DECREEING Anna’s fast as “unconstitutional” Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has denounced Anna for undermining the institution of the Parliament.
The right to dissent, protest, freedom of speech and expression is a Fundamental Right guaranteed under the Constitution. Anna is just exercising this right of his on the Lokpal Bill framed by the Congress-led UPA government. How can it be “unconstitutional”?
This line of Congress thinking today questions, inadvertently, the very legal and moral sanctity of the various satyagrahas, fasts and fasts-unto-death undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi before Independence to pressurise the British regime into accepting his demands.
The British was, without doubt, an empire of invaders. So was the earlier Mughal Empire. With the passage of time both acquired legitimacy. Congress Party, which was in forefront of the freedom movement, never questioned their legitimacy; it only wanted the imperial occupant to quit and grant India her freedom. That is why hundreds of laws imposed by the British — and earlier Mughal Empire — continue to rule the roost even after 64 years of Independence.
Mahatma Gandhi was not fighting for any personal gain; he was waging a freedom movement to liberate the country from foreign yoke. Anna Hazare too has no axe to grind; he only wants to get the nation another freedom: the freedom from corruption.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak did claim that “freedom is my — and so of every Indian and every human being’s — birthright”, but the then British government did not recognise it initially. No law in force at that time sanctioned holding of fasts, protest demonstrations and Satyagraha against the dominion government. Yet, it did not impose autocratically draconian conditions to grant permission to take out protest demonstrations or movements as were imposed by the present democratically elected Congress government on Anna: That no loudspeakers should be put; no shamiana can be raised, thereby exposing the participants to scorching heat of the sun and lashing of rain; duration of the agitation be restricted to three days and that Anna should be examined only by government and not by private doctors.
If the kind of brutal repression let loose on Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare movements by a democratically elected UPA government is justified, how could the oppression and brutality unleashed on freedom fighters by an invader regime, the British, not be justified?
The British did use force, at times brutal, to thwart holding of processions, demonstrations, fasts and some times they succeeded too. Yet, that remained an exception, not the rule. Many satyagrahas forced the then alien government to enact new laws or to amend the existing ones, like the Salt Act. Even Widow Remarriage Act, Sati Act and the like were the outcome of social and political movements launched by Indians.
Not every law of the country has been the brainchild of a government. Many enactments are motivated by the change in thinking, circumstances and movements. Numerous new laws had to be passed or amended due to the force of public opinion that surfaced through public representations and agitations. Bifurcation of the then composite Punjab into present Punjab and Haryana, creation of the states of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand and even division of the then Bombay State into the present Maharashtra and Gujarat states was dictated by the force of public opinion. Telangana may be the next.
If the civil society is an extra-constitutional body of the “the unelected and unelectable”, as a Congress spokesperson put it, trying to force its opinion on the Parliament, so is the National Advisory Council which is coercing the Manmohan government into putting its thumb approval on various Bills drafted by it.
Whether it was the earlier Baba Ramdev’s crusade against black money or the Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption, the Congress is trying to treat these as law and order problems. Instead of sincerely trying to thrash out a solution through dialogue, it is trying to crush it with the brutal force at its command. It is reminiscent, as Shri Lal Krishna Advani put it, of the pre-Emergency days. At that time too, every leader and political party not in tune with the ruling Congress was dubbed as foreign agent ‘inimical’ to the country’. The consequences were disastrous both for the country and the Congress.