Team Anna and Democracy
Anna Hazare’s movement has created a big dilemma for India’s intellectuals, most of whom agree in their heart with his intentions and goals, but find themselves wondering about the means. First, is it not blackmail to force the government’s hand by fasting? Second, is it right to subvert democratic institutions? Third, won’t we get to anarchy if Anna’s methods are supported this time?
To the first, if people decide to fast for a cause they believe in, they are well within their fundamental rights as free human beings. Blackmail is a criminal offense that is characterized by a secret threat of revelation of information that can lead to prosecution, done primarily for personal gain. Anna has made no secret threats of any kind, and neither is he doing his agitation for personal gain. His accusers then switch to “moral tyranny.” Imagine your worst tyrant fasting. Do you feel tortured enough? We are better off avoiding absurd descriptions, in order to keep our thinking straight.
To the second, subversion is a loaded emotional term, and it prejudges the situation. It is astounding that the exercise of citizens’ rights to protest peacefully is termed as subversion of a functional democracy, when it is the very proof of it. With this argument, most people restate their objection as subverting a certain group of people who are supposedly representatives of the people of India. While this may be correct, fixating on this is about being swayed by the minor premise, while totally ignoring the major premise, that a democracy is intended to serve as a safeguard of freedom. Whenever a democracy is in a fight with freedom of peaceful and honest people to be left alone, the latter should always win, for we value our own freedom over theoretical ideas of how we ought to function. People forget that Hitler came out of a democracy and all his actions against Jews were legally ratified. That democracy does not equal freedom is unfortunately, not widely understood. Yet, this is very simple to explain. In a democracy, 51% of the people get to force their will on the remaining 49%. By its very conception, democracy guarantees coercion. While dictatorship and political communism (distinct from monastic communism) are much worse, democracy has received far more credit than it deserves.
It was only after hearing Arvind Kejriwal’s interview on NDTV that I was reassured that Team Anna understands this limitation and is trying to do something about it. In that interview, Kejriwal clarified that this was only the beginning of the movement, and their real target is the concentration of tremendous power in the government. Their idea of allowing the public to initiate investigations is a brilliant and simple tactic that immediately allows people to lead the change instead of relying on a government that is by nature not answerable to its people. Due to the nature of India’s elections, honest people are unable to compete effectively without making major compromises, and the system incentivizes the corrupt to be in play. Those who argue that changemakers should fight elections or that those we elect actually represent us are slapping India’s 1 billion population in the face and making a huge mockery of the public’s misfortune. Worse still, these critics fail to see the failing of democracy in the very fact that Team Anna has huge popular support for a means that they consider incorrect. In a democracy, might becomes right, and if people find that difficult to fathom, then their problem is not with Team Anna but with democracy itself. As Einstein pointed out, one cannot solve a problem at the level it was created. We cannot find a rational solution for the issues arising from democracy with democracy. Lack of awareness of this principle has shortsighted our intellectuals into criticizing the rationality of Team Anna’s actions.
Is there a better alternative than democracy? Although many idolize Gandhi, very few have read his views in “Hind Swaraj,” (Self Rule) where he advocated minimal power in the center, and preferred that people retain the right to make their own decisions. We have tried and utterly failed with central governance, be it at the federal or the state level. Why not try an experiment in the opposite direction and uphold the value of freedom over all other ideological considerations? Freedom is not an ideological abstraction – we feel it right here and now. There is not a sane person on this planet who welcomes coercion, and freedom is a self-evident universal value that does not require an advanced academic orientation to support. For the first time since our independence, there is a movement in India that is going to the root cause of the problem and trying an experiment – what if we were just left alone to make our own decisions? How far could we go with that idea?
Critics raise the spectre of anarchy, without realizing that the most-loved markets, be it Pondy Bazar in Chennai, Sarojini Market in Delhi, City Market in Bangalore, or Gariahat in Kolkata, are exemplars of anarchy. There is very little policing, and people are jumping over each other to make us happy with their deals. What about political dissension? Should people with any political viewpoint be allowed to exercise it? The problem here is not with anarchy, as it is with people harming others. If we had laws that punish harmful actions (as we do right now), does anarchy still remain a problem? India has had a long history with anarchy. It is in our blood, and we thrive in it. Those with doubts on this need to roll down the windows of their air-conditioned cars on India’s busy streets and simply look around. Centralized orderliness is an imported idea that stifles the creative spirit, and it is time Indians changed their paradigm of thinking to an indigenous one. As Tagore and Vivekananda have eloquently pointed out, India’s unity lies not in uniformity but in diversity.
This organizing principle is the very soul of India. Insofar as India’s constitution and democracy upholds this idea, they are both useful. But if either goes against diversity of thought and action, it must be open to reform. There is not much that needs to be done to uphold unity in diversity – the best way is to do nothing to stop it. Critics may argue that Team Anna is not encouraging diversity, when the opposite is true. They have received and continue to receive inputs from the public on their website. While many who have been jealous of Team Anna’s success have uttered uncharitable and vicious comments, not once did I note his aides losing their cool and returning the favor. The bigger issue here is that they are dealing with a system that suppresses diversity of thought, values secrecy in transactions and deceit in communication, while using coercion at will. In a free society, such a protest would have been unnecessary, but since we are not living in a free society and prefer nonviolence, there are few better ways to protest.
Team Anna’s ushering of the Indian Summer is a great opportunity for people not just in India but all over the world to introspect on the very ground our nations stand on, with boldness in spirit and compassion in our hearts, standing firmly on the value of individual freedom. Whether we support Team Anna or start our own movements, may we do so with clarity and integrity.