Democracy And ‘Mobocracy’

FIRST THINGS first. Nobody in his right senses would deny that a stronger Lokpal would go a long way in fighting the deep-rooted and well entrenched malaise of corruption in India.

For far too long the political class has been playing Footsie with the Lokpal Bill, shamelessly hiding under the garb of procedural nuances.

It has been more or less a similar story with the Women’s Reservation Bill as well, and the nation has watched with utter horror how some politicians have stooped to abysmal levels of parliamentary decorum, with the sole objective of deferring the legislation to some other time and session, which they know pretty well, would never fructify if they continued having their way.

The other plain truth about Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement is the brutal way the establishment tried to first muzzle it, and the way it packed him off to Tihar jail, where, ironically, he was made to share the same premises where Common- wealth Games scam accused Suresh Kalmadi has been put up India has earned its democracy the hard way and there is no way the police or some other state apparatus should be allowed to take the final call as to whether a peaceful dharna, or fast, by a satyagrahi were to be given the nod or not; and if allowed, at which venue; or for how long; and with how many conditions attached?

How can one be denied the basic right to fast or protest in a democracy? But all that is passé now and Anna is firmly in control of what he says, an “unprecedented revolution” unfolding. Emboldened by the huge nationwide support to his cause, the Gandhian activist is reported to have asserted that if his version of the Lokpal Bill is not passed by August 30, then the government should (read would have to) quit. “Either get the Bill passed or go,” he has thundered clear.

The problem, however, is that while Anna’s objective is altruistic, his means towards achieving this objective have increasingly veered away from the essence of democratic mores.

The civil society, much like pressure groups, is sup- posed to act as conscience-keeper. But dictating terms? Surely not! Giving ultimatum to an elected legislature that it better give in to its demands, however genuine, has never comprised the norms of democracy.

Whether one likes it or not, what one is witnessing right now is more of ‘mobocracy’, than democracy! For, hidden is a fundamental assumption that the dispensation would have to give in, in the face such a big churning of the masses.

What about Anna’s version of the bill being debated threadbare by all political parties? And, what about the need for a broad national consensus?

Okay, the mobs have lost patience with the political class. But this political class is not sui generis; it has not pitch-forked its identity on its own; it’s there because the same mobs have exercised their suffrage earlier and sent them to the legislature.

The real problem, however, is long-term impact to the type of democracy we practise in India. No one claims this is a perfect model. But this is a functioning democracy with all its plusses and minuses. Today, there is an Anna rooting to root out corruption. Absolutely fine. What, if tomorrow, the same mobs are steered by someone else with vested interests? Should the elected legislature still pave the way for them, just because they look formidable on the smaller screens, and are backed by an ever-more aggressive media?

As it is, there seems to be a fundamental flaw in the modalities. One only has to listen to the random sound bytes of some of those on the streets. They sound confident that once the Lokpal Bill is passed, all their woes would be a thing of the past. They believe corruption in India may be in last leg right now and it’s just a matter of a few days when Anna gets us all rid of this decades- old malaise. Too simplistic?

Well, this might be a typical middle class assumption. Ever since the process of liberalization started in the early 90’s, we have seen the gap between the rich and poor widening. Yes, the middle class has burgeoned too, but the poorest stratum has been hit the hardest.

The condition of the tribals and landless is more appalling than at any time in independent India and the urban poor have only had the hint of the ‘trickle down benefits’ that were supposed to accrue out of corporate profits, coming their way. That the benefits of development would continue to remain a pipe dream for them is a forgone conclusion.

So, in the midst of all this hullabaloo, is that little boy who calls the pavement his home, gaining? One would probably have to make use of loads and loads of candles to find out how many of these deprived souls are walking side by side with those churning out fluent and chaste English, saying ‘I am Anna’, or ‘India is Anna’!

(This article first appeared on the Edit page in the Times of Oman newspaper on August 23, 2011. Below please find the page)

Edit Page - Democracy and Mobocracy