What do you think about the movement?
Certainly I think there is a case for public action. This is certainly a case for civil society activism. But I think the problem with this Jantar Mantar movement was that it was going much beyond what civil society was doing or is expected to do. Which is to say, when civil society takes upon itself the responsibility of administration and governance and starts drafting legislations, I think there is a problem. So campaign yes, protest yes, building public opinion, wonderful. But when civil society takes on the responsibility of administration then the question of whom do you represent, who has elected you becomes important.
The argument civil society is making is how do you expect the government to draft an effective Bill that checks itself?
Civil society has every right to be vigilant and watch for violations of democracy and due process but if you are going to legislate then it’s a different matter. The government has set up a committee with five members (from civil society). Now why these five members? Because they came and sat on a dharna at Jantar Mantar? And why not someone from Lucknow? Or Guwahati? Are we going to start working outside the Constitution? I’m not suggesting that India’s democracy is the most effective, it clearly isn’t. But nonetheless, it is an institutionalised democracy. Frankly, I find this movement is one of a piece with the 26/11 people or Youth for Equality against reservations. It is a certain set of people and a set of ideas that is driving this movement.
Can you flesh that out — what exactly do you mean?
I think what is common to all of these movements or campaigns that is significant but disturbing is that they are against politics. It is almost anti-political. And in the process, you may be delegitimising the political system that is the democratic system. And you may be delegitimising the State. And opening the doors to authoritarianism. And we have had one episode of authoritarianism in India from 1975 to 1977 when the Emergency was imposed and in part that too started as an anti-corruption movement but then developed into something much bigger. And it’s so full of contradictions.
Explain these briefly.
On the one hand, this is supposed to be the aam aadmi’s angst against corruption. Then you have Anna Hazare expressing such disdain, bordering on contempt for the aam aadmi voter. By saying the aam aadmi doesn’t have much awareness, “I don’t contest elections because I’m not going to win since I’m not going to be able to raise the money and the aam aadmi is only looking for a hundred rupee note or a sari.” Now I ask you, how disdainful is this? Then it’s supposed to be against politicians, but then you praise some politicians such as Narendra Modi. And here again, you are separating development from politics. And when people piled on to him, he clarified by saying “I’m praising Modi’s record of development and not his politics.” But you can’t separate the two. That’s exactly my point. That this whole class of people who are behind this movement, are separating growth from politics.
Revati Laul is a Correspondent with Tehelka