Friday, September 2, 2011

A heartfelt response to someone who thought being different is fashionable!

This is my response to what one cynic had to say against Anna and his team and most importantly the movement against corruption that has been in the limelight for the past few weeks. Before reading my response scroll down and read the main piece to which I had to respond.

Before I begin, I appreciate in no uncertain terms a debate of this kind, and the perspectives and paradigms of governance that has been discussed. I also am somebody who has not managed to participate as often as I would have ideally liked, partly because I have been mostly enthralled by these debates as a reader. This issue and the arguments presented by a certain section against the movement against corruption which incidentally also happens to be incidentally led by Anna and his team has provoked me to articulate my reaction to people who have a problem with such a representation.

I would also attempt to keep my arguments topical and acknowledging perhaps the temptation to make personal references to contributors would like to believe I can keep that to a bare minimum, if at all. Needless to say I would expect such reciprocation.

As for my reactions, I feel the argument that a fast by definition is undemocratic and amounts to blackmail is simplistic and devoid of proper reasoning. I do agree that it could be termed as persuasion but I find no problems with persuasion being a part of democracy as long as the issue is justified. Yes I take a Machiavellian stance here, but it must be understood that to a huge extent parliamentary party politics is Machiavellian where persuasion and sometimes even coercion are the most frequently used methods to convince, persuade and/or articulate a perspective. To that extent the legitimacy of the method of persuasion is derived from the extent to which it has popular support which no doubt Anna and his team had(something that really angered his critics who never predicted such footfall).

I have problems with critics stating that Anna is not exactly Gandhi. Yes, he idolizes Gandhi and to whichever extent possible adopts certain means that is Gandhi's contribution to the Indian political landscape and could be a Gandhian in that sense. To say he doesn't do all that Gandhi has done or stood for, is a redundant argument. Why should he? He is different,born at a different time and faced with systemically and structurally different challenges. And if we have to judge the extent to which he is credible and/or successful, we need to judge that on the basis of the ends he stands for or is crusading against.

To the second part of the argument of this write up that is as misplaced as the first, I don't understand how standing against the British Raj was more legitimate and/or credible than standing against your own people for improvement and reforms of structures that promote corruption. Also to add some more sense to my argument, it must be stated that some of the greatest contributions to the extent of the corruption that we see today has been the systems of governance and administration that the infamous white sahibs created to serve their colonial interests, and at the same time having very different accountability systems back home. In the Indian political and administrative circles nothing much has changed after Independence and we still hugely rely on the same systems which encourage corruption albeit controlled by the brown sahibs.

Contrary to one of the previous contributions on this issue, I along with several others believe Anna's fight against corruption was never aimed at breaking into existing structures of governance and institutions, rather it was to improve them by making them more accountable to people who they derive their legitimacy from.

To say, the Government passed the RTI bill is like saying in retrospect (may be as soon as the bill would be finally passed) that the Jan Lokpal bill is also passed by the Government. Nobody else is supposed to pass the Bill and Anna and his team do not expect anybody else to do it except the Government. The RTI bill was also a result of attempts by similar movements from the Civil society and it would be extremely unfair to say that it was a result of the ruling Government's vision.

Another misplaced argument that if you speak for creating an Ombudsman or for reforms of accountability and skewing the incentive structure of corruption by making the Government and other administrative wings accountable, you are asking for a new constitution and attacking the "fundamental bases of our state" is as much of an exaggeration as mind could possibly conceive.

I detest the argument, that a change is only desirable if every single person agree with Anna. Democratic politics to the best of my understanding and education of social sciences doesn't presuppose that action is only legitimate when each one of its constituents are in agreement. It is not only impractical but also against the classical definition of democracy. By every means differing views are welcome, but for democracy to flourish why is Anna or his team bound to make amendments to their bill based on what the differing views are? If there is a better way why not campaign for it? why not garner public support? and rather than convince Anna and his team who derive their legitimacy from people who support him, do groups who believe they have a better bill persuade the people to see reason. But to escape that and compel Anna and his team to change their views is as undemocratic as the allegations made against them.

To the other most frequently used argument about the lack of debate taking the legitimacy out of the Jan Lokpal Bill I feel, debate in Indian polity has forever been used to justify reluctance to change, improve and reform. We have been doing so from 1963 when the word 'Lokpal' was coined in 1963 during a debate in parliament about grievance redressal mechanisms. The bill was first introduced in the parliament in 1968 and passed in the Lok Sabha in 1969, but debates and deliberation saw the Lok Sabha getting dissolved and the bill lapsing.

Subsequent versions have been introduced right till 2008 with none of them passed. The bill was intensely debated all through but it lacked political will. It is difficult to find reasons as to why without provocation and persuasion, politicians would want to pass a bill that holds them accountable especially when a bill has real teeth(reference made to Jan Lokpal Bill as opposed to the Government's version. History rationalizes this point.

Whether Anna is always right or sometimes wrong is not even the question. Even if Anna is mostly wrong but only right in as much as rightly advocating the reforms he is, and also willing to fast for it, I see no problem in following him even if I am of the opinion that alcohol and smoking is good and sex is as much about other things as it is about procreation.

Before I conclude, it is important to remember that democracy of any form-parliamentary or otherwise was propounded as a result of the concept of social contract which underlines a valid contract between people and their representatives. And in legal terms, for a contract to be valid, there needs to be a valid consideration. And in this context the consideration is governance with minimal corruption (since zero corruption is Utopian) To that extent, every action of the people is legitimate when they ensure that functional democracy remains of the people, by the people and for the people instead of becoming of the government, by the Government and for the Government. I see this movement as a crucial wake up call for systems and agents of governance and logically I am with several others who are at peace with the developments of the last few days (may be a tad excited about it) notwithstanding how many tremors it creates.

The original piece which I had to respond to:

For some time I have had a general lack of faith in Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal, but this is perhaps the first time I am going to try and put forward a coherent case for why it is that I dislike the methods that he is using, the kind of discourse his team is putting forward, and the way that the media is portraying him as opposed perhaps to the truth of the matter.

Firstly, his methods.

Anna Hazare is a man who is fasting unto death until and unless three things happen: that the Lokpal Bill is removed from the Parliament, that the Jan Lokpal is put in front of the Standing Committee, and that it is then passed speedily without any hindrances or changes.

This threat to fast unto death is only credible if (and only if) he fully intends to die in the case that his demands are not met. So, this nonsense that his doctors will stop him from fasting is very counterproductive, which is why no one believes them.

Why is this important? This is important because this man is holding a gun to his head, and he says that unless we do what he wants, he will pull the trigger. Protesting via this sort of threat is almost always illegitimate purely because of the sort of threat you make. The legitimacy he wants to claim comes from the fact that a) Gandhi did it against the British and b) that the 'country' and 'civil society' are with him.

I have problems with both things.

Firstly, that when Gandhi fasted, whether unto death or for only seven days or what-have-you, he did it against an imperial power, against which he had absolutely no method of redress and when he was heard, he stopped fasting. Gandhi also never fasted for a singularly specific demand in the manner that Anna is today, in the manner that KCR did a couple of years ago, in the manner that seems to be catching on among politicians. He did so as a method of atonement, to try and bridge the divide between communities, to appeal to huge blocks of ordinary people. Once he managed that, he stopped. Let me say that again. He stopped.

This government is not an imperial overlord. This government can and has been held accountable. This government in no way or form resembles the sort of sheer oppression that the Raj inflicted on this country for almost 200 years. To fast in this manner is to accuse this government of all of that, and it is not an accusation one makes lightly. Making that accusation means that what you want to do is break down the institutions, and create a completely new one. It is an extreme method of protesting that you undertake when you believe that there is no democracy within the country. It took 150 years of oppressive rule before Gandhi came along and fasted. It has been 64 years since we became independent.

This government passed the RTI bill. It can and has been spoken to and compromised with. To accuse it of being similar to the Raj is, quite frankly, insulting to any person who believes that we are better than the Raj, and I hope that is all of us.

When you protest in this manner, you are attacking the fundamental bases of our state. You are saying that you have no faith whatsoever in it. If that is the case, then you should make it clear that is what you believe. You should make it clear that you believe that every single level of our government is so incurably corrupt that there is absolutely no way of changing it except by putting a gun to Anna's head and saying you will pull the trigger. You should then draft yourself a new constitution, because that's what they did the last time our society viewed its government in such a manner.

Secondly, in a democracy such as ours, one person can never speak for either the country or 'civil society' (whatever those words mean). I am part of civil society, or at least I would like to think so. If that is the case, and for whatever reason I don't agree with him, then clearly there is atleast one person in civil society or the country that he does not speak for.

The reason we give every person within our state a vote is not so that the side with more votes can win, it is so that every person within society has an equal voice: one vote. If there is even one person in all of India who does not agree with Anna's bill, then that one person has the right to stand up and be counted and offer arguments as to why it is not the case that the Jan Lokpal is the best. When this man fasts and accepts no compromise, he is infringing on my ability to have a debate with the rest of society.

A change like this can only happen if it is true that every single person in all of society agrees with Anna, so it is clear that this no-compromise solution is the one everyone wants. But even the members of our parliament are part of our society. We give them a vote. If you will not give Manmohan Singh the chance to be heard as PM, at least give him the chance to be heard as a citizen of this state. At the point at which you refuse to do so, you undermine the fundamental equality that is set up in our constitution.

Secondly, his language.

Team Anna has made it very clear that anyone who is not with them is against them. That if you do not support his bill, you are helping the hold that corruption has on this state. This is an extremely patronising thing to say. Apparently, being anti-corruption and being anti-Anna are mutually exclusive. Why is this the case? I stand here, telling you that I am no fan of either corruption or Anna, and I find no logical contradiction within my position. The mere idea that somehow I need to be on Anna's side or corruption's side and that there is no middle ground whatsoever is one that is painful in its simplicity.

And when you demonise me, or the NCPRI, or anyone who disagrees with your precise view of what the Lokpal bill should be, you are undermining the ability for us to have a debate. When you view me as someone who is supporting corruption merely because I disapprove of Anna's methods, you are less likely to listen to me, and more likely to mischaracterise my arguments. Anything I say is clearly pro-corruption, and thus insane because well, I'm supporting corruption.

If someone wants to offer an alternative version of a bill, let them do so. What is wrong? We are living in a free country, we are allowed to have opinions even if they differ from the majority position, if the NCPRI want to offer a third alternative, surely that is a good thing? More debate is better than less debate, and for something that is so momentous, I hope there's going to be as much debate as possible.

Either Team Anna has to clearly tell me why being anti-Anna is equivalent to being pro-corruption, or they should stop treating the two of them the same. Cutting out a large section of the population in such a manner cannot be good for debate in a democracy, especially when the debate is about an issue that intimately affects every person in our state.

Thirdly, his portrayal.

Anna is being heralded as some mixture of the second coming of Gandhi, Lord Rama given flesh, and the new Avatar of the Indian Republic. This is not a good thing.

It is not a good thing because as I said previously, no one man should be held representative of the country like that. Even Gandhi had his detractors, like Ambedkar and Annie Besant. As much as he was held to be the Father of the Nation, even he had people who said he was wrong, and were vocal and vociferous in their belief.

When you say that this man is always right, you are giving him an authority which he should not have. Like Gandhi, Anna believes that alcohol and smoking are wrong, that sex should only be for procreation, that religion can and should inform every part of your life. In the village of Ralegan Siddhi, where he is widely hailed as a hero and an icon, anyone caught drinking is tied to a pole in front of the temple and flogged. This is accepted by everyone in the village because Anna says so. I don't want to live in a society where everyone agrees with this one man, and this man dictates what I do with my life, what I believe, and how I behave. No one should be deified like this, least of all Anna Hazare.

In conclusion, I just want to say that by agreeing with Anna, you are agreeing with his methods, the ridiculous implications of them, and the consequences of them to the state. You may be at peace with that, but I am not.

1 comment:

Anusia said...

Very well described. Many things which were unknown got revealed.