A quick march to anarchy

Institutions are under attack, be it the defence establishment, the judiciary, the media or specific organisations like the CAG

Is India going through a phase of anarchy in the most negative sense of the term? Yes, indeed. There is a Union government in New Delhi but it is not providing effective governance.

Some contend that the UPA-2 government is incompetent as well as incapable of governing the country at this juncture because it is being torn apart from within. It often seems that the government is merely biding its time till the next general elections, possibly earlier than scheduled in April 2014.
Institutions are under attack, be it the defence establishment, the judiciary, the media or specific organisations like the office of the Comptroller & Auditor-General (CAG) of India. Systems and institutions that are responsible for not just upholding, but also strengthening, democracy are in disarray. The ruling coalition takes comfort from the fact that the political Opposition on the Right and the Left are both so weak that it will somehow survive, even if it bungles along. Supporters of the present dispensation add that two years is a long time for the government to get its act together. But not many people are willing to be as charitable.
The Congress is in internal turmoil. Questions are being raised about Rahul Gandhi’s abilities to lead India’s grand old party. The succession issue is yet to be resolved in the BJP. After L.K. Advani who? And the Communists haven’t recovered from their ignominious defeat in West Bengal in 2011.
The word anarchy originates from the ancient Greek term anarchia, which literally means “absence of a leader”. Many could argue that this is an apt description of the state of affairs in India right now. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was never seen as a particularly assertive leader. He now appears weaker than ever before. His trusted ministers have been given autonomy to function, but many of them seem to be pulling in different directions. Those who have studied contemporary Indian history point out that the government headed by the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was also plagued by internal dissension. But his Cabinet was packed with powerful ministers and the Congress then boasted tall leaders in states, who are conspicuous by their absence today.
Anarchy as a political expression means different things to different people. In the United States, the word often signifies a state of society without a publicly enforced government, thereby implying disorder and lawlessness. Outside America, many of those who describe themselves as anarchists argue for a system of governance that avoids coercion while ensuring a harmonious social order. As a political philosophy, some anarchists say that the state is inherently immoral and argue in favour of stateless, non-hierarchical, voluntary social and political organisations.
Another view of anarchism promotes a rejection of philosophies, ideologies, institutions and representatives of authority for idealised notions of autonomy, cooperation, decentralisation, mutual aid, voluntary association and common ownership. The problem simply is that there are very few, if any, societies that would match this kind of Utopian configuration of circumstances. This is precisely why it is being contended here that the state of India at present fits into the negative notions of anarchy, not positive ones.
A recent newspaper story about how the military allegedly “spooked” the government, despite not using the “c” word, has aroused extremely negative reactions in many. The episode is being used by a few to bash the media in general at a time when the Supreme Court is examining whether there is a need for a set of guidelines on how journalists should report what is supposed to be sub judice. It is nobody’s case that the fourth estate in India is packed with virtuous investigative reporters who are adversaries to all those in positions of power and authority.
At the same time, one should not veer to the other extreme and support restrictions on the fundamental right to freedom of expression which is enshrined in our Constitution. The Constitution of India is a great document but it also happens to be quite vague on what is a “reasonable” restriction on the right to freedom of expression — Article 19(2) — and who determines whether or not a restriction is “reasonable” or not. This debate has acquired new dimensions all across the world and in India as well on account of the proliferation of the Internet as a medium of mass communication as well as a medium of personalised communication.
As to why institutions are currently under attack in India, the government is largely to blame. Like the Rajiv Gandhi government attacked the CAG on account of the Bofors scandal, this government has done more than its share to trash the organisation because it was — and remains — extremely unhappy with the CAG’s findings on the 2G spectrum scam, over the manner in which the ministry of petroleum and natural gas framed a production-sharing contract with Reliance Industries on extracting natural gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin and over the way in which coal blocks were awarded to private corporate entities, among other scams.
While in the instance of the CAG, the government’s policy has been to shoot the messenger, it puts a spoke in the wheel of the Central Information Commission to impart greater transparency to systems of governance and has steadfastly refused to empower the Central Vigilance Commission by ignoring its advice to prosecute hundreds of corrupt civil servants and officers of public sector undertakings. No section of society has been spared the cancerous ravages of corruption — the military and the judiciary included.
It’s a free-for-all situation prevailing at present in the “soft state” that is India. (Incidentally, this phrase was first used by Swedish social scientist and Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal in a monumental three-volume study entitled Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations published in 1968.) Don’t like the word anarchy? Would “chaos” be a better word to describe what is happening? Will things improve in the near future? Perhaps, but the situation could well worsen before that happens.

The writer is an educator and commentator

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