, it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.

Government is frequently and aptly classed under two descriptions—a government of Force, and a government of Laws; the first is the definition of despotism—the last, of liberty. But how can a government of laws exist when the laws are disrespected and disobeyed? Government supposes control. It is that Power by which individuals in society are kept from doing injury to each other, and are brought to co-operate to a common end. The instruments by which it must act are either the Authority of the laws or Force. If the first be destroyed, the last must be substituted; and where this becomes the ordinary instrument of government, there is an end to liberty!

Those, therefore, who preach doctrines, or set examples which undermine or subvert the authority of the laws, lead us from freedom to slavery; they incapacitate us for a Government of Laws, and consequently prepare the way for one of Force, for mankind must have Government Of One Sort Or Another. There are, indeed, great and urgent cases where the bounds of the Constitution are manifestly transgressed, or its constitutional authorities so exercised as to produce unequivocal oppression on the community, and to render resistance justifiable. But such cases can give no color to the resistance by a comparatively inconsiderable part of a community, of constitutional laws distinguished by no extraordinary features of rigor or oppression, and acquiesced in by the body of the community.

Such a resistance is treason against society, against liberty, against every thing that ought to be dear to a free, enlightened, and prudent people. To tolerate it, were to abandon your most precious interests. Not to subdue it, were to tolerate it. Those who openly or covertly dissuade you from exertions adequate to the occasion, are your worst enemies. They treat you either as fools or cowards, too weak to perceive your interest or your duty, or too dastardly to pursue them. They, therefore, merit and will, no doubt, meet your contempt. To the plausible but hollow harangue of such conspirators you cannot fail to reply, How long, ye Catilines, will ye abuse our patience?  [Alexander Hamilton, "Tully Papers, III." August 28, 1794]

Unquestionably, something is rotten in the state.  That corruption is rampant is undeniable.  The debate here though isn’t whether or not we must fight against corruption, but how we should address it.  It is time for us to step back and reflect on what such an unabated encouragement of moral chauvinism means for the current and future state of our democratic republic.

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