By Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala
The ruling party is regularly saying that movements like that of Anna Hazare should not be allowed to hijack the authorities established by the Constitution. The ruling party is forgetting that a constitution is valid only as long as people consider it legitimate. The constitution promulgated by Gaddafi was thrown away, just as Gaddafi had thrown away the earlier constitution. Therefore, the ruling party should devote itself to understanding why the people are arrayed against constitutionally elected Parliament. The fundamental problems leading to disconnect between people and government must be addressed forthwith.
The fundamental basis of Parliamentary Democracy is that the MPs will work in the interests of the voters. In the present system, however, the MPs vote more on the basis of interests of leaders of their party. The great political thinker of seventeenth century Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote: “”It is the best and most natural arrangement that the wisest should govern the many, when it is assured that they will govern for its profit, and not for their own.” Problem is that MPs are governing for their personal profit and not for profit of the people. They, therefore, lost people’s sanction.
Supremacy of the MPs on the basis of the Constitution is meaningless. The Constitution, at best, reflects the will of the people at the time of Independence. Times have changed and the Constitutional arrangements have clearly failed to deliver. This great civilisation has seen many constitutions come and go during the more than 5,000 years of its journey. This one too will pass. Crying hoarse about the Constitution is like a young man today demanding his rights as Zamindar on the basis of will of his late father.
The Constitutional system has deprived the people of their voice by instituting the system of whip. Leaders of a political party can require its MPs to vote in favour— or against a particular motion in the Parliament by issuing a whip. MPs who do not vote in accordance with the whip are disqualified and thrown out of the Parliament. The vote cast by the MP’s, therefore, is not according to the will of his voters or even according to his own conscience. The vote is cast according to the interests of the leaders. The voter can only determine who will cast the vote as directed by the leaders of the Party. They can give elect Mr Ram Bharosey or Mr Mohammed Ishfaq. But whomsoever they elect will have to cast vote as per will of the leaders. Even otherwise the voter is irrelevant. MPs voluntarily toe line of the leaders in order to get the Ticket in the next elections. The people can vote one party in and throw another party out. But that is like choosing between the dacoit and the thief.
This disconnect between the people and the Parliament is not solved by the enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The MPs will continue to enact anti-people and anti-nation laws. Land of the poor farmers will continue to be forcibly acquired so that big land sharks can make huge profits. Poor Indian citizens will continue to die in clinical trials done by multinational drug companies. People’s health will continue to be compromised in order to provide profits to McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Rivers will continue to be killed to provide electricity for running air-conditioners of the rich. The country’s sovereignty will continue to be pawned to provide profits to American nuclear goods suppliers. The Jan Lokpal Bill may somewhat reduce the bribes collected by the Ministers in enacting these policies, but the Bill cannot stop enactment of these anti-people policies.
It is also doubtful whether the Jan Lokpal Bill will actually be enacted in the form demanded by Anna. Government is hugely skilled in breaking the back of people’s movements. My assessment is that the Government will not enact the Jan Lokpal Bill even after Lok Sabha has passed resolution in its favour. There will be another one- or two fasts. Ultimately, people will get tired and give in. Couple of years ago Dr Guru Dass Agarwal had to go on hunger strike thrice to save the Ganga from hydropower dams. Twice the Government went back on its assurance. Third time the Government scrapped the Loharinagpala hydroelectric project. But again it has gone back on its promise. Now it has come up with a scheme to kill the Ganga by making large number of small dams instead of Loharinagpala. The Government most likely will break Anna’s movement by such stratagems. The Government will repeatedly agree to Anna’s demands and then go back on them.
We need deeper strategies to overcome the basic problem of anti-people governance. It is seen that all governments exploit and tyrannize the people. This is common to India’s Princely States, Arab monarchies, Communist Russia and modern Parliamentary Democracy. There is no difference among the two major parties either. If the Congress has forcibly acquired land of the poor for big companies; the BJP has tyrannised Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh and Sushila Bhandari in Uttarakhand. It is not possible to change this anti-people character of the government. We have to evolve methods to continually contain this tyranny.
Prof Ila Ghosh, giving examples from the Ramayana, says that Kalidasa holds that the teacher, family priest, ministers and the public are various checks on the unrighteous ruler. One, these may censure the king. Public accusation unleashes a great power and keeps the king under check. Sri Rama, for example, had to expel Sita because of fear of public censure. Two, the these may criticize the king. The people could express their anger and disagreement. Three, public can engage in picketing and protest. In the Ramayana a Brahmin whose only son had met an untimely death took the corpse and placed it on the ground before the doors of the palace. He started shouting laying the blame on Rama. That propelled Rama into action. Four, the public can pronounce a curse. Crying at the death of his son at the hands of king Dasaratha, Andh Muni hurled a curse on the king. This curse led to the disintegration of Ayodhya. Five, the fire of the ascetic can be unleashed. Peace loving ascetics are said to have all-consuming energy and fire just as the children of King Sagar were consumed by fire. Six, public can distrust the king. Sri Rama had to ask Sita to undergo fire trial again because the of Ayodhya did not recognize the fire-test that she underwent at Lanka.
We need to invigorate these many systems of check on the government. Rousseau wrote it is best not to have interest groups. But, if they should exist, “it is best to have as many as possible and to prevent them from being unequal …” This should be our mantra for securing good governance. Let us build many centers of power that continually censure, criticize, picket and protest, curse, unleash fire of the ascetic and distrust the Parliament. Only then the inherently anti-people character of the government can be kept in check. The fight between devas and asuras, or good and evil, is perpetual. There will be no quick solutions.