Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Democracy and Hero Worship : The place of charismatic authority in a rationalised world

Democracy and Hero Worship : The place of charismatic authority in a rationalised world
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥
Whenever there is decay of righteousness, O Bharata,
And there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth;
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers,
For the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age.
Bhagavad Gita
What is the place of hero (charismatic personality) worship in modern democracy? A group of enlightened people are against hero worship in democracy, because the cult of personality weakens the institutionalisation of democratic structure and process. Power should be tied to the institution and not with its occupant, and the yardstick of a mature democratic institution, they rightly opine, is that its functioning is not affected by the personality of its occupant. Since the origin as well as legitimacy of democracy rests, to large extent, upon its opposition to aristocracy; the denial of hero worship (that is one of the traits of aristocratic culture) becomes even more important. The basic question is whether charisma (or hero worship) is an aberration, a residual trait of the pre-democratic culture that will vanish as the world becomes more rationalised, or an inbuilt feature of modern democratic culture.
Marx, arguably the most celebrated social scientist, accorded primacy to institution over individual (heroes). Marx was categorical that “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”. Charismatic personalities don’t possess any special qualities, but are the product of time. If there was a hero, for Marx, it was not an individual but a class – proletariat (even this one-time exception).
It was Max Weber who was directly concerned about the place of charisma in modern rationalised world. Basically, for Weber, man by nature was irrational and he wanted to understand the limit and scope of rationality in an increasingly rationalised world. Weber not only foresaw the space, but also need for a charismatic authority in democracy. Like Marx, Weber was also fascinated by the achievements of modernity, particularly the systematic, rational and orderly manner in which a mission is accomplished in modern organisation. But he was concerned about the ill-effect of rationality whereas in course of time, Weber feared, the logic of an ‘efficient’ institution or system will make the man subservient to the system. Weber though that the way rationality is encroaching various walks of life one by one, a time will come when man will be called insane simply because he behaved like man.
Who will break the stranglehold of the system, that becomes an utmost necessity sometimes? The biggest problem in democracy is that the leader must constantly do something as well as not do many things to legitimise his/her authority. This urge to legitimise one’s authority that can be possible only with people’s support, stops the leader from taking many decisions that are imperative for the well-being of the society. A time comes when policy paralysis begins and a dichotomy between the system and life-world starts unfolding. Under the circumstances, for Weber, only a charismatic person, or a hero, not bound by the logic of the system and not bothered about gaining legitimacy from the people, because his followers never question his acts or intention, would have enough power to establish a balance between the life-world and the system. This is the reason that even in most established democracies, periodic birth of heroes (charismatic personalities) has remained a norm rather than exceptions.
Sociology, the discipline I practice, as the study of institution accords primacy to institution over individual. But then I look at history, whereas the history of history is nothing but the way heroes have changed the system. Democracy itself is the product of a long struggle, in which many heroes questioned the erstwhile institutions that preceded democracy. I wonder, but for these heroes, whether we had any chance to enjoy the fruits of democracy. While institutionalisation is always good for the society; heroes are inbuilt part of the modern rationalised world.
Tulsidasji writes:
जब जब होहिं धर्म की हानि। बाढ़हिं असुर महा अभिमानी।।
तब तब प्रभु धरि मनुज शरीरा। हरहिं शोक मम सज्जन पीरा।।
Heroes are very much part of our culture and civilisation
Long live our heroes who have sacrificed everything for the sake of the society.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

For a Dharma Based Social Order

The idea that one is ‘other than oneself’, or one is different from what one should be, brings various sorts of anxieties in the mind of the people. However, this perceived alienation from oneself is also the cause for the development of civilisation. Thus, unlike animals who live in ready- made world, man constantly struggles to create a world where this dualism can be overcome. One of the institutions that has helped man in this endeavour is religion.  Religion provides man with some sort of certainty about what he is, what he should be, and also prescribes what he should do to overcome this dualism, thus providing meaning to the life and livelihood. However under the onslaught of modernity and Enlightenment, the sacred canopy of religion has been vanishing. Max Weber foresaw a world where there was continuous erosion of what he called ‘value rationality’ (the intrinsic value of something that is non-negotiable), under the onslaught of instrumental rationality (primarily driven by means end relation, where everything was negotiable). Weber saw this process beginning from economy and finally entering into the social life.

The biggest consequences of these developments is uprooting of man from his niche. While man has always been concerned about what a good man and good society would be, this anxiety has become more severe in recent years. Today one is not sure what he should be, and constantly look towards others as reference point. In search for an identity man is constantly chasing some models, whom he can emulate, but this search remains elusive. Every day we try to find ourselves in others way of life and action. We never try to be model for others. And here comes the role of mass media and advertisements through which different interest groups, with sole purpose of profit, sell their models of man. A process called ‘thingification’, whereas a man is made or unmade by his material possessions, is stark reality of social life. As more and more decision-making power, backed by technology is falling into the hands of few technocrats and experts, man has become part of an ocean of mass society, which only absorb, not reflect, only consume, not produce, only react, not act, only listens, and never questions. The way we are trying to shape our thought and action as per the demand of the instrumental rationality, one day man would be labelled insane simply because he behaved like human.

The need of the hour is to think about a moral man. In simplified way moral means something different from our natural desire and instinct. A moral man adheres to his dharma that is performing his duty religiously. This is the message of Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Arjun was more concerned about his inner desire and instinct that was restraining him from fighting against his relatives. But then Krishna preached, that as a member of society, Arjun should be a moral man and his morality demands that he must fight against his relatives. A man becomes social by performing his duty. Let’s see how Durkheim, Tocqueville, the Constitution of India, and Gandhi have similar idea about society based upon dharma.

Durkheim who talks about the universality of sacred-profane dichotomy in the history of mankind concluded that religion and society were two sides of the same coin. For Durkheim, society is a moral system and religion is the most important source of morality. By underscoring the importance of religion as a universal institution across time and space, Durkheim opined that there was no future for a society without religion (morality). Society is the relation between different statuses, and every status is a combination of rights and duties. Thus a social man is not only concerned about his right but also of duty. Right and duty are not antithesis to each other, but complementary.

All over the world people are aware about the ‘Bill of Rights’ enshrined in the American Constitution, however people are not that much aware about certain duties Americans fulfil voluntarily. A young Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville was fascinated by the working of American democracy. After visiting America for about nine months (1831-32), he wrote a timeless classic named ‘Democracy in America’ (1835). America was a highly individualistic society, but democracy, that is a social institution, was working so well there. For Tocqueville two factors were responsible for that. One was that Americans were highly religious in nature. They had left Europe due to religious persecution, but when they founded America they were of the opinion that only a secular state would ensure their religious freedom. The second was the unique ability of Americans to form associations. ‘In democratic countries the science of association is the mother of science: the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made’, Writes Tocqueville.  American don’t wait for the state to do everything and believe in self-help. Both these habits instil a sense of duties among the Americans towards their country as well as fellow countrymen. Probably the most important observation of Tocqueville was that, ‘Americans helped each other in time of need’. One can see that most of the wealthy Americans are involved in one or another form of philanthropies.
There was belated recognition of importance of duty in Indian Constitution. The Constitution of India has bestowed certain rights to the citizens in the form of Fundamental Rights. However Art. 51A, Part IVA named ‘Fundamental Duties’ was inserted in the Constitution through the 42nd Constitution Amendment in 1976. These Fundamental Duties are not enforceable, if a citizens violates it, but these Duties are moral obligations on every citizen to adhere to the ideals of India as enshrined in the Constitution. By inserting a chapter on Fundamental Duties the state has tried to make a balance between the rights and duties of the individuals.

A great nation is born when people are equally, if not more, concerned about their duties as well as about their rights. The foundation of Gandhiji’s idea of India was Ram Rajya, and this Ram Rajya basically was a society in which man was committed to his dharma. Ram, for Gandhi, was Maryada Purushottam, meaning one who follows his duty religiously. So Gandhi imagined a society where everyone would stick to one’s duty, leaving no scope for the fight for rights. One can say that it was a utopian ideal, but utopia provides a reference point in which one moves. We cannot live without utopia.  How to build a dharma based society. For me it is Buddha who is a guiding force. Budhha said that the main source of our misery is located in our desire. Until we don’t control our desire, we don’t have any chance to live in peace. And for Buddha, “peace comes from within”, and he advises, “don’t seek it (peace) without”. By limiting our desire religion helps man becoming a selfless and fearless subject, who can think, act, and provides reference points for others. There is need to bring the sacred back in our social life. And that is the only hope for the humanity.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

JNU Row and the Moral Basis of a Backward Society

The Signifier and the Signified -
Last fortnight the events related to JNU has been the focus of discussion in the media, though certainly not for the masses. Leading media personalities and a bunch of ‘opinion makers’ are too busy discussing the event and its aftermath in electronic as well as print media. The sole focus of discussion has been on the rights of the citizens. What rights the citizens have been given by the Constitution, and what rights by virtue of the fact that they are humans. What are the rights that has been given to them by democracy and Enlightenment, and what are the rights they must have since they are university students. It was the discussion about rights, rights and more rights.
The discussion was in sync with the tenets of the Constitution. The Constitution of India has bestowed certain rights to the citizens in the form of Fundamental rights. The Fundamental Rights not only protect individuals from the tyrannies of the state as well as from other individuals and groups, but also empowers them to act against these entities. Though there are reasonable restrictions to the Fundamental Rights, these restrictions in no way have substantially eroded the efficacy of the Fundamental Rights.
However what is missing from the entire debate, in which even the top legal luminaries participated, is the sense of duty. A chapter through Article Art. 51A, Part IVA named Fundamental Duties was inserted in the Constitution through the 42nd Constitution Amendment in 1976. These Fundamental duties are not enforceable, if a citizens violates it, but these Duties expects and exhorts the citizens to act in a particular manner. These Duties are moral obligations on every citizen to adhere to the ideals if India as enshrined in the Constitution. And one of the Duties of the citizen of the republic is ‘to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India’. (Art.51A, Part IVA: 3) By inserting a chapter on Fundamental Duties the state just tried to make a balance between the rights and duties of the individuals.
However what was disheartening to see that even the best legal minds of the country, who were part of these discussions, never brought the issue of citizen’s fundamental duties in these debates. I am not sure whether this omission was deliberate or unconscious. However it is a fact that people still don’t believe that society is a moral entity.
International scholars also joined the chorus in highlighting the way the rights of students have been compromised. Certain leading scholars who earn their livelihood in USA also spoke in terms of rights. What these people don’t analyse why the USA, whose history is hardly more than 500 years, is a superpower, and why India, that is a civilization from the past 5000 years, is still a backward society. For me the difference lies in the fact that the Americans are as much concerned about fulfilling their duties as they are about safeguarding their rights. All over the world people are aware about the ‘Bill of Rights’ enshrined in the American Constitution, however they are not that much aware about certain duties Americans fulfill even if these duties are not mentioned in the American Constitution.
A young Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville was fascinated by the working of American democracy. After visiting America for about nine months, he wrote a timeless classic named Democracy in America. America was a highly individualistic society, but democracy, that is a social institution, was working so well there. For Tocqueville two factors were responsible for that. One was that Americans were highly religious in nature. They had left Europe due to religious persecution, but when they founded America they were of the opinion that only a secular state would ensure their religious freedom. The second was the unique ability of Americans to form associations, what Tocqueville called the ‘art of associations’. American don’t wait for the state to do everything and believe in self-help. Both these habits instill a sense of duties among the Americans towards their country as well as fellow countrymen. One can see that most of the wealthy Americans are involved in one or another form of philanthropies.
A great nation is born when people are equally, if not more, concerned about their duties as well as about their rights. The foundation of Gandhiji’s idea of India was Ramrajya, and this Ramrajya basically was a society in which man was committed to his dharma. The dharma was nothing but adherence to one’s duty. On the debates around JNU controversy I am witness to Gandhiji once again being assassinated.
What JNU Row (signifier) has signified?
“The moral basis of a backward society has something to do  with too much emphasis on rights and too little adherence to duties”.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Congress, BJP and the Art of Governance

   The Curious Case of Sandeep Pandey

In this semester I am teaching political sociology, and this naturally forces me to think about the way political parties cement their hold on power structure. I am not a Marxist, but I always advice my students: ‘you cannot do social science without understanding Marxism’. The reason being, that we live in the ‘age of capital’, and no one has analysed the logic of capital better than Marx. So, I myself will begin this short essay with Marx and some of his ideas about politics. For Marx, peasants were burden on the history, as they lived in isolation, and had hardly any contact among themselves. They had neither means nor vision to become revolutionary proletariat. They were ‘class-in-itself’, as per the famous distinction Marx made between 'class-in-itself’ and ‘class-for-itself’. It is the urban-industrial proletariat, Marx opined, that had the potential to become ‘class-for-itself’, and are the vehicle of revolution.

However, in course of time Marx proved himself wrong. While agrarian societies, like Russia and China, had experienced communist revolutions; the industrial societies of the west, in spite of being the home of some of the largest and very powerful communist parties, were not experiencing any form of proletariat revolution. Gramsci, who was very much concerned as to why revolution had not taken place in western societies, as predicted by Marx, developed the concept of HEGEMONY to understand the non-revolutionary character of industrial proletariat in the capitalist west. For Gramsci, the way cultural institutions advocating the virtues of capitalist logic have evolved in the western world, that, these institutions do not allow the proletariats to perceive their real enemies. Broadly this is what Gramsci meant by hegemony. For Gramsci, the ‘sacred canopy’ of cultural values and ideas are essential for any economic or political system to function and stabilise.

This theory of hegemony helps me to understand the issue of Sandeep Pandey. For me, it is not important why Pandey was removed from the IIT Banaras, but more important to understand is to how he entered the IIT (without any corresponding degree). Pandey was proclaimed as a Gandhian who would teach Gandhian values to the students. But there is a reason why the Congress party ‘adjusted’ Pandey inside the IIT. The Congress Party has read Gramsci thoroughly. The Congress knows that if it has to rule the country in long terms, it needs the support of not only the people (voters), but equally important, of those, who play important role in ‘opinion making’. Thus, after Independence, the Congress has worked very hard to control most of the educational and cultural institutions that shape the ideas favourable to it, with the help of these ‘independent scholars’ (be it film, or curriculum, or other forms of discourses).

The Congress knows that opinion of an ‘independent’ person or expert carries more weight in the eyes of the people, than those who are overtly aligned to a political party. The ‘secular’, ‘leftist’, ‘human right advocates’, ‘Gandhians’, to name a few, receive support from the Congress, but they are hardly visible on the Congress platform. They proclaim themselves ‘apolitical’, and also ‘speak’ against the Congress, but they never hit the Congress where it hurts the most. This was one of the reasons why Kejriwal and Anna found political space during the UPA rule, since most the ‘independent’ scholars and activists were not willing to confront the Congress on the issue of corruption. These ‘independent’ scholars share very cosy relationship with the Congress Party.

Thus, the Congress can bank upon the power of ‘independent’ scholars during critical political situation. (One such example in recent times has been the ‘intolerance’ debate and ‘award wapsi’ by ‘independent public figures’ just before the Bihar assembly election). While legitimation of dissent is most important feature of a democracy; the protest by these ‘independent’ scholars against the NDA government for ‘systematically destroying the institutions,’ had also something to do with an attempt to help the Congress Party to perpetuate its control over those institutions that play important role in the production and reproduction of hegemonic ideas favourable to the Congress Party (one can see the way Indian Independence struggle has been written by the historians of ‘repute’, and how people have forgotten the ‘Emergency’).

Contrast this with the BJP. First, the BJP has not been able to put much of its supporters in the public institutions, since it has not been in power for long. But whatever little supporters it is cultivating, it forces them to publically affirm their loyalties to the party. (Recently one such meeting took place in the Delhi University) I am not sure who gets what from this type of event in the BJP, but certainly it forces the scholars of repute, even when they are its best sympathisers, to distance themselves from the BJP. And those who publically affirm their loyalties to the Party, their viewpoints hardly carry much weight among the general population. The BJP perceives intellectuals not as source of ideas, who would help the Party in the creation of a hegemonic structure favourable to it, but in terms of number. Thus the BJP cannot bank upon the power of ‘independent’ scholars and experts when it needs, and its hold over power remains fragile.

No doubt the Congress remain a natural ruling party in this country (even it has less support in terms of numbers), and others, including the BJP’s entry in the government remain an abrasion (even they have more support in terms of number). Erosion of people’s support, to some extent, can be compensated by control over ideas.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Is there a Bihari Exceptionalism?

    No. It is in conformity with the arrival of ‘new' politics 
                Shashi Bhushan Singh

As the dust of Bihar assembly election has settled down, it is right time to analyse not what was different about Bihar election, but if there is some continuity in the Indian electoral behaviour. My assessment is that though every election has its own specificity, there is also some commonality. What is the trend in Indian politics today?

For me the 2015 Bihar Assembly election result is in sync with the ‘new politics’ the nation is experiencing from the past few years. The main feature of this politics is that except for few castes and communities (mostly dominant) whose caste men or the political party they traditionally support, have chance to win elections; majorities of the castes and communities have started perceiving different levels of elections differently. Means, earlier people voted for the same political party at two different levels of elections (assembly and Lok Sabha), but now they take the voting decision keeping in mind, who can be the best bet at a particular level. The party and personality play important role in selection and rejection of parties, if not candidates.

During the run up of 2014 Lok Sabha election, when the BJP was claiming to win majority of seats in Bihar and UP (two states where it was politically very weak); people were cynical about its claim. However, the BJP sensed that people have started looking Lok Sabha election differently from state assembly elections, and accordingly devised its electoral strategy. To large extent the credit for this detachment of national political mood from regional one goes to Mr. Modi, whose appeal to build a new India found many takers across castes and regions. However, after 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP forgot this detachment principle, that even though it has got massive mandate at the national level, people might vote for different political parties during forthcoming assembly elections. This misconception developed since the BJP, even after breaking away from its long- time political allies, won Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand state assembly elections. But the fact remains that the BJP won these assembly elections, only because the political rivals were highly ‘discredited’. To think that it was Modi ‘magic’ that brought victory for the BJP in these states (at the most one can say that the presence of Modi was necessary, but not sufficient condition) was negation of a principle (detachment), which the BJP had rightly sensed during 2014 Lok Sabha election, worked accordingly and reaped rich dividends.

Thus earlier in Delhi and now during Bihar Assembly election, BJP did not change its strategy and relied heavily on Modi ‘magic’. In a highly diverse and plural society, like India, Modi’s aim of bring uniformity by invoking the slogan, ‘same party (at the state and centre) better rule’ did not find many takers. He forgot his own slogan about his idea of Delhi Sultanate, when the UPA was attacking him, and after becoming the Prime Minister disbanded the Planning Commission, which, he alleged, acted on ‘one size fit all’ plan. Modi himself used the term Gujrat ashmita to debunk Congress high command culture. To think that a particular socio-cultural trait of Indians that has helped him politically, but would not help others was political blunder. Indians aspire for diversity as well as good governance and found Kejriwal and Nitish better bet to govern the states.

As far as Bihar is concerned, people in general were happy with Nitish administration. They wanted Nitish, but were wary of his association with Lalu Yadav. The major issue in election was not the track record of Nitish, but the place of Lalu in the new scheme of thing. The NDA was telling the people that Nitish would not be able to control Lalu, leading to arrival of what the NDA called the ‘jungle raj’. On the other hand Nitish was trying to convince people that his association with Lalu would not have any impact on administration. Finally Nitish was able to convince the electorate about his side of story. People preferred to vote for a person who was already tested, against some unknown face of the NDA. Finally Nitish won.
Thus Bihar election result is not exceptional and should be seen as the continuation of a process, whereas state assembly and Lok sabha elections are now detached, not only in timing but also in orientation. The clean sweep by the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election, and within eighteen months, the overwhelming victory of AAP in Delhi and RJD-JD (U) in Bihar, that were routed in 2014 Lok Sabha election, is pointer of this detachment. The outcome of forthcoming state elections would also be decided by the same principle. BJP has paid the price by forgetting this principle. The Congress and other parties (including Kejriwal and Nitish) would also suffer heavily, if they think that Delhi or Bihar assembly election result has anything to do with Modi’s popularity at the national level, or assembly election results are in any manner referendum on the working of the central government.

Context will change but this principle (detachment) will remain relevant for some time.

(The writer teaches sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi)

Friday, 6 March 2015

Elusive State, Restless Society

Elusive State, Restless Society

        Nirbhaya Rape, Dimapur Lynching and class contradiction in Indian society

Two events of this week- controversy over documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ based on Nirbhaya’s gang rape case, and the lynching of a rape accused in Nagaland by a mob of more than thousand people, has brought the issue of relation between the Indian state (here only I am concerned about the justice system) and a restless society (the restlessness was most visible in the crushing defeat of the Congress Party in 2014 Lok Sabha election) in public discourse. In Indian context it has something to do with the entrenched class bias in which we Indians have lived from time immemorial.

Societies have existed from centuries. However there are certain functions that must be performed if a society has to survive, and one of these functions is the ‘maintenance of law and order’. Earlier, before the arrival of modern state, societies had built certain institutions to maintain order, and it was the threat of feud, leading to extinction of the entire society that played the most important role in maintaining order. The modern state having ‘monopoly over the use of force’, whereas ‘non-state actors cannot take law into their hand’, is recent phenomenon in the history of mankind. In modern state-centric societies the state took up the role of punishing the accused, and providing justice to the victim. The reason this switch over from society-centric to state-centric justice system was, that many times the force used against the accused was disproportionate to the crime committed, and sometimes innocents were the victims of vigilantism.

This gave birth to the modern justice system and court. There are certain principles on which the modern justice system functions. Firstly, justice would be swift, since ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Secondly, the victim would get justice and the culprit would be brought to book. Thirdly, an accused is innocent till he/she is proven guilty. In modern state-centric societies vigilantism is considered illegal and hallmark of a backward society.

First, I would discuss the way the justice system vis-à-vis rape has functioned in India. It won’t be totally incorrect to say that the justice system has not lived up to the ‘expectation’, of victim’s families, as well as for a section of people. This dissatisfaction from justice system has been growing in recent times, whereas people think that the justice system has been lenient towards the accused and cruel to the victim. The Nirbhaya case, which drew world-wide attention and outrage can be used to understand this process. Three years have passed since the heinous crime took place, but no one knows when the victim would get justice. The case is with the highest court of the land, but from the past one year nothing has happened. The rape accused are on the death row and living under acute ‘mental torture’.

What is the people’s perception about this particular case now? People suspect that after a year or two the death penalty would be confirmed by the highest court. But the confirmation will come only when a particular ‘time gap’ between the award of death penalty by the lower court, and its execution schedule has taken place. After that ‘someone’ would approach the court and the court would pronounce another verdict which would commute the death sentence to life-imprisonment. The logic would be that the culprit has been on death row from long time, and has already lived a life worse than death. The ‘enlightened people’ would cite European cases (very smartly not American case where death penalty is not only legal but is very much active in practice) to defend commutation of death penalty into life- imprisonment on the ground that the state has no right to kill anyone. Thereafter the death sentence would be commuted to life-imprisonment, and ultimately, sometimes in future, the accused would be on the basis of having ‘good behaviour’ during the prison years. Just see what happened to Surinder Koli, the perpetrator of Nithari rape cum murder of more than a dozen children from lower class. After he was awarded death penalty and had exhausted all options to save himself, suddenly Allahabad High Court commuted his death penalty into life imprisonment.

The second issue relates to the class bias in Indian society. Hierarchy is inbuilt principle of our social order and that is very much manifested in rape cases. Almost every victim of rape comes from the lower and lower middle classes. But the state and the judicial system is controlled by the upper classes (through Supreme Court) - judges, advocates, human right activists, academicians. This class has been totally insensitive to the culture, value and needs of the lower classes. For this upper class, publically championing the interests of the lower class is just a means to legitimise their higher position in society. To cite an example to make the issue clear. When it came to Teesta Setalvad, the top advocates ensured that she was saved from the custodial interrogation. The same law that has been invoked to ‘extract’ information from lower classes became blasphemous in Teesta case. The upper class considers the lower class not only totally different from them, but also less human who are born to be humiliated, killed and raped. This leads to travesty of justice. The Fundamental Right as enshrined in the Constitution (Article 14) about not only ‘equality before the law, but equal protection of the laws within the territory of India’ has remained sham.

This complex relation between a state controlled by the upper class and denial of the justice to the lower class has brought restlessness among the people, particularly those who have been the victim of this duel administration of law. For the lower classes how the judicial system functions is becoming mysterious, though we are supposed to be living in an era of right to information and transparency. Once people know that it is almost impossible to get justice, they are forced to take law into their hands. Only recently the women MPs, while raising concerns about the documentary India’s Daughter, demanded that if the judiciary is incapable in punishing the culprits, the culprits should be handed over to them. The killing of a rape under- trial by the mob in Nagaland is sad commentary on the way the upper class managed justice system and the state has functioned. History shows that men have rebelled only when a perception grows that the institutional arrangements that has been created to provide justice to them has failed. The sooner the upper class controlled state and judiciary take note of this fact the better it would be for the state as well as society. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Aam Aadmi Party 2015: The Death of an ‘Idea’; The Birth of a Party

Aam Aadmi Party 2015: The death of an ‘idea’; the birth of a party
The AAP did not come into existence as part of any design, but was product of the time. More than a political party, the AAP was an ‘idea ‘whose main goal was to inject a new political culture in Indian political system, particularly in electoral democracy. The AAP was a platform for all those who wanted to work for a ‘clean’ politics. Those who believed in political morality, total revolution and saintly politics started associating with the party. Means received priority over the end (power). The main goal of the party was not to capture power, but to clean the political system. Even while remaining part of the mainstream electoral democracy; still doing things differently was the very basis of its existence. The founders wanted the AAP to be an ‘experiment’ which would have demonstration effects on other political parties. The India against Corruption (IAC) members who founded the AAP just wanted to prove that they not only preach (as was the case with the Anna movement and was criticized by the mainstream political parties), but can also practice a ‘clean’ politics. The strategy was to bring the ‘public’ into public policy and the method of AAP’s work was built upon a basic principle- ‘medium is message’, that is ‘what we preach, we practice’.

In 2013 when the AAP became a political reality, two types of issues were agitating the minds of people in Delhi- political corruption and price rise. The people of Delhi were looking for some political alternative to the existing Congress regime, but the BJP, the main opposition party to the Congress in Delhi was so weak that voters had no faith in the ability of the BJP to dethrone the Congress. Kejriwal went on to brinkmanship and many of his ‘unlawful’ acts were applauded by the people. The result of Delhi assembly election was astonishing and defied all political logic. There was worldwide acclaim of the AAP model of politics. A dozens of AAP’s copycats sprouted in the country. However the AAP remained in the movement mode even after it headed the government. Its forty-nine days tenure was known more for the controversy it generated than the works it did. One day Kejriwal declared that since his government was not able to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed (that he claimed was the very ‘soul’ of the party’s existence) he was resigning.

AAP probably got carried away by the type of mandate it had received in Delhi. Kejriwal’s strategy to position himself as the main rival of Modi sent him to Varanasi to contest election against Modi. However looking Delhi election result as the microcosm of national politics did not pay off. The absolute majority the BJP and total rout of the Congress Party left no scope for any post-poll maneuverings in the Lok Sabha. Now AAP strategy was to anyhow remain relevant in Delhi. Before Delhi election the AAP was acting, whereas it was in control of its vision, agenda and mode of action. However after 2013 Delhi assembly election, the AAP was not acting but reacting to the emerging situation. As the end (to capture power) acquired precedence over the means, it led to manifold complications for the party. It even could not fight Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections, since with limited resources it was necessary for the party to ‘reclaim’ Delhi. Of course the party has got unprecedented mandate in Delhi, but it has also fielded 23 candidates with criminal background and an equal number of crorepatis. The idealism with which it had started is the thing of the past. Today, like other political parties, the winability of candidate has acquired priority, and the sole aim of the party is to capture power. A party formed to inject transparency in political system today remains highly non-transparent in its working. It criticized the high command culture of other political parties, but today the party revolves around whims and fancies of one person. Just to come to power it has promised all sorts of things to different segments of the society. Aam aadmi is just a voter and not a participant in the way the party is conducting itself. The classical Marxist doctrine that people are not capable of deciding about their destiny and must be guided by the enlightened agents has become the hallmark of the AAP. One more party has been added into the Indian political system. The party of ‘aam aadmi’ is dead.

‘Long live that Idea.’