Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Republic in Practice

Arvind Kejriwal's 30-hour dharna outside Rail Bhavan last week raises many questions. Was it the only way a chief minister can express disagreement with the central government? Did he really have no other way to bring change? In fact, are such dharnas even desireable in a Republic? 

On Republic Day, let's examine this from the perspective of India's Constitution.  

THE GRAMMAR OF ANARCHY
You've probably read or at least heard of B.R. Ambedkar's famed exhortation to "abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha", during his speech to the Constituent Assembly in 1949. Ambedkar's 'Grammar of Anarchy' speech is widely quoted because it lays down the primacy of the Constitution for the proper functioning of Indian democracy (and government). 

"If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives... When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods." (emphasis mine)

That speech was made in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi's followers and friends, including Nehru. None objected. 

GANDHI ON SATYAGRAHA IN INDEPENDENT INDIA
What would Gandhi himself have said about Ambedkar's speech? The historian A.G. Noorani recounts a conversation between Gandhi and his former secretary Purshottam Trikamdas. Here, Trikamdas is appealing to Gandhi to reconsider a petition to make 'Satyagraha' a constitutional right for Indians.

'Tomorrow, when India is free, would you say that satyagraha is a constitutional right and write it into the Constitution. And, if we do, what does it mean? It means that anybody can break the law with impunity and nothing could be done. Actually, it would be contrary to your own ideas. Satyagraha, you say, means disobeying authority and facing the consequences. Now, if satyagraha is a constitutional right and it is permitted, what are the consequences to face?' It would be said to the credit of the great man that he started thinking and he said, ‘There is something in what you say.' Next day, he sent for me and said, ‘ You are right. I have decided not to send that letter.'

Even Gandhi, the man who pioneered Satyagraha & civil disobedience, decided that such practices no longer have any place in a democratic republic. 

KEJRIWAL'S OPTIONS
Arvind Kejriwal would like us to believe that he had no other option but to protest outside the offices of the Central Government. Either Arvind Kejriwal is deeply uninformed about the options that do exist, or he is deliberately misleading his fans for mileage.

Let me explain with some context. There is a bigger picture problem that no sane person will deny: Delhi, a state for all intents an purposes, has no police force of its own. This has caused problems in the past and will continue to do so until it's fixed. 

The problem begins in 1991, when Delhi was granted partial statehood under the 69th Amendment to the Constitution. Delhi should have been given authority over everything in List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. The Delhi Police, however, did not get transferred to the state's control. Interestingly, Land was another subject that did not move under the State's control. This led to the slightly comical situation of a Chief Minister having to request the Central government for help in finding a home.

I digress. So what should Kejriwal have done if he was genuinely interested in long-term change that would bring the Delhi Police under his government's control? His highly-controversial law minister Somnath Bharti should have advised him on the "constitutional methods" available. For example, he could challenge the flawed provision of the 69th Amendment before a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court. Surely there is no sense in perpetuating a situation that has repeatedly caused problems. Surely the Court would have seen the sense in this. 

Or he could have waited for a decent showing in the Lok Sabha elections, and moved a Lok Sabha motion to re-amend the 69th Amendment and bring the Delhi Police under the control of the state government.

Instead, Kejriwal chose a highly visible protest. It got him plenty of attention (not all of it positive), but it achieved very, very little. Two police officers have only been sent on leave and the Delhi Police are still not under the state's control.  

FOR KEJRIWAL'S FANS
Many of Kejriwal's fans believe that he is a man on a mission; that he is personally incorruptible and therefore, obstacles in front of him should be done away with in the interest of the greater good. Afterall, if his intentions are sound, why should he be stopped?

For their benefit, I hark back to Ambedkar's 'Grammar of Anarchy' speech. In the paragraph that immediately follows his famed exhortation, he says:

'The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not "to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions" There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.'

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