Why this civil unrest?

The cameras did not flash in the room just a few feet away from the deluxe ward where Baba Ramdev broke his fast in the Himalayan hospital of Dehra Dun where Swami Nigmananda died, after having been on a fast for 115 days against illegal mining on the banks of river Ganga in Hardwar.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttarakhand took no notice of this fast or of the corruption in Uttarakhand, fighting for which Swami Nigmananda gave up his life. Even more predictable was the BJP national leadership’s stony silence on the subject, just as it refuses to break its implacable vow of silence regarding corruption in Karnataka or in Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. As far as the BJP is concerned, it seems that it has selective amnesia, which is a highly convenient, if ideologically bankrupt, political skill.
But that is the way of political parties and is nothing more than expected behaviour from the BJP. This whole concept of “civil society” as represented by four select individuals is something that TV channels have gone completely overboard about. It is something that needs to be quite seriously pondered over by thoughtful citizens. The electronic media has been screaming about a war of words and how the government first sent four ministers to talk to Baba Ramdev and then broke up his yoga camp, which turned into a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) platform, at the dead of the night. The media and the Opposition were quick to condemn the midnight action of the police. Social activist Anna Hazare went on a fast at Rajghat to condemn this action and went so far as to compare it to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Is it, then, Mr Hazare’s case that the present democratically elected United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is the same as the British colonial government? Is that all the respect he has for the Indian Constitution and our parliamentary system? Mr Hazare also called for a second freedom movement. Against whom? The lawfully elected government of this country? What does that make Mr Hazare? What do you call a person who advocates overthrowing a lawfully elected government by means of anything else other than elections conducted by the Election Commission? Yet, nobody dares to articulate these sentiments because certain sections of the media have decided to lionise the cause of this tiny section of civil society. Which is why the entire fast was beamed live throughout the day and a gathering of 50 people to start with, which swelled to about 3,000 people, was called collectively “the people of India” by Arvind Kejriwal.
Mr Kejriwal made a rousing speech at the Rajghat event. He mostly abused the government, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the Congress, the BJP and the Prime Minister and called all of them cheats and liars. He promised that he and his ilk would never stand for an election and he then further promised that after the Jan Lokpal Bill, their “civil society” would move on to other issues. Needless to say, nobody who spoke there had any remarks to offer on Ramdev’s threat to raise a private army of armed youth. They simply ignored it. Nor did they have any comment to offer on the campaign of Ramdev being communalised by the presence of Sadhvi Rithambara and having been carefully orchestrated by the frustrated RSS, which had lost one election after another, and desperately needed to regain lost ground. The RSS connection had been carefully documented by the home minister who gave dates and times of the RSS meeting where Ramdev had been formally anointed patron of the so-called anti-corruption movement. These details have not been denied till date.
The time has come for the average Indian citizen to reflect upon some very serious issues. First, we cannot allow our parliamentary democracy to be subverted by the unelected and self-appointed members of civil society. Every citizen has the right and should indeed express a view on anything that concerns or agitates him. However, under the Constitution that we have given ourselves and adopted, it is the Legislature, and only the Legislature may enact laws. No member of civil society, howsoever eminent, can take this right away from the Legislature. At best, civil society may offer suggestions and it is entirely up to the Legislature to accept or reject these suggestions. That is the essence of parliamentary democracy and the sooner “Team Hazare”, as they are fondly dubbed by the media, understands this, the better.
On TV and elsewhere, the contempt of “Team Hazare” for the government, political parties, the judiciary and indeed the entire constitutional scheme of things is patent, and dangerous in the extreme. They essentially claim that they will never stand for election, never be directly accountable to the people of India; they reject the process of elections (Prashant Bhushan contemptuously declared on national TV that “we all know how elections are won”) but yet claim to speak “for the people of India”. One might well ask “Which people?” Who exactly do they represent? If they alone are civil society, what are you and I? Should the fact that I am a member of Parliament exclude me from being a member of “civil society?” Or for that matter why can’t some woman in rural Bihar concerned about her ration card, or in distant Kanyakumari worried about her caste certificate be any less civil society than Mr Kejriwal? If “Team Hazare” is never going to face an election, who do they represent? The answer is inexorably — only themselves. And they insult the people of India, at large, when they reject the power of elections to bring about changes in democracy.
There can be no doubt that the fight against corruption is a burning issue today and one to which every Indian is passionately committed. Equally, there is no doubt, that corruption is a scourge, which must be eradicated if our democracy is to thrive. In my view, the Right to Information Act, passed by UPA-1 was a tremendous foundation upon which the crusade against corruption is being fought today, the credit for which should go to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister. The battle is joined and will continue, in the manner laid down by the Indian Constitution. To suggest any unconstitutional alternative, whether parallel legislatures or unelected lawmakers, would not only be unconstitutional, but actively detrimental to our democratic polity.

The author is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in this column are her own.

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