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Sunday, June 5, 2011

India can’t be ruled by NGOs

By Swapan Dasgupta

The emergence of Baba Ramdev as the newest anti-corruption crusader, after Anna Hazare, has unsettled the mid-summer complacency of the Congress-inclined Establishment. If the man BJP president Nitin Gadkari cheekily dubbed the "rock star of yoga" can extend his energies beyond wellness and simple patriotism—the two recurrent themes of his discourses—where, it is being asked, will the process stop? It was bad enough, they say, that a slightly naïve Gandhian like Hazare allowed himself to become the instrument of a small coterie of activists who presume to talk for the whole of 'civil society', will Ramdev now add to the distortion?


 

From a liberal constitutionalist perspective, the fears aren't completely misplaced. Without prejudging the approach likely to be adopted by the charismatic yoga guru whose organised following is considerable, some concerns need to be spelt out.

First, while there is always a place in a democracy for extra-parliamentary movements, the responsibilities of governance rest exclusively with an elected leadership. The Government can and should interact with different interest groups, but the interest groups (whether they call themselves NGOs or civil society representatives) cannot assume the reins of government.

Secondly, to prevent the misuse or concentration of authority, the Constitution has created a system of checks and balances. In particular, the judiciary exits to ensure the rule of law. The judges can ensure that laws correspond to the 'basic structure' of the Constitution but they cannot either become law makers or administrators.

Finally, since sovereignty vests with the people of India, there has to be a periodic renewal of the mandate. People must offer themselves for election as popular representatives to acquire the legitimacy to govern, tax and pass laws. Without this electoral legitimacy, renewed every five years, the assumption of political power is both illegal and immoral. The Maoists believe in their version of 'people's power' but this has no basis in India's Constitution. As such, they are rightly regarded as usurpers and bandits.

The crisis gripping today's India is that many of these assumptions on which society is regulated have broken down. Nominally there is a government headed by a Prime Minister who enjoys majority support in the Lok Sabha and can, if really pressed, also cobble together a majority in the Rajya Sabha. At the same time, the moral and ethical foundations on which the government rests has developed deep and seemingly irreparable cracks.

In normal circumstances many governments often face a phenomenon that Marxist intellectuals of an earlier age used to call a "conjunctural" crisis. In plain language, these would be political turmoil created by bad leadership, unpopular policies or even externally-induced turbulence (such as war or terrorism). Some elements of the conjunctural crisis exist today in the form of the government's mismanagement of the economy.

Today's problem are, however, a little more than a simple conjunctural crisis. A series of devastating scams involving the loot of public money has called into question the integrity of the government. In other words, the belief that the government (however misplaced its policies may be) is acting for the common good has been replaced by the growing conviction that venality has become the defining philosophy of UPA governance. Such a perception may not as yet be universal but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the middle classes—the de-facto custodians of the sytem—are on the verge of an emotional secession from the system.

Even this would not have mattered had it become clear that the Manmohan Singh regime was serving out time and that come 2014 it would be replaced by something more wholesome. The tragedy is that is that crisis of immorality has affected the entire political class in some measure. This is something that neither the smug body of Union Cabinet ministers nor the smug Opposition appear to have fully grasped. In normal circumstances, it should have been an Opposition front that should have been calling for sustained protests against the 2-G scam and the Congress' attempts to gloss over the Commonwealth Games robbery. But the Opposition too is suffering from the same erosion of its moral authority as the Government. It too needs to combine internal cleansing with popular legitimacy.

It is this crisis of a political class that has given the space to Hazare, Baba Ramdev and a clutch of insufferably pious busybodies to hijack the public mood. But this is more than a simple hijack. The conflicts in the drafting of a Lokpal Bill suggest that 'civil society' now wants substantial powers of governance transferred to unelected monitoring authorities. The anti-corruption crusaders appear hell-bent on creating a parallel system of enlightened despotism to monitor the moral licentiousness of democracy. Those familiar with history will see a parallel with the post-Reformation Puritans who wanted to purge an established Church of corruption, superstition and theological deviations, and impose their grim, austere vision of the faith.

It is the inherent anti-democratic tendencies behind the attempts at moral cleansing that are disturbing. It is even more worrying that this philosophy has begun to influence the judicial philosophy. If the moral depravity of politics is substituted by the pious tyranny of the self-appointed, it would be an equal disaster.

The only way out is hard for the Government to contemplate. Yet, I can see no alternative to returning to the people for conferring renewed legitimacy to both a government and the whole political system.

Sunday Pioneer, June 5, 2011

8 comments:

Sachin said...

Swapan,
Going to the people for a renewed mandate is not going to help. People have lost faith in the current electoral system where candidates with a minority of the vote get elected. The establishment along with liberal commentators keep asking the Ramdev and Hazare to enter the electoral fray. This is like the mughal establishment during Aurangzeb's time baiting Shivaji to come out of his mountain forts and face them in a frontal battle.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see incompetence of bjp on congress idiocy and criminal aloofness from Bharat. I am surprised that Bjp leaders did not bother to go to Ramlila ground so far.

Jon said...

Tht was a truly apt and intelligent piece... Our middle class disillusioned by the ruling class, could nt get themseleves to analyse and solve the issue and left it Anna, Ramdev....

Now our constituiton is gettin challenged and however lightly we take this...we are facng a dire threat to our democracy

Anonymous said...

good article. i feel country facing a kind of class war. failure of political opposition is forcing people to look for alternate in anna hazare and ramdev. many NGO character lacking mass following are clinging on too to push their agenda. govt is confused as well arrongant knwoing 2014 is far. elite educated class are worried that baba and hazare are hijacking their right to advice & frame political system of country. If BJP can channel this mass sentiments successfully, it has potential to consolidate large chunk of vote bank on issue which can not be questioned by congress, unlike ayodhya or article 370. Corruption can also give RSS a chance to shade off hidnu organisation and claim a role of pro nationalism. Opportunities are raining like never, lets see who catch and who miss it?

Anonymous said...

Swapan, brutal action took by govt symbolize nothing but its arrogancy out of power and fast weakining BJP. senior congress member are giving reasons as stupid as they are. most unfortunate thing i observe here is that ramdev camp lack people who can articulate words to defend their position against clevers like kapil sibbal and pranab & digvijay. although they have got mass following. In TV debate salma hasmi, vinod mehta like people are trying their best to sideline mass sentiments against justification for worst human violation in democracy. Rightwing intellectual ( U may also count) are still reluctant to come all out for supporting cause for which million people are raising voice but this voice is mostly from rural & middle class. This whole movement may die down soon if well atriculated english intellectual army of UPA keep fielding their attack

mukesh said...

Ramdev always claimed that he gets money and patanjali peeth has good wealth out of donation it receive from devotee, detail of which has been shown to media many times and regularly submitted to govt authority. had any irregularity been there, govt would have used that against baba much before. Unlike many religion figure he is not speading superstitions, bigotry, and claiming himself another avataar of god. he got enough money to eligible him get citizenship from any europian nation where people are ready to pay more money for learning yoga he practice. he can spend all his life luxuriously, but he using his wealth and power to solve problem of our nations. taking on govt, knowing well that it will led him into trouble, sitting on hunger strike for country, for its people, though he could have easily spend his summer in his scottish island. he leading movement for people,unaware that many will instead of joining him, will join govt to throw mud on him. we should ask ourself, do we deserve to have this man in our country?

Jai said...

Since I do not have a blog, my comments extend a bit beyond this article by SDG.

Today, when all these farcical events have happened over the past few weeks, the entire main stream English media (MSEM), print & electronic, seems to be suggesting:
1. Democracy cannot be hijacked by extra constitutional bodies (like NGOs)
2. All this has happened because the Opposition did not discharge its duties of raising these issues in the first place. Creating a vacuum which helped create the likes of Anna & Ramdev
3. This is a communal agitation… backed by the RSS & BJP
4. The government (UPA2) had no other option

Over the last 2 days, since the eviction of Ramdev from RLG, most of the BJP spokespersons are at pains to point out to the audience at all debates that they took up these issues in a big way since 2009. Remember the promise of MMS to initiate action on Black money in foreign tax havens within 100 days – this was in reaction to Advani raising the issue.

The same was with the 2G scam – the opposition cried hoarse, but there was nobody willing to carry their viewpoints to the public.

The 4th pillar of democracy appeared very clear that such problematic (to the UPA) issues should not be highlighted? I am not sure if the story was the same in all the regional press, but surely the direction the MSEM was taking was very clear.

What is it that makes the MSEM feel obliged to carry on shielding the Congress / UPA?

When all these debates were happening, the MSEM commentators willfully let the debates degenerate into terms that the Congress wanted. On Corruption the refrain was that the BJP is not doing anything about Yeddy, whereas the Congress was very proactive in acting against Tharoor / Chavan / Raja. This is a fine line for the Congress spokesperson to take, but not for the MSEM commentators!

Yeddy is being pilloried by the New Delhi based press for the past 2 years… but he continues to win elections. Does the thought that “are we missing something” ever occur to these people? (& don’t give me the “but Hitler was also popular” argument again).

Even today when the Congress is trying to portray Ramdev as a communal person – and that he is being backed by the RSS, nobody has ever dared ask a Congress spokesperson what is wrong if RSS is supporting an agitation against corruption? The organization is neither banned nor convicted by the Courts of Law (which operate under the Indian Constitution). How does this make the issue of corruption any less important?

Take the case of the Congress (& media) pillorying the opposition for the washout of a parliament session to demand a JPC. Note the Congress flip-flops since then – Why JPC when we already have a very able PAC. When the PAC report fiasco was happening, the Congress completely changed its tune. These are dangerous lies by a government – nobody should be ever allowed to get away with this. But again the media comes to the rescue of Congress / UPA.

The media takes its duty of carrying the Congress viewpoint to its audience very very seriously. Seriously enough that they are willing to suppress the oppositions views!

If one has a very objective review (not necessarily a very detailed one) of the happenings of the past 2-3 years it is very clear that it is the Media which is guilty of creating a vacuum – and encouraging the likes of Anna / Baba.

Any right thinking objective person in India (especially of the apolitical variety) would seriously doubt the credibility of the Indian media. Perhaps this is another call for the media to do some introspection.

The above may sound highly one sided – but then that is what it is about, the one sided media.

Jai 71

Jai said...

Continuing my tirade:
part 2 of 2

Many people have argued that the MSEM is not really important electorally – and the opinions / views they pedal are of no consequence in real elections. But I am almost completely convinced that the powers that be in the Congress are only watching the MSEM. My belief comes from the following:
1. Notice the sacking of Tharoor, Vilasrao Deshmukh (after taking movie people to Taj post 26/11), Ashok Chavan, etc. – these all happened only when the MSEM showed an outrage. Am not sure if the regional press covered these issues, but Congress surely would not have lost any votes if Tharoor was seen at the IPL. The common man did not really care if Deshmukh took some friends to a joy ride to show a burnt Taj. But the Congress swung into action.
2. Notice how the Govt reacted to Anna HAzare’s movement. When the MSEM was showing middle class people marching with candles, the UPA leadership took serious note. On the ground, I had not really noted any such movement which could be even remotely called earth shaking. Yes, if they would have let the fire burn for some more time, the movement could have become bigger. But still not compelling enough for the Government to capitulate.

The Govt / UPA leadership mainly follows the MSEM, maybe because they cannot actually read / comprehend what the regional press is saying. But then they have enough able advisors who can plug the gap.

While this scenario may be dangerous to the Congress – it is even more dangerous to the country. We cannot let a few opinion writers dictate to the rulers of a country which is as diverse as India!

Jai 71